House District 42. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
House District 42. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

Want more political news? Sign up for our free weekly political email newsletter, West of the Capital.

Republicans in Virginia’s 42nd state House District will make a decision Saturday between conventional incumbent Jason Ballard and self-described “anti-establishment” candidate Jody Pyles at a Republican mass meeting held at New River Community College. 

In 2021, Ballard ran his first campaign in Virginia’s 12th District, but is seeking reelection in the 42nd based on the new electoral lines drawn by the Supreme Court of Virginia.

While the new district may not appear too altered on an electoral map, aside from the “42” now assigned to it instead of “12,” in reality the area’s demographics have greatly shifted. Like the old district, the 42nd still encompasses all of Giles County and the city of Radford but with different portions of neighboring counties Pulaski and Montgomery. The most significant change is the exclusion of the town of Blacksburg, where Ballard’s previous opponent, Chris Hurst, came from and held a stronger Democratic base than anywhere else in the district.

The former 12th District had a record of close races between the two political parties. Without the Democratic stronghold of Blacksburg, the district now has a strong Republican base. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, 66.3% of voters in the district cast their ballots for Glenn Youngkin in the 2021 race for governor.

The victorious Republican candidate on June 3 will most likely go on to win the House seat in January, as there is currently no Democratic opposition in the district. 

Financially speaking, the odds are not in Pyles’ favor, as his campaign account held just $1,175 at the latest campaign finance reporting deadline on March 31, according to VPAP. 

“There’s two types of ways to campaign,” he explained. “One, you live your life and do good to people and build a reputation. Then when you run, people know who you are. Or the second way is to hop in the pocket of politicians and lobbyists and get their money. The people don’t know who you are so you spend all this money on radio, billboards, yard signs to try and canvas the area so people will see your name because they haven’t heard of you before then. Am I saying one’s more effective than the other? I guess we’ll see in June.”  

Ballard, whose expenditures totaled $1,051,506 during his 2021 campaign, has raised $101,413 so far, mostly donations from various Republican committees and other candidates from the party, according to VPAP. Dominion Energy contributed $12,500 to the delegate and Appalachian Power Co. donated a little over $2,000. Ballard has already spent roughly $60,000 toward campaigning compared to Pyles’ $6, as VPAP reports.

Pyles has received no endorsements, but says he is more focused on receiving the endorsement of his constituents in the form of a vote. Ballard, on the other hand, has received key endorsements from fellow Republicans such as Governor Glenn Youngkin, Attorney General Jason Miyares, the National Rifle Association and former governor and senator George Allen. 

“It’s humbling but it highlights the fact that they know I’m a dependable partner in what we’re trying to achieve,” said Ballard of his endorsements. “They [Youngkin and Miyares] know they can count on me and I can count on them and that’s how we get things accomplished that the voters in my district want to get accomplished.”

The choice of mass meeting to nominate a candidate has disgruntled a few Giles County Republicans who typically favor a traditional primary. A mass meeting permits anyone residing within the district to cast a vote, including Democrats, as long as they are registered to vote and sign a “statement of intent” promising to support the Republican nominee in the general election. A potential obstacle for voters is that it requires them to travel to the meeting site in order to vote and does not allow for any early or absentee voting, according to Zack Thompson, vice chairman of the Giles County Republican Committee. 

“Regardless of this poor choice of method, I’m confident residents will show up and ensure we have a strong voice in Richmond with Delegate Ballard,” said Thompson. “This mass meeting may be one of the largest and most lopsided results in Virginia this cycle. Governor Youngkin on down to School Board members in all 42nd district counties have expressed their support for Delegate Ballard.”

Ballard also expressed his frustration with the party’s choice and exclusion of various voting groups. 

“Having a mass meeting does disenfranchise military members,” said Ballard. “Or the elderly who can’t make it to one central location, [on-duty] law enforcement, or nurses working a shift so it’s a little bit unfortunate that the party chose a mass meeting.”

About the candidates:

Jody Pyles. Courtesy of the campaign.
Jody Pyles. Courtesy of the campaign.

Jody Pyles, 40

Pyles’ resume is unique indeed: A country band musician, associate pastor, martial arts instructor and body armor sales rep who says he has traveled the world rescuing young girls from sex trafficking. He is a former legislative aide to conservative firebrand state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield County, and is looking to continue his reputation in Richmond as a “fighter” and “an advocate for the underdog,” as he described himself.  

“That’s where my heart is,” said Pyles, also an NRA firearms instructor. “My heart is seeing lives changed, rescuing people from these atrocities, and that is what has led me into the position of running for office because I see us spiraling as a Commonwealth, spiraling as a nation and I think it’s time that good people step up and fight back.” 

Listing countries such as Ukraine, Nicaragua, Pakistan and Cuba where he has done his good deeds, Pyles also has addressed local needs by throwing a “free Christmas” in downtown Pearisburg for the last six years where he distributes essential items and a warm breakfast for homeless individuals in the community. 

With his experience as a legislative aide, Pyles feels quite prepared to return to Richmond – this time in a different role. 

“Anyone who’s ever been involved in politics, whether state or federal, knows that politicians are a figurehead,” said the candidate. “The real work is done by the legislative aide. I already know this stuff [how to write and present bills], he’s got two years as a legislator, but he’s had a legislative aide. I’ve got the experience of the legislative aide which is the one that actually does the job and I’ve got relationships with other legislative aides up there and that’s how you get work done.”

He connected with Chase after his country band performed at a political rally she was attending. She became interested in the musician after catching wind of his background as a contract employee for international protection agencies. Initially providing some security services, Chase showed Pyles the way around Richmond, teaching him how to write and present bills, and he worked up through the ranks to become her legislative aide. 

During this time, he attended the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, alongside the senator. Pyles stated that he did not set foot in the Capitol or engage in any illegal activities, simply administered first aid to injured protesters.   

Despite spending several years in Richmond and his close affiliation with Chase, Pyles proudly describes himself “not a politician” and an “anti-establishment candidate,” another factor that influenced his decision to run. He said he made several attempts to contact his legislator, Ballard, regarding various issues over the past couple of years to no avail, so decided to take matters into his own hands. 

“So when people ask ‘what makes you think you’re qualified,’ you know, I’m a real person,” explained Pyles. “I’m a business owner. I’ve experienced real life. I know how business works – I’ve been successful and I’ve failed. I know how relationships work – I’ve been successful and I’ve failed. That’s what makes someone, I think, qualified to be a representative. To truly represent people, you have to be the same as the people. You can’t be untouchable.” 

Despite frequently emphasizing the distinctions between him and his opponent, the two don’t drastically differ on the policies they consider most pressing. When it comes to abortion, both candidates asserted their belief in life at conception though did not expand on any specific exemptions they would support. 

While not having any children of his own – though a proud father of a German shepherd – Pyles holds strong views when it comes to parental rights in education and the role of the public school system in molding the next generation. 

“The parents should have the right to know what’s being taught in the classroom,” he said. “Let’s get rid of this critical race theory junk and teach kids true education. Let’s teach them how to read and teach them how to write. Why do we got kids that are more worried about gender and we have a whole generation confused about gender, but they can’t write in cursive? That stuff belongs to the parents, let the school system focus on education.”  

Parental rights and abortion are not the only issues where Pyles plans to maintain a firm conservative stance. He advocates for rolling back all restrictions on guns and instituting a “constitutional carry” policy as well as introducing term limits to those in public office, though he did not specify any length of time or particular governmental position.        

Pyles was born in Winston-Salem, N.C., and spent most of his life in Mount Airy. After graduating from East Surry High School, he attended a local community college for a couple years before transferring to Appalachian State University. From there, he was employed in 2003 by the Winston-Salem Police Department, but was fired in 2005 for “insubordination and violating policies on sick leave and reporting to duty,” according to an article on Raw Story that cited a termination letter provided by the city of Winston-Salem. Pyles did not contradict the official statement when asked by Cardinal News, but pointed to some of the department’s “internal issues” that led to his departure.

He then relocated to Giles County where he said his family originated, to serve as a worship pastor for a church – one of the many hats Pyles wears. Though to keep from reciting his extensive resume, Pyles simply calls himself an entrepreneur. 

“I would preach on Sunday morning, get on an airplane and fly to another country and work all week,” said Pyles. “Then, fly home, do a country concert Friday night, a martial arts tournament on Saturday and be back in the pulpit on Sunday. People would never have a clue that I was gone.” 

Though he may prefer to fly under the radar when it comes to his multitude of professions, he did garner some attention on social media following a video he posted criticizing a Black Lives Matter protest taking place near Radford University. 

“We’re in civil war,” said Pyles in the video. “I think these idiots should be treated as terrorists, and you’re out here destroying property, you’re destroying businesses, you’re destroying people’s lives, and you should be treated as a terrorist. You should be treated as an attack on US soil. And we should handle it as such.”

After Cardinal News followed up with him about these remarks, Pyles explained he did not mean that all who attended BLM rallies were terrorists, but that anyone acting unlawfully during peaceful protests should be arrested, including those at the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. 

Del. Jason Ballard. Photo by Markus Schmidt.
Del. Jason Ballard. Photo by Markus Schmidt.

Jason Ballard, 53

Ballard was recently able to wrap up work on what he described as his “favorite piece of legislation” at a church service on Sunday, May 21, after presenting the Trout family with a signed bill and the pen Governor Youngkin used to enact “Noah’s Law.” When a Clifton Forge woman was on trial for abducting 2-year-old Noah Trout of Giles County in May of 2021, prosecutors discovered that abducting a minor was only a Class 5 felony in the Virginia legal code – the equivalent of cashing a bad check, explained Ballard. The delegate proceeded to introduce HB 1892, which now makes this crime a Class 2 felony with a punishment of 20 years to life in prison. (The boy was rescued and Nancy Fridley was sentenced earlier this year to serve 15 years.)

“It provided closure for them and had a great deal of personal satisfaction for me to know I made a difference in their lives,” said Ballard. “I want to continue doing those things. I want people to see that I’m out there, I’m in the community and I want to keep our community safe.”

Making the community a safer place as well as helping with Youngkin’s recent push on combating the opioid crisis are two issue areas Ballard is focusing on should he return to Richmond.

“The reason I’m running for reelection is I want to continue the good work that I’ve done over the last two years,” he said. “We’ve made good strides for the New River Valley, good strides for our community and Commonwealth, so I want to get back to Richmond to continue that work.”

Before he ran for the first time in 2021 – unseating Democrat incumbent Chris Hurst – Ballard served on the Pearisburg Town Council while running his own law firm, Headley Ballard LLC. He graduated with a B.A. in political science and B.S. in management from Concord College in 2001, and earned a law degree from West Virginia University. 

Ballard was studying in Morgantown, W.Va., when the planes struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, inspiring him to join the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division after graduating in 2004. He went on to deploy on two tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, then another two tours with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, colloquially known as the “Night Stalkers.” During his time in the service, he was presented with multiple awards including a Bronze Star, four Meritorious Service Medals and the Army Commendation Medal. Now a lieutenant colonel for the Army Reserve, Ballard and his wife, Catherine, are raising their four children in Pearisburg, where he was born and raised. 

Ballard often proudly points to his voting history over the past couple of years when asked about his stance on various political topics – referring to a “perfect record defending life and protecting the unborn.”

“I was the only legislator in the entire General Assembly that had a pro-Second Amendment, pro-privacy bill passed,” said Ballard. “That’s a hard thing to do in a divided government, but because I’m willing to work with the other side, I actually got that accomplished and it was the only one.”

The soft-spoken Ballard seems to understand the value in taking a step back once in a while to observe and learn. 

“Sometimes it’s helpful to be quiet and just learn and listen,” he said about his first session as a delegate. “When you do that, you are a more effective legislator moving forward.” 

Having secured the backing of many in the governor’s office as well as local officials across the district and state, Ballard is confidently looking ahead to his return to the House. 

“I’ve been a very proven legislator over the past two years and so when I go back to Richmond for the next session that’s what I’m going to continue to do,” Ballard said. “I’m going to work with my colleagues. I’m going to get legislation across the finish line that benefits the New River Valley and my district and the Commonwealth as a whole. And I think you’ll see that on June 3 that the supporters who know that will show up and they’ll vote for me.”

Emily Hemphill is a Political Science and Journalism major at the University of Mary Washington and sports...