(WFXR) — The race for the Virginia House of Delegates’ 12th District is heating up as we’re just days away from Election Day.

The 12th District includes Giles County, as well as parts of Montgomery and Pulaski counties, and the City of Radford.

Republican and political newcomer, Jason Ballard, is looking to unseat incumbent Democrat, Del. Chris Hurst.

WFXR News sat down with the candidates to discuss some of the important issues to voters in the November election. Education and COVID-19 are listed as two of the top issues.

For Hurst, he feels the discussion over school vouchers is one of the most important.

“I am decidedly against school vouchers, taking money away from our public school kids, taking services away from our public school kids, in order to send kids to private schools with no accountability,” said Hurst. “We cannot do that in Virginia and I think we see that people like Glen Youngkin, Jason Ballard … they want to make sure we defund our schools and that’s something that I really feel like we should be talking about more than made up issues like critical whatever it’s called, come on.”

When asked about a parent’s involvement in school decisions, Ballard said, “We, as parents, are frustrated right now. I mean, Chris Hurst and Terry McAuliffe … they believe that parents shouldn’t be involved in their children’s education. They said it publicly and, as parents, that’s very frustrating for us. You know, as we saw with the pandemic, you know, children learn best when parents are involved and are actively participating in their learning. You know, Standards of Learning, the SOLs, that came out in Virginia were at an all-time low, and it was because of the way the Democrats handled some of the pandemic. And so, we have to get parents back involved in our children’s education.

When asked if state vaccine and mask mandates are appropriate responses to the pandemic, the candidates answered as follows:

“I think it’s really important that we look at what individual employers have done, which I think is the right thing to do; which has said for healthcare workers, for teachers, for other positions that are really important, where you have close contact with other individuals, that yes, you need to be vaccined. In order to feel like you can do that job safely and appropriately, and I think that’s the right thing to do, and in our school systems to have mask requirements for children has been the right thing to do,” Hurst explained. “We know that children have been very, very compliant on mask requirements. It tends to be adults who have the problems.”

“My personal opinion is I encourage everyone to get vaccinated,” said Ballard. “I’ve been vaccinated, but at the heart of the issue, I trust individuals and local governments to make those decisions. Generally speaking, I do not believe in state mandates. I think everything should be held locally.”

Hurst is running an attack ad against Ballard saying he doesn’t support public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

In response, Ballard said, “I have children in public education. I have three boys, as we talked about, who are in our public schools here. My mother has been a public school teacher for 37 years. She’s currently the Assistant Superintendent in Giles County, and so again, I trust the local school boards to make all of those decisions for our children and I want it to be local control. I just … I do not believe that Richmond is best suited to make decisions for what goes on here in the New River Valley.”

One of Ballard’s big focuses for this election is job creation and helping businesses that are struggling because of the pandemic get back on their feet.

“We need to prop those businesses back up that were impacted by the pandemic. A lot of this extra funding and this surplus we have, we need to reinvest it in our businesses and our community,” said Ballard.

When asked about his plan for job creation, Ballard replied, “Right now broadband is a huge issue and what we’ve seen again with the pandemic is a lot of these companies can go virtual fairly easy, and so, if we have an area like the New River Valley that can bring in some of these tech companies that can operate regardless of a physical footprint then they’re going to come into this area. And certainly, you have to have deregulation. You have to have tax breaks. You have to have some type of stimulus to bring them in, but we have to have the infrastructure, the internet, the broadband in order for them to operate online.”

Hurst feels the issue is finding a way to keep young people in southwest Virginia.

“The most important thing that we can do as policymakers, is try and crack that nut of why we can’t get people who get their education here to stay here after they get their graduation. But we have more opportunities to do it with infrastructure improvements, with getting broadband internet here,” said Hurst. “Workforce housing is a huge issue we continue to work on regionally with the local planning commission on options for workforce housing is really important, and then, I think we are in a really great position where we just need fun stuff to do.”

He also addressed the hiring issue locally and nationwide.

“We see in employment sectors all across industry that workers are fed up with just being treated like labor and not being valued in their workplace,” Hurst stated. “I don’t know what the exact answers are, but we first need to try and answer the question of how do we get people to feel valued in their workplace because if you feel valued, I don’t think you’re looking around trying to find new jobs.”

Support for law enforcement and police reform was also addressed when WFXR News sat down with the Democrat and Republican candidates for 12th District delegate.

Ballard touts his strong relationship with law enforcement in many of his campaign ads. When asked what should be done to keep law enforcement from leaving the profession and convince more good candidates to apply he said:

“First thing we need to do is to stop vilifying them. Stop attacking them for them doing their jobs. You probably know Chris Hurst voted to eliminate qualified immunity and that’s a hot topic with law enforcement. And what they tell me, when I speak with them, is that is causing them to leave the job. If they are exposed to civil liability for any type of frivolous lawsuit, they are going to leave the job. There’s certainly a balance there, so, right now they feel like they’re not being protected, and that no one is standing up for them, and that’s why you see that I have the backing of all the law enforcement officers, because I’ve said publicly, and repeatedly, that I will stand shoulder to shoulder with them. Public safety is critical in our community.”

Hurst stands by his decision to eliminate qualified immunity. He argues that police officers should be held to the same standards others are who have to make life or death decisions.

“I don’t understand why we have many, many, many other professions like Emily [Hurst’s girlfriend] who is an ER nurse has to make life and death decisions every day. She comes home and tells me about people she had to resuscitate, bring back to life,” said Hurst. “She has to carry malpractice insurance because nurses and doctors get sued every single day. I just don’t know why we have to say there are different classes of workers for no real justifiable reason.”

Hurst also notes his record of support for law enforcement and efforts to get them more funding.

“I’ve been doing legislation for four years to try and increase their pay, doing studies to try and get more officers included for full-time benefits and long term benefits after they retire, putting in salary and budget adjustments to try and increase deputy pay for state allocations that go to them,” Hurst stated. “And just this year, we increased trooper pay to try and figure out the compression issue that was having ranked state troopers retire early. We solved that problem this year and also gave our law enforcement bonuses.”

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