Senate 40th

Ken Heath, left, and Todd Pillion candidates for the 40th District senate seat.

For all the contested local and state races in the November general election, the News & Messenger asked the candidates several questions in writing and allowed them to respond in writing. Their responses are reported with minimal editing. Each candidate was limited to responses of 250 words to each question. Candidate responses are presented alphabetically.

Ken Heath

How will you address wages and housing issues in the commonwealth?

The best way to address wages is through economic growth. As we build opportunities in hometowns across our commonwealth, we create demand for employees. As demand grows, successful employers will pay higher wages for better talent. At the same time, we must continue to work to improve our educational opportunities, including allowing our teachers to teach instead of “teach to the test,” and to do so without having to work a second - or third - job just to pay for insurance. We must see that every student has equal access to the tools necessary to build a 21st century workforce - reliable high-speed broadband, safe and modern classrooms, and mentorship opportunities to allow us to teach not only important core subjects but soft skills and technical skills to make sure our next generation is prepared to lead us into a brighter future.

Housing issues vary across our commonwealth, from escalating rents in city centers that make living there unaffordable for many who work there, to substandard housing that lacks basic necessities such as heat and even indoor plumbing. Working across the aisle and across Virginia, we must work with the professionals at our housing authorities and our state agencies to ensure our homeless have viable options, our less fortunate have safe housing, and our working class can afford to live without forcing an even bigger burden on our transportation systems by having to commute due to housing costs.

How does the legislature meet the needs of aging infrastructure and still keep taxes low enough to make the commonwealth viable for business and industry?

Every dollar has its proponents and its opponents, in the state budget, in my own budget. Our legislators must follow our constitutional charge to balance our budget while upholding our moral obligation to see every corner of Virginia has safe, modern infrastructure, from water and sewer to roads, rail and broadband. We must prioritize our needs, working with leaders in each and every community, to fully determine a comprehensive scope of infrastructure development we need; then set aside political and geographic differences to categorically address them all - being careful not to cause an undue tax burden on our citizens or our businesses while doing so.

Community of residence, spouse name, number of children and grandchildren, professional background, education.

Born and raised in Marion, I live with my best friend and wife of over 29 years, the former Pamela Wellman of Glade Spring, with our two “furbabies,” our yellow lab “Miss Reagan” and our rescue “Scottie the Wonder Dog.” I graduated Marion Senior High in 1980, Wytheville Community College and East Tennessee State University. After a career in radio, I was hired as Marion’s first Main Street director in November 1994. I was elected twice to Marion Town Council, and was named as a “Certified Local Government Official” by the Virginia Municipal League for my service. I was hired as Marion’s director of Community and Economic Development 10 years ago, bringing national acclaim to our community through innovative work recruiting and training entrepreneurs and revitalizing long-vacant shopping areas, assisting in developing the former hospital into Emory & Henry’s School of Health Sciences, the 1908 schoolhouse into a community college satellite site and regional school of Appalachian Arts, and more. Last year, I was accepted into the prestigious Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership of the University of Virginia, graduating in December. Earlier this year, I graduated the Sorensen Political Candidate Training Program in anticipation of preparing myself to continue to serve. Through the strangest turn of events, that opportunity presented itself in March, and through much resistance from a well-established political machine, I’ve emerged as your Independent candidate for Virginia Senate.

Todd Pillion

How will you address wages and housing issues in the commonwealth?

As a healthcare provider who employs Southwest Virginians from Smyth County to Bristol, I know the impact each of those jobs has on families and the local community, and the value employees bring to our local businesses across the board.

My colleagues and I in the Southwest delegation are focused on creating a business-friendly environment for good-paying jobs that allow us to retain our talent and attract new people and opportunities to the region. Through newly created public-private partnerships like InvestSWVA and investments we are making in workforce, economic development, broadband, and education, we are aligning strategic goals in order to create the jobs and opportunities needed to prepare our region for the future.

What we also must do is protect against the extreme left’s proposals to regulate and price our businesses and jobs out of existence. Just this year we saved Virginians $17 billion and protected 150,000 jobs by blocking radical proposals to undermine right-to-work laws, more than double the minimum wage, and implement agendas like the Green New Deal that would decimate our local economy. This is just part of the plan to “fundamentally transform” Virginia—at the expense of Southwest Virginia—that our Republican delegation defeated this year. But we will see these things—and more—come January.

How does the legislature meet the needs of aging infrastructure and still keep taxes low enough to make the commonwealth viable for business and industry?

This year our Republican majority passed the second largest tax cut in history and returned taxpayer money directly to the people who paid it to begin with. We defeated efforts to allow the government to keep more of your money and fund their own political priorities. This was all achieved while making significant new investments in objectives that will actually benefit us in Southwest Virginia, including new at-risk funding for our schools, a 5 percent teacher pay raise, and $15 million in new broadband funding—all critical needs right here at home.

This proves that raising taxes to fund critical priorities should not be the knee-jerk reaction come budget time in Richmond. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I know we can achieve great things through responsible budgeting and being fiscally conservative and strategic about our investments.

We are also working to make sure that the rest of Virginia realizes the critical role we play in helping the commonwealth succeed. Whether it be our roads that deliver 40 percent of Virginia’s goods, our schools that lead the state in testing scores, and the energy that powers Virginia, our region cannot be taken for granted and we must fight for our fair share.

Infrastructure is also a major priority for President Trump. Our state delegation has been working with the administration and our congressional delegation to determine how we might collaborate on regional projects, such as I-81, that will benefit Southwest Virginia and beyond.

Community of residence, spouse name, number of children and grandchildren, professional background, education.

My wife, Amanda, and I are blessed with four beautiful children that I want to grow up and thrive in the region they call home.

This is home for all of us. I grew up and worked on my family’s Lee County farm to help pay for my first year of college. From there, I went on to dental school, joined the National Guard, serving in Tikrit during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and later returned to reside in Abingdon and start my career as a pediatric dentist.

I’m thankful Virginia is a citizen legislature. Without a doubt, my day job has made me a better representative. I’m able to interact with families from all walks of life, hear their stories, and gain a better understanding of how I might make a difference.

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