The 5th District. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

RICHMOND – On Aug. 26, 2015, Andy Parker’s life changed forever when his daughter Alison, a reporter with CBS affiliate WDBJ in Roanoke, and her photographer Adam Ward were shot to death live on camera by a former station employee while conducting an interview at Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta. 

In the aftermath of his daughter’s murder, Parker has become a nationally known crusader for gun control and, more recently, an outspoken critic of big tech companies who has taken on corporate giants like YouTube, Facebook and Google for continuing to allow footage showing Alison’s last moments to be published and shared online.

Andy Parker.

Parker, a Democrat who first moved to Virginia in 1997, now wants to use his platform for the good of the residents of Virginia’s recently redrawn 5th congressional district. On Thursday, the Henry County resident is set to announce his bid to oust incumbent Rep. Bob Good, a Republican from Campbell County, who has held the seat since early 2021. 

“I’m joining the race because the people in the 5th district deserve better; they deserve someone who understands the challenges that the people face,” Parker said in an interview with Cardinal News Wednesday. “My life has been guided by a couple of principles – to be the best father that I can be, and to try and make a difference whenever and wherever I could. Those are the two things that inspired me to make the leap and run for office.”

Parker said that these same principles inspired him to run for the Henry County Board of Supervisors in 2003. “Back then, my priority was economic development and to bring more tourism to the area,” he said. In a three-way race, Parker defeated his runner-up Tommy Slaughter by just one vote, which earned him the – ironic – nickname “Landslide.” In the final year of his four-year term, he ran for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 16th district, but he was defeated by Republican Don Merricks.

Rep. Bob Good, R-Campbell County.

Now Parker wants to take on Good, who defeated incumbent Denver Riggleman with 58% of the vote in an acrimonious drive-through convention at his home church instead of a Republican primary election. Good was elected in the Nov. 3 general election with 52.6%, edging Democrat Cameron Webb, who got 47.4%, by a mere 5%. 

Just days later, Good was seen at a rally in Washington, D.C. where supporters of then-President Donald Trump protested the U.S. Supreme Court rejection of a lawsuit seeking to overturn the election won by Democrat Joe Biden. A believer in “the Big Lie,” Good used this platform to promote the conspiracy that Democrats had stolen the election. 

Parker said that the events of Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop Biden’s election from being certified, inspired him to run. “I was shaken to the core,” he said in the interview Wednesday. 

“I was angered that Bob Good, from my home state, was participating in this. I draw the line at pushing with the Big Lie, and that’s what Bob Good has done. He’s terrible. That woman who threatened to bring guns to a school board meeting last week over a mask mandate, that’s the atmosphere that Good has created. It’s extremist and dangerous, and that’s why he’s got to go.”

But it is also Good’s policy related actions that have Parker concerned. “He has voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which is improving Lynchburg Regional Airport. When he’s not wasting time trying to overturn a lawful election, he’s busy pushing dangerous conspiracy theories about vaccines. That’s why I decided to run. There are other things I could be doing with my life, but I have a voice, and I plan to use it.”

Virginia’s 5th congressional district has become slightly more Democratic than before after being redrawn by special masters appointed by the Virginia Supreme Court in December, and it is now widely seen as the most competitive among Virginia’s Republican-held congressional districts. While left largely intact – with the exception of the area north of Charlottesville, which was drawn into the 10th – it now extends further east to the border of Chesterfield County in the suburbs of Richmond. It also picked up Lynchburg and Amherst County, which are currently in the 6th. Although Parker lives in the 9th district, there is no requirement that a member of Congress lives in the district they represent. (Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, now lives in the redrawn 6th district but has said he’ll run for re-election in the 9th district.)

Before he would face Parker, Good must fend off a nomination challenge by Daniel “Dan” Moy, a retired Air Force colonel with 27 years of active duty service and the chairman of the Charlottesville GOP, who announced his bid earlier this week. So far, three other Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination in the 5th – Shadi Ayyas, Lewis Combs, Thomas McLellan and Joshua Throneburg.

Daniel Moy

While the district is still a place where a generic Republican would be favored over a generic Democrat, there are several factors that could make the 5th more competitive, said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington. “If Republicans renominate Congressman Good, that has the potential to alienate more moderate Republicans. And Andy Parker, if he is the Democratic nominee, would have an important interesting story to tell about public service,” Farnsworth said.

While it is tough to defeat an incumbent member of Congress because of their advantage of name recognition and ability to fundraise, the Virginia GOP’s decision to back Good over Riggleman has created an environment where the district is more competitive than it would otherwise have been, Farnsworth said. 

“Virginia Republicans had this problem before when they made the decision several years ago to not renominate Eric Cantor in the 7th district, which created an opportunity for Democrats in a future election cycle,” Farnsworth said, referring to Democratic Abigail Spanberger’s defeat of Republican incumbent Dave Brat in 2018. 

Parker said that while talking to people in his district, he has picked up on a lot of buyers’ remorse over Good’s election. “Yes, he’s deeply conservative, but he went from being this quiet conservative to this firebrand and a Marjorie Taylor Greene wannabe, which is appalling to a lot of people,” he said. “He’s an embarrassment, he doesn’t serve the people, his Twitter feed is all about complaining about Joe Biden, but he offers no solutions. He says face masks are bad, that Covid-19 is a hoax, but people don’t want more of that, and that’s why I’m running.”

In order to appeal to Republican and independent swing voters, Parker said he will run on a moderate platform focused primarily on economic improvement of the region. Specifically, he said he wants to work with U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats, on industrial site development. “We need to bring in the manufacturing of microchips to our district,” he said. “The economy is crippled because of supply chain issues and the inability to get semiconductors in this country. We have the workforce and the space, and these are the kinds of things that I will be pushing.”

Parker also wants to lure data centers – facilities that centralize an organization’s shared IT operations and equipment for the purposes of storing, processing, and disseminating data and applications – to the region. “We got the land for data centers that Northern Virginia doesn’t want. Seventy-five new jobs isn’t sexy up there, but it is down here, and we could use every bid of it.”

In addition to economic development, Parker said he will continue to focus on an issue that has put him on a national stage in recent years. “We’ve got to put an end to the abuse that social media has created. I’ve been fighting to get the video of Alison’s killing removed from Facebook, Google and YouTube, but they keep ignoring me. The videos are uploaded over and over, and seven years later, it’s still happening. They are making money from this stuff, and I’m not the only one who has an issue with that, but I’m more visible.”

In 2019, Parker testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, requesting changes to Section 230 that protects social media from legal action. He has also filed Federal Trade Commission complaints against both Google and Facebook, and his Change.org petition asking Grey Television to grant him co-copyright of that video has garnered more than 150,000 signatures, according to his website.

“I think that the tech companies and social media have to be held accountable when their platforms are spreading conspiracy theories and subject kids to violence,” Parker said. “This is going to harm our democracy, and this is an issue that both parties need to do something here. Let me help by trying to solve this, and be inside as a congressman and work to champion this effort, because there are other people being harmed, and that’s gotta stop.”

In the immediate aftermath of his daughter’s tragic death, Parker pushed for more gun control measures, and he authored a book – For Alison: The Murder of a Young Journalist and Her Father’s Fight for Gun Safety. But on Wednesday he insisted that he continues to support Second Amendment rights. “I grew up in Texas, I’m a hunter, I’m a damn good shot,” he said. “I certainly believe in the Second Amendment, but there are limits, just like there are limits to the First Amendment, because you can’t just yell fire in a crowded theater,” he said, adding that universal background checks is common sense gun legislation. “We need to take some measures. There is a mass shooting in some form or fashion every week, and we have to do something about it. More guns on the street is not the answer,” he said.

Despite his positions, Parker said that he does not consider himself as too liberal to run in a mostly Republican district. In fact, he doesn’t consider himself a liberal at all. ‘I’m really not, I’m a moderate Democrat,” he said.

“Look, there are extremes in both parties. The notion of defunding police is crazy, I’m not that guy. I was a Reagan Republican. I’ve always been a moderate,” Parker said. “I think what happened is that if you have a D next to your name, Republicans will label you as a libtard, but that’s just not the case. Yes, there are firebrands on the left, but I’m not one of them.”

CORRECTION: This story has been updated at 9:28 a.m. to reflect that four additional candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination for the 5th congressional district.

Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.