Politics in Forest

The Chamber hosts the ‘political event of the year’

Virginia senators, delegates and regional candidates flooded Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest as the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce (LRCC) hosted a biennial social event Thursday, Sept. 19.

The event, designed by LRCC to allow politicians currently in office and those running for office a chance to mingle and meet with the Lynchburg business community, included food from The Babcock House Bed & Breakfast and live music performed by the Olde Stuff Band.

According to Edie Swann, director of advocacy and special programing for LRCC, this event is a long-standing tradition in the Lynchburg region.

“It’s just a wonderful outdoor event,” Swann said. “It’s a casual environment for the candidates and legislators … to speak to the crowd.”

According to Swann, the event used to take place once a year, but when the economy took a turn for the worse, so did attendance. However, Swann said this year’s turnout proved a good one, with more than 100 people in attendance.

“It’s a chance for (politicians) to talk one-on-one with the folks in their district and talk with their constituents in a casual atmosphere,” Swann said. “And I think it’s growing again. This event (is) up 20 percent from last year. And I think people like being able to just chat with their elected officials and with candidates in a kind of a relaxed environment.”

Stephen Newman, Virginia state senator from the 23rd district, attended the event and described it as a good place to connect with people who are making LRCC work, as well as to discuss politics.

“The Chamber of Commerce … really gets it,” Newman said. “They are focused on jobs and economic development, and that’s critical. In so many areas we’ve seen the chambers and other groups kind of wander off into a little bit of everything and become the advocate of nothing. This group is focused on what is really important, and that’s a testament to the chamber staff and to Rex Hammond (president and CEO of LRCC) in particular.”

Also in attendance was Kathy Byron, Virginia House of Delegates for the 22nd district, who said the event is the highlight of the election season, and it is a great opportunity to share her record and message with voters during election time.

“I want to show my support to the business community and show my pro-business record from the last 13 years, fighting for pro-business policies in Central Virginia that have created jobs and provided economic opportunity to the area,” Byron said.

During the event, those in attendance heard from state senators, delegates and candidates as short speeches were made. Tom Garrett, Virginia state senator for the 22nd district, said in his speech that one of the concerns of LRCC, the state of Virginia and the nation is what is being done to create economic opportunity jobs and growth.

“A lot of the men and women who are here tonight are leaders of private businesses, leaders of local government and policymakers who will set the environment in which jobs will be created or not, in which people will gain employment or not,” Tom Garrett said in an interview. “And those are important people to talk to when the issues come back around to the economy.”

Concern for employment was a theme throughout the speeches, as Scott Garrett, of the Virginia House of Delegates for the 23rd district, also commented on this topic.

“We are absolutely focused on getting meaningful employment to all Virginians,” Scott Garrett said in his speech. “Four years ago, when I was first elected to the general assembly, the unemployment rate in the commonwealth of Virginia was 7.4 percent. My friends, today it is 5.7 percent, and that ain’t enough.”

Another theme senators and delegates had in common was the impact that Liberty University has on the politics of Virginia.

“One could argue that they’re the most influential political school in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Newman said. “I don’t think any other school can attribute a direct election of a state delegate like Liberty University can. (When) Scott Garrett was elected, he was elected, in no small part, on the turnout from Liberty. But also it’s the conservative anchor for all of Central Virginia … to a lot of people state-wide and nationally, it is an anchor for the conservative movement.”

Tom Garrett said he genuinely admires what Liberty has done to engage the student body more than any other institution.

“Liberty students with whom I come in contact are informed and engaged, and they can give reasoning for why they feel how they feel on various issues,” Tom Garrett said. “(T)he existential challenges that we face as a community, as a commonwealth and as a nation, those are the ones that are going to determine what kind of world we hand to the next generation. And if you don’t know what’s going on, you will not contribute to the solution of those problems. And so I think LU has developed a culture of students who are engaged and informed.”

With the upcoming elections, the consensus from delegates and candidates such as Byron and Scott Garrett was this event was a great opportunity to meet the business people of Virginia and educate them on what is being done on their behalf, and what can be done for them in the future.

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