What in the world happened to Rex Alphin?

Published 12:54 pm Wednesday, June 21, 2017

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Ever since Isle of Wight was included in the 64th House District in 1991, its delegate — at least when initially elected — came from the county*.

Not so this year.

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Suffolk business owner Emily Brewer beat Isle of Wight County farmer Rex Alphin for the Republican nomination and Suffolk attorney Rebecca Colaw defeated Carrollton resident John Wandling and Suffolk educator Jerry Cantrell for the Democratic nomination. Either Brewer or Colaw will win the seat in November.

While Wandling was relatively unknown prior to the primary race, Alphin and his family are a recognized name in the county. Alphin currently serves on the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors, and prior to that, on the Planning Commission.

Many were surprised when Alphin did not win, and were doubly so when he failed to win his home county. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Alphin won the most votes in the southern end of Isle of Wight, where he lives, but failed to win the more populous northern area, which includes many non-native Isle of Wight residents.

Isle of Wight is significant for the 64th District as it has the largest percentage of active voters at 45 percent. Prince George County is second with nearly 25 percent.

Just two days after the election, Alphin was unsure of why he didn’t win, suggesting that perhaps his message or personality didn’t resonate with voters.

Given that primaries typically attract loyalists from both parties, Alphin also entertained the idea that perhaps he wasn’t Republican enough for hard-core GOP voters.

This year, 12 percent of Isle of Wight registered voters cast a ballot for Republican candidates and 8 percent for the Democrats.

A strong Republican turnout is typical of Isle of Wight County.

For years, Isle of Wight has predictably favored Republican candidates at the state and national level. Last year’s presidential primary drew 23 percent of Republican voters and only 12 percent of Democrats.

As a side note, 42 percent of those who voted Republican last year voted for now President Donald Trump — despite the fact that they had 13 candidates to choose from.

Brewer thought her win may have had more to do with relaying a definite message to the voters — that as a candidate she was willing to go to Richmond and get to work in concrete and specific ways. 

For example, on Brewer’s website, she indicates she is a member of the National Rifle Association and the Virginia Civil Defense League and states she will go to Richmond and introduce legislation allowing domestic abuse victims and women with protective orders to carry a concealed weapon.

Alphin’s literature and website focused on his roots in the county, his family, his personal character and a more philosophical exploration of the issues, rather than a specific agenda. 

When it comes to gun control, Alphin said that the right to keep and bear arms has been a guarantee of the constitution since 1791 and that it’s the government’s duty to protect that right.

Alphin ran a strong campaign via letters to the editor, with most attesting to his character and rural upbringing. Detractors pointed out his lack of Republican roots and an increase in local real estate taxes — of which Alphin, along with all members of the Board of Supervisors — voted for in 2014 as a way to pull the county out of a budget deficit. The previous year, the tax rate was increased with a 4-1 vote by the Board.

Brewer, who has been active with the local Republican committee, does not have a public voting record when it comes to taxes and other issues central to Republican voters.

Dr. Quentin Kidd, professor of political science and director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, said that the resistance movement on the left may have spilled over to Republicans too, causing women to vote for Brewer over Alphin.

The things that are frustrating women in general are also frustrating to moderate Republicans, said Kidd, who told of a friend who went to the polls intending to vote for Alphin, but at the last minute her “gut” told her to switch to Brewer.

Kidd also wondered if what happened to Del. Rick Morris, a Republican who opted not to run for re-election due to criminal charges on the domestic front, may have made some difference too.

There may have been a ripple undercurrent and in a low turnout primary, that makes a difference, he said.

Kidd also thought Brewer’s badge of Republicanism could have been a swing factor too for those who vote in every election, are party stalwarts but hadn’t been paying too much attention.

Party matters in a primary and having “Republican” over her name on a sign may have been the appropriate cue on which way to vote, Kidd said.

Alphin admitted that running for state office was a world of difference from running for a county office. There may have even been an instance of “fake news” or at least “news” that was significantly altered from the original form.

A day before the primary, “Americans for Tax Reform” posted a story stating that Alphin supported Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in Virginia.

The story was based on an interview Alphin gave on the John Fredericks radio show. The clip included with the internet story cut Alphin off midsentence, but was long enough to get the word “mistake” out.

The word “mistake” was used in a way that was considerably different from the original context.

If the clip had been aired in its entirety, readers would have learned that Alphin considered the rollout of the Republican congressional health care bill to be a “mistake” as it was rushed through. Later in the interview, Alphin said that the state should not accept the Medicaid money from the federal government because there’s always strings attached.

It would be a bad idea to move in that direction, Alphin said. 

Although the story supported Brewer, she said she was “shocked” over how that interview was played out on that particular website.

Americans for Tax Reform states it is a non-profit dedicated to opposing all tax increases and simplifying the system.

Locally, however, Alphin did something shortly before announcing his candidacy that raised the ire of some residents regardless of party affiliation.

Prior to the Board of Supervisor’s annual organizational meeting, Alphin approached some board members about his being chairman again — opting to forgo the usual rotation among members of each electoral district.

Because the next in line was Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson, who is black, the move was perceived as having to do with race — despite vehement assurances by Supervisors Dick Grice and William McCarty, as well as Alphin, that it was not racially motivated.

Two weeks later, Alphin announced he was running for the House of Delegates. He denied that his desire to be chairman for the third year in a row had anything to do with his seeking the Republican nomination for delegate.

In the end, Brewer thinks voters are looking for something different and want to be confident that their delegate will go to Richmond and work for them.

“I think we’ve gotten to a point in politics where it’s about hard work,” she said.

*Del. Rick Morris was living in Carrollton when he was initially elected in 2011. He later moved to Suffolk with his family. Earlier this year, Morris decided not to run again due to criminal charges involving domestic issues.  {/mprestriction}