House Appropriations Committee chair and delegate for 32 years, Del. Chris Jones, may lose his seat in the House of Delegates Tuesday because of a court order that led to him to being redrawn into a Democratic-leaning district.
Jones, R-Suffolk, is being challenged by Clinton Jenkins, a small business owner and chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District.
After ruling that some of the previous districts were “racially gerrymandered,” a court ordered that the maps be constitutionally redrawn. House Republicans supported the old maps and argued that they were not racially gerrymandered, but rather drawn with bipartisan support and received unanimous approval by the Legislative Black Caucus.
When the General Assembly could not reach an agreement with Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, on new lines, the court ordered a special master to redraw them. The new districts drastically changed the demographic and political make-up of Jones’ district.
The previous district was 68 percent white and 26 percent black, but is now 50 percent white and 45 percent black. The district also shifted into the Democrats’ favor by 27.4 points, going from a 12.2 spread in favor of Republicans to a 15.2 spread in favor of Democrats.
Chaz Nuttycombe, a Virginia political analyst, predicts that the seat “leans Democrat.”
“Earlier this year, federal courts ruled that the old district map was unconstitutional because it sorted voters ‘based on the color of their skin,’” Jenkins, who is African American, told The Center Square.
“Our current Delegate, Chris Jones, was the chief architect of this illegal redistricting plan,” Jenkins said. “This new district means that for the first time in two decades, the people of this community have the opportunity to speak with a unified voice and elect a Delegate who truly represents their interests. I think voters will do just that and as a result, we will flip this seat.”
Jones’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment via email and phone.
After a mass shooting in Virginia Beach, gun control became an issue of contention between Democrats and Republicans. A poll of 814 registered Virginians found that gun control legislation is important to 75 percent of respondents.
Northam introduced legislation that would have expanded background checks and banned assault weapons, high capacity magazines and silencers. He requested that the General Assembly immediately push through this legislation in a special session, but Republicans declined and referred the proposals to the Virginia State Crime Commission to first review them.
Jenkins told The Center Square that he is a gun owner who believes in the Second Amendment, but backs some of Northam’s efforts to reduce gun crime. He supports expanded background checks, red flag laws and restricting access to assault weapons.
On the economy, Jones has touted Virginia’s success while he has chaired the Appropriations Committee. Virginia currently has the lowest unemployment in the region and was ranked by CNBC as the best state in the country to conduct business.
“As a small business owner, Chris continues to support strategic investments in workforce development and [legislation] promoting the success of business throughout our community and Commonwealth,” Jones’s campaign website states.
To stay at the top in business, Jenkins said that Virginia should invest in its workforce. He said that fast-growing industries like high tech, renewable energy and healthcare will locate or relocate to the commonwealth if there is a qualified workforce. This can be achieved through education investments and public-private workforce development partnerships, he said.
On education, Jones again touted his committee leadership. In the last budget, Republicans helped pass legislation to increase teacher pay by 5 percent and invest $87 million more in K-12 education.
Jenkins noted that Virginia’s teacher salaries are still toward the bottom of the country. He said the commonwealth needs to pay teachers more if it wants to attract the best teachers. He also endorsed universal early childhood education.
Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday for all House of Delegates and State Senate races. Polling locations can be found on the Virginia Department of Election’s website.