House District 39. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
House District 39. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

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

If elections were won by words spoken, Ron Jefferson would claim the June 20 Republican primary for the House seat in the 39th District in a landslide. However, if silence is golden, then Will Davis will be crowned.

When asked about their willingness to work across party lines with Democrats, Jefferson, a recent retiree of Appalachian Power after 43 years, took around seven minutes to respond — taking a stroll through his history interacting with the General Assembly, recounting his friendship with Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, while also affirming the need to stand strong on one’s morals and principles. 

At the opposite extreme, Davis succinctly stated, “Of course you have to work across lines. I’m willing to do that. That’s what needs to be done and I will do that.”

Aside from their contrasting verbal volumes, the two candidates are not all that different when it comes to policy. Both are firm Christian believers who stress the need to expand gun rights, defend the unborn, support law enforcement and protect children from “sexually explicit material” in schools. In regard to issues facing the region, both mention the need to improve local roadways including U.S. 220 and U.S. 40 while cutting taxes and reducing energy rates. 

Above all, both embody what it means to be hardworking, according to Davis and Jefferson.  

The candidates are different in terms of money raised. Davis has netted $116,895 and spent roughly half on advertising and other self-promotion costs so far. A little over $59,000 of his funds have been donated by fellow lawyers, based on data accumulated by the Virginia Public Access Project. 

Jefferson’s account holds just over $42,000, of which $24,500 came from his own pocket. His campaign expenditures are currently $21,817, according to VPAP. 

This year, candidates have significantly fewer doors to knock on compared to 2021. The electoral lines were completely redrawn by the Supreme Court of Virginia after the 2021 races, creating an open seat in the new 39th District, which now encompasses all of Franklin County and the eastern edge of Roanoke County. Previously, a majority of Franklin County was part of a district stretching to the southern edge of Patrick County. Despite the redistricting, the makeup of the voters did not change much in this strongly Republican part of the state, according to VPAP. Over 65% of voters in both of the old districts supported Trump in 2016 and 75% cast ballots for Youngkin in 2021, VPAP reports.  

The Republican nominee for the 39th District will be decided June 20 through a primary election, though voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots early or via mail-in ballot until June 17. The primary may be tantamount to election; so far there is no Democratic candidate.

Despite their similar political beliefs, Jefferson and Davis come from quite different backgrounds. 

About the candidates:

Will Davis. Courtesy of the campaign.
Will Davis. Courtesy of the campaign.

Will Davis, 52: 

A man of few words accompanied by a thick Franklin County drawl, Davis is a fourth-generation attorney who has spent the last 24 years practicing law at his family law firm, appropriately called Davis, Davis, Davis & Davis. Raised in Franklin County, Davis never traveled far from his roots. 

After graduating from Franklin County High School, he attended Bridgewater College before earning his law degree from Regent University in 1998. He settled back down in his hometown a year later. Even then, members of the community were encouraging him to run for public office, according to the father of two daughters, though the timing was not right for him and his family. Twenty years later, however, and his personal and professional clocks started ticking in unison.

“Once they did the redistricting this time, and there was no incumbent, figured the time was right if I was ever going to do it,” said Davis.

Though he has no previous experience with the legislative side of the law, Davis is confident that his decades dealing with the judiciary aspects have thoroughly prepared him for the job. 

“My legal training certainly makes me qualified, that’s what I do,” he explained. “I break down the laws that are passed and try to attack them when they’re involved in my cases. That’s what I do and that’s how I’ll look at the laws when we pass them, I’ll look at them legally and how I would attack them to make sure we write better laws than have been written in the past.”

There are several bills that Davis already has in mind to attack. Gifted with his first firearm at two weeks old, the lawyer plans to do all he can to repeal some of the “so-called” criminal justice reform laws primarily supported by Democrats. He specifically cited bills like the red flag laws passed by the General Assembly in 2020 that allows judges to prohibit individuals from possessing or purchasing a gun if they are deemed a threat to themselves or others. He’s also critical of the controversial 65 law, which took effect in 2022, that formed a new system for inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes to earn time off their sentences.

Despite his disapproval for several prominent pieces of legislation that have been a source of Democratic pride in Virginia’s government in the past couple of years, Davis insists he is open to discussion and compromise across the aisle if it will benefit his district — unless he is in strong opposition.   

Speaking of compromise, when it comes to the issue of abortion, Davis stated he feels as though there “certainly should be some exemptions for rape and incest,” but that the governor is heading in the right direction in terms of enacting a 15-week ban.  

Some of Davis’ other priorities should he take office include supporting law enforcement, first responders and Second Amendment rights. He also hopes to implement economic development policies to attract more businesses to the area.

A member of the Franklin County Bar Association, former president of the Community Partnership for Revitalization nonprofit and current board member for the Habitat for Humanity, Davis feels he is well suited to act as the voice of Franklin County in Richmond. 

“I’ve lived here my whole life,” he said. “I know the people here, I know how the county has changed and I can promise you no one in this county loves and cares more about Franklin County than I do, so I want to do what’s best for the county and the citizens of the county. I want to make it better for when I leave office for my children and grandchildren than it was when I took office.” 

Ron Jefferson. Courtesy of the campaign.
Ron Jefferson. Courtesy of the campaign.

Ron Jefferson, 62:

Though Jefferson’s childhood was spent in Henry County, he believes his background relates more than his opponent’s to the people of the 39th District. 

Growing up with a single mother who often worked double shifts at a local textile mill, Jefferson and his siblings were taught what “sacrifice and service above self” looked like by watching their mother. He became an employee of Appalachian Power immediately after his high school graduation and eventually earned a degree in business administration by taking night classes from Averett University. 

His first 18 years were spent in a hard hat as a lineman while the final 15 were in a tie lobbying for the energy company in Richmond. It is this experience working with the state’s governing body that makes Jefferson feel “uniquely qualified,” as he puts it, for the role of delegate.   

“When you consider my background, I am uniquely qualified in that I already have a tremendous amount of experience,” he said. “I already know how a bill starts, how it works through the whole process to the end and I’ve already built the relationships with leadership … so I can go there on day one going to work for the district.”

Retiring in 2022 after a total of 43 years with Appalachian Power, Jefferson took a look back to determine how his skill sets could continue serving his community, which coincided with Virginia’s redistricting and a House seat opening up in his district. He has already assembled a sizable hit list of regional problems he will attempt to address if elected: pushing for the expansion of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport, revamping funding for secondary road maintenance, and ensuring all areas have access to adequate broadband and cell service. 

However critical these matters may be to the daily function of the area, his “biggest concern is … protecting the innocence of our kids.” 

“I’ll just be straight with you, how I see it, to look at a young person and say ‘you’re a mistake and you can correct if you would like’ is just wrong,” said Jefferson, who has been married to Cindy Jefferson for 38 years. “And that’s exactly what it is. You can’t change your sex – I just call it a body alteration change — and, to me, that is just wrong. I’ve spoken out against it from day one and that is an issue that is right at the forefront of my concerns for what we’re teaching our children as they grow up.”

Gender identity is not the only concern the father of two has when it comes to protecting children. Given the recent rulings by neighboring states on abortion, Jefferson is ready for all eyes to be on Virginia’s legislature in 2024 and his stance is already prepared. 

“I’m pro-life, life begins at conception. Period,” he said. “That’s where I stand on that issue. When we come into this General Assembly, it is important that we’re electing Republicans that are going to stand strong and firm on that issue and not waver because it’s going to be a battle.”

For a full list of who’s running for General Assembly seats in Southwest and Southside, see our election guide.

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