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Among the three Republicans running for nomination to represent the new House District 56 are a former legislator getting back into the game after a sabbatical, an Appomattox County lawyer and an entrepreneur and marketing consultant from Goochland County.
As drawn in 2021, the boundaries of District 56 encompass Appomattox, Buckingham and Cumberland counties, most of Fluvanna County, parts of Goochland and Prince Edward counties and tiny slivers of Louisa County. The district voted 65% for Gov. Glenn Youngkin and no Democrat has registered to run for the seat.
Kevin Bailey, Tom Garrett and Jennie Wood largely fall in line when it comes to their rural conservative running platforms: lower taxes, limited government, pro-gun, anti-abortion and agricultural support. But with different backgrounds, each has taken a different tack in hopes of clinching the nomination on May 20.
Tensions in the race have largely centered on the politics swirling around the nomination process itself. Garrett and Wood have bristled at the selection of voting delegates from Appomattox County following a meeting in late March. Given its distribution of Republican voters, the county accounts for nearly a quarter of delegates who’ll vote at the convention, the second-highest representation after Fluvanna County.
With more than the 255 maximum delegates registered, those present at the meeting voted on different methods to narrow the pool down and select alternates. Bailey has been accused of slating all of Appomattox’s voters to support his campaign, but he’s rejected the term and objected in an interview to accusations that the process disenfranchised voters.
Bailey said his campaign alone signed up 285 people in Appomattox to be delegates and added that “Appomattox is squarely behind me. … It’s not surprising that I signed up more people than could go.”
In interviews, Wood said her words on the issue have been misconstrued and that convention procedures had been violated, while Garrett said conventions invite unfair tactics. Bailey said the issue ended up as an excuse for “contrived outrage” against him.
“The party set the rules, we knew the rules, we played by the rules,” he said.
For Garrett, a Louisa County native who left politics in 2018 after seven years as a legislator at the state, then federal level, his return to the arena felt like a “no-brainer” after undergoing recovery from alcoholism.
“There’s no way anyone can hit the ground running better than I can,” he said. And with an incoming rush of freshman legislators following numerous retirements, “we don’t have time for on-the-job training.”
He added that now that without the fuzziness of his alcoholism, he’ll be an even more efficient and capable public servant in the statehouse. Months after he stepped down from his federal seat, the House Ethics Committee issued a report finding Garrett and his wife sent staffers on personal errands and his wife would harshly berate them, which he rebutted.
Garrett pointed to his record as a lawmaker and expressed frustration in candidates who can’t fulfill their campaign promises.
“I have walked the walk successfully at the federal and state level … and I have never broken my word,” he said.
Wood said she sees her strength as a candidate in being a relatable everyday citizen, not a career politician or lawyer (though she did obtain a degree in paralegal studies). A single mom and small business owner, she credits a background in theater, photography, marketing and fundraising on her campaign website.
She owns a Brazilian jiu-jitsu school in Goochland, works as a marketing consultant and works in political and nonprofit fundraising under Monumental Consulting LLC. Her taste for politics grew while interning and later serving as a session aide for state Sen. Mark Peake, as well as helping with the campaign of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whom she finds inspiring.
“I’ve spent this entire time meeting people where they are … and finding out what matters to them,” she said.
Top among those issues for her are a focus on public safety and pushing for school choice with education savings accounts — issues her competitors also voiced support for online and at a debate last month.
Bailey has practiced law in Appomattox County since 2009 and moved there in 2017. Originally from Alabama, he has a background in construction and is an elder at his church. He said he draws strength as a candidate from having “strong stability in my life” and being the best representative of a rural, predominantly Christian district.
“I’m not a politician, I’m doing the best I can with what God gave me here,” he said.
If elected, Bailey said he’s committed to representing the 56th District voters before political networking in the statehouse.
He drew a line between himself and Garrett in a recent campaign mailer, mentioning Garrett’s “support of legalizing drugs” and condemning “gateway drugs.” In Congress, Garrett introduced legislation that would take marijuana off the Schedule I drug list, saying in an interview that it doesn’t belong with drugs like methamphetamine and heroin in having no medicinal value.
Having previously voted against legalization at the state level, Garrett said Virginia has now “accidentally found a pretty sweet spot” in allowing personal use and grow operations. He added he’s against state expansion and regulation for tax revenue, saying “we don’t need another state hand in the till.”
Wood voiced support for decriminalization, medical uses of marijuana and supporting agricultural hemp in a district she says is one of the best places in the state to grow it. She said she supports taking the issue out of limbo with state retail and regulation of recreational marijuana.
“By not having a retail component, we still allow for illegal drug activity and the black market,” she said in an interview. “If we were to put regulations in place and allow for the retail sale of marijuana we would seriously hinder the black market,” adding that she doesn’t see it as a gateway drug.
Bailey said he is personally against marijuana and, with holes in the state’s current laws around the substance, believes the next steps in patching those holes will be up for debate since “people’s opinions vary greatly.” He added he’s consulting with his colleagues in law at Liberty University, his alma mater, about what specific measures to support.
He emphasized concerns over young people using marijuana and said he believes many who struggle with substance abuse were introduced to drugs through weed. While Bailey supports being tough on those who sell to minors, he doesn’t believe that recriminalization is the best path. Covering criminal defense as a part of his private law practice, he said criminal records that’ve formed over simple drug possession are an issue and less punitive first offender programs have proved more effective. When it comes to state regulation and retail markets, he said, “I hope we’re a long way off from that.”
The three candidates also differ slightly in their approach toward banning and restricting abortions.
Wood said she believes six-week bans are a good framework and would have supported legislation that sought to ban abortions with certain exceptions for rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in danger, and make providing abortions outside of those circumstances a felony.
Garrett said he’d support a 15-week ban, which Youngkin discussed earlier this year, but would take restrictions incrementally and try to continue whittling that timeframe down. He said he’s against matching the evil of a rape with the evil of abortion and that legislators should “do the best we can to protect life.”
Bailey said he’d also support a 15-week ban as a “good start” but would want to push for more. He’s in favor of a total ban on abortion with sole exceptions for when the mother’s life — not simply her health — is at risk.
“I think when you start making exceptions for rape and incest, you start putting a value on life … and I just think that all life should be cherished and protected,” he said.
He’s racked up the most endorsements out of the three, including state Sen. Amanda Chase, a number of law enforcement officers, local officials and one local militia leader. Garrett boasts endorsements from U.S. Rep. Bob Good, former state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and state Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper County. Wood counts a handful of local endorsements.
Campaign finance reports through the end of March show Bailey outstripping his competitors, having raised almost $56,000 to Garrett’s and Wood’s totals, both around $18,000. Just under $12,000 of Bailey’s budget has been through contributions largely from local donors, while $44,000 is in loans.
Almost all of Garrett’s $17,893 has come from contributions, as has Wood’s $18,020, though Wood tallies more in-kind donations and corporate cash contributions.
The Republican convention for the House District 56 seat will take place May 20 at Cumberland High School.
For a full list of who’s running for what in legislative seats in Southwest and Southside, see our election guide.