Marion’s Ken Heath is no longer seeking the Republican nomination for Virginia’s 40th District Senate seat. Citing frustrations with the mass nomination process, Heath has decided to run as an independent.
“This is the only way voters can have a choice,” said Heath. “The district party structure for the mass meeting wasn’t set up for a challenger, basing rules and procedures on past nominations that have never been contested.”
Heath was particularly frustrated by the far Southwest Virginia location of the district’s mass meeting, which would select the party’s candidate. The meeting is set to take place in Gate City in Scott County at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25. Heath appealed the location and time, asking for a more central location and perhaps a weekend time. The idea of holding a primary was even thrown out “so every vote would count.” “But,” Heath said, “those appeals have fallen on deaf ears.”
“On this particular Thursday night, this gathering will not only decide the Republican nominee, but in the absence of a challenger, your next senator, unless the seat is challenged. And, to me, that’s not the best way to give every voter a choice, an opportunity to have a voice,” he continued.
Once the appeals were exhausted, Heath, who serves as the town of Marion’s director of community and economic development, said, “My choice was clear. To offer a true choice for all the voters, I have no option other than to remove my name from consideration at Thursday’s Republican mass meeting and run on my own as an Independent. This will put the power in the hands of all the voters, not just a select few, and I truly believe this will give Southwest Virginia our best opportunity to choose the best representative to be their voice in Richmond.”
He said it wasn’t fair to ask his supporters to leave work early and give up their time traveling hours to Gate City when the system was stacked against his candidacy.
Heath squeaked into the nomination with mere moments to spare.
He’d promised not to run against incumbents. When Sen. Bill Carrico announced that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election, the news came a short time before the deadline to sign up as a party candidate passed.
Heath said, “You know my story, and the story leading us to this day. A senator publicly announces his retirement at the exact last moment anyone could even decide to run, and in his retirement, announcing his successor with his endorsement. Then admitting he had told his chosen successor five days prior, and that he had no obligation to tell anyone else, including us, his constituents. And he’s right. But I’m pretty sure you feel as I do -- he may be right, but for the rest of us, it’s wrong. It’s wrong that nobody else - unless you wanted to challenge an incumbent senator - would run against him. It’s wrong that we don’t get to pick the best candidate we believe in because all but the one hand-selected were kept in the dark. Except I got a call, and with two minutes to spare, made a handful of people very mad by getting my name in the hat to give you a choice.”
I’ve fought the fight. I’ve done my best to play by the rules to give you a choice, and to win for you. But “I grew up in a place called Fairground Hill, in a time where ‘fair’ meant giving everyone the same opportunities. And over the last month, I honestly and candidly haven’t seen much fairness,” Heath said.
He described the mass meeting process as a coronation for a selected candidate.
Shortly after Heath notified mass meeting organizers that he was withdrawing Thursday, Del. Todd Pillion, who was the other contender for the nomination and who had garnered Carrico’s endorsement, sent out a press release saying, “Delegate Todd Pillion (R-4th District) has been declared the Republican nominee for State Senate in the 40th District…. According to general counsel for the Republican Party of Virginia, there is no need for the mass meeting originally scheduled for April 25th in Gate City and the meeting has been cancelled….”
Heath reflected, “It’s been said Ronald Reagan wouldn’t be welcome in today’s Republican Party. I can’t speak for that, but I can say with some authority that there are those in power that have shown me that I’m not welcome. And that’s OK, because I’m not running to represent a party. I’m running to represent you. I want to be your voice in Richmond, not part of a party machine, and especially not part of a process that fights as hard as it can to keep others from participating. I believe in giving you a choice, in giving us a chance, in the basic American right to have someone represent citizens over anything and everything else.”
Both Heath and Pillion set their sights on the November general election.
Heath needs to collect the signatures of 250 registered Virginia voters by June 11 to get on the ballot as an independent. With months to go, he said Thursday, “We’re just about there already.”