Editorial – High stakes in fall elections

Published 5:05 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2023

We’ve written previously in this space about the importance of this year’s Virginia General Assembly elections and how Isle of Wight County voters will have an outsized say in the outcome.

Senate District 17, whose second largest locality behind Suffolk is Isle of Wight, might well determine whether Democrats maintain control of the state Senate or Republicans seize it. Depending on what happens in the House of Delegates, a GOP-majority Senate could give Gov. Glenn Youngkin an unobstructed path to enactment of his conservative agenda in the final two years of his term.

District 17 is one of a handful of evenly partisan districts statewide that give both Democrats and Republicans a shot at winning them. A mostly rural district covering all of Western Tidewater and part of Southside Virginia, the 17th went for President Biden in 2020 and Youngkin in 2021, neither winning by large margins.

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If you like what Youngkin wants to do in Virginia, your clear choice is Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight. If you believe Youngkin would go too far with the help of a Republican General Assembly, your equally clear choice is Brewer’s opponent, Del. Clinton Jenkins, D-Suffolk.

Flying under the radar are elections even closer to home but no less impactful: three seats on the Isle of Wight County School Board.

Conservative candidates John Collick, Jason Maresh and Mark Wooster wrested control of the five-member board over the course of two election cycles in 2021 and 2022. Maresh and Wooster, who won special elections last year to fill unexpired terms, are back on the ballot this fall in Districts 4 and 2, respectively. If both win, the School Board will remain decidedly conservative no matter the outcome of colleague Denise Tynes’ reelection bid in District 1. If either loses to their more liberal challengers and Tynes prevails, the conservative wave of 2021 and 2022 will have ended.

At stake are important questions such as whether and how Isle of Wight County Schools, especially its teachers, should deal with race relations, gender and sexuality, or whether such matters should be left to families. 

Conservative voters in the community were much more motivated in 2021 and 2022, and the elections really weren’t close. Then-School Board Chair Jackie Carr saw the handwriting on the wall and withdrew from her race against Collick prior to the election. Maresh and Wooster won in landslides.

Backlash from teachers and some parents when the new board asserted itself last winter suggests the opposition could be better organized at the ballot box this time around. They mostly sat on their hands the last two elections.

There’s not a lot of common ground between the two sides on the hot-button issues of the day, so voters have an important determination to make when early voting begins Sept. 22.