A Republican lawmaker from Southside who is currently awaiting arraignment on two felony hit-and-run charges has filed to run as an independent in the upcoming House of Delegates elections.
Kelly Martin, the Campbell County registrar, said Thursday that Del. Matt Fariss, R-Campbell County, submitted his paperwork Tuesday evening, just hours before the filing deadline.
Earlier this year, Fariss missed the March 30 deadline for filing his intent to once again seek the Republican nomination in the 51st House of Delegates District.
With his failure to meet the deadline — intentional or not — Fariss handed his party’s nomination in the heavily Republican-leaning district to Eric Zehr, his sole challenger in this nomination contest. Also on the ballot this fall will be Democrat Kimberley Moran in a district that voted 63% Republican in 2021.
Fariss did not respond to an email asking for comment Thursday.
Candidates for office must meet certain qualifications and are required to file specific documents in order to qualify to appear on the ballot, including a Certificate of Candidate Qualification, campaign finance documents, a statement of economic interest and a petition signed by 125 registered voters.
Martin said that she was about to process Fariss’ paperwork and forward it to the Virginia Department of Elections, which will enter it into its system. “That’ll happen sometime next week, then he’ll be good to go,” Martin said.
A Lynchburg native and a resident of Rustburg, Fariss, 54, was first elected to the House of Delegates district in 2011, succeeding Del. Watkins Abbitt Jr., an independent who retired after 26 years in office.
Fariss currently sits on the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources committee, the Appropriations and Public Safety committees, and the Health, Welfare and Institutions committee.
Rick Boyer, a Republican attorney from Lynchburg specializing in elections, said that he believes Zehr is a clear favorite to win the election, despite now running in a three-way contest.
“Eric is a very strong candidate, running a very strong race. His values are a tremendous fit with the values of the people in the 51st District. He has the full support of Speaker Todd Gilbert, the House Republican caucus and our central Virginia Republican legislators,” Boyer said.
Rep. Bob Good, R-Campbell County, has already done a fundraiser for Zehr and Rep. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt County, is planning on doing one soon, Boyer added. “Folks in the 51st District understand that any vote not cast for Eric Zehr is cast for a Democrat majority in the House of Delegates. Eric is going to win the race handily,” he said.
But Joe Szymanski, a political analyst with Elections Daily, said that the effect of Fariss’ bid on Zehr’s candidacy comes down to how serious Fariss is in his challenge as an independent.
“Will he spend money on his campaign? Will he use some of his own money to fund it? Will he get any backing from current GOP House members? I think those questions have to be answered before Zehr makes any choices on how he campaigns,” Szymanski said. “If Fariss is just running on name ID, Zehr will be fine. If Fariss makes an actual go of it, Zehr will have to readjust and prepare for a general election campaign.”
And then there are the criminal charges against Fariss, which stem from an incident that happened the afternoon of March 2. According to Virginia State Police, the lawmaker was heading south on U.S. 501 in Campbell County in his 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe when the vehicle crossed the centerline, continued off the northbound side of the road and struck a pedestrian, who suffered minor injuries. The woman told authorities she had been a passenger in the SUV prior to the incident.
Fariss left the scene but turned himself in the next day and met a state trooper at the magistrate’s office, state police said. He was charged with one count of malicious wounding, a Class 3 felony; one count of failing to stop after an accident, a Class 5 felony; and one count of reckless driving, a Class 1 misdemeanor, according to state police and online court records.
Fariss was released on a $7,500 bond and was due to be arraigned in Campbell County General District Court on May 16, but the arraignment was continued to July 18 at the request of both sides.