Republican Travis Hackworth brought his campaign for the 38th State Senate seat to Pulaski County last week.
Hackworth, a member of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, is seeking to replace the late Ben Chaffin who served in the State Senate prior to his death on New Year’s Day.
Hackworth is opposed by Radford’s Laurie Buchwald, a Democrat who is a nurse practitioner and former member of Radford City Council.
The two will face off in a Special Election set for March 23.
Hackworth said within 24 hours after Chaffin’s death he got calls from people urging him to run to replace Chaffin in Richmond.
“We had talked to Ben back in 2019 about his seat,” Hackworth said. “So, it wasn’t really a surprise that they would ask us because they knew we had some interest in it at the time.”
Hackworth said Chaffin told him he planned to run again.
“So, we wouldn’t challenge him of course. Ben was a good Senator – he was a good legislator.”
Following Chaffin’s death, Hackworth said he and his wife, Angel prayed about a possible run and “really felt it was the right thing to do.”
Hackworth is a businessman in Tazewell and has about 10 businesses, including construction, real estate, car lots and manufacturing concerns.
“We’ve really invested a lot into southwest Virginia. I felt like the person who has the most skin in the game is going to fight the hardest to make sure things are going good,” the candidate said.
“We looked at the field of candidates that were throwing their hat in the ring and we didn’t see anyone we thought would do a better job, so we stuck with it, got a lot of endorsements out of the gate and a lot of support.
“We had about nine days to put our campaign together to seek the party’s nomination. We ran like 18 to 20 hours a day. We had really good support and a good showing, winning by about 600 votes,” he said. Hackworth defeated five others for the nomination in a “fire house” primary in late January.
“People ask us what our stance is on the First Amendment and we tell them we don’t feel like the government has the right to suppress our voices,” Hackworth said. “We have the freedom of speech – even if it’s not something I want to hear or you want to hear, it’s still our Constitutional right.
“What they’ve done to President Trump has been very hypocritical because it’s a double standard,” Hackworth continued. “They preach tolerance as long as you’re tolerant of them. When you ask them to be tolerant of you it’s ‘oh no, we’re not doing that we’re going to censor you.’
“Very disheartened to see that,” Hackworth said.
“Last year we came to Richmond over the red flag laws. The gun laws they were passing were just crazy. The senators and delegates we talked to voted against them, but we just didn’t have the votes and the muscle to stop some of that.
“The session this year is just a repeat. Thankfully, it’s not so much guns this year, but it’s social issues.
“The death penalty … getting that removed. I don’t want to see anyone die, but if you pre-meditate something and are found guilty, the punishment needs to match the crime. I think it is a deterrent for crime.
“That was pretty much no contest. We knew we were going to lose that one this year.
“Also, on protecting qualified immunity for police officers, efforts to eliminate that failed, but they’ll come back after that next year.
“Law enforcement are having a hard enough time getting recruits without them having to take on the possibility of civil suits, frivolous lawsuits. I’ve talked to Commonwealth’s Attorneys, sheriffs – I think we’ve got the endorsement of pretty much all the sheriff’s in our counties – they’re really behind us, supporting us.
Hackworth was joined on his visit to Pulaski County by former supervisor Andy McCready, who touted Hackworth’s leadership on the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors.
“When he joined the board, the county was $4 million in the hole, and they weren’t taking care of any of their capital needs. In the years he’s been there that $4 million deficit has worked into a $1 million surplus,” McCready said, noting Hackworth served as chairman on a Democratic majority board.
“So that says a lot about being able to work together and get things done. I think that will mean a lot for us in Pulaski County because he knows firsthand the shenanigans the General Assembly does with budgets where they come out and wave the flag and say, ‘we’re giving teachers a 2 percent pay raise.’ No, you’re not. You’re giving them a 1 percent pay raise and telling the localities to match it.
“He’s been through all that and, he may not be able to stop it, but he’s going to call attention to it. And that is what we need,” McCready stated.
“That is a big issue for our voters. You have your big issues like 2A, but really your property taxes are driven by how much Richmond is NOT funding our schools.
“He’s already done a lot of work in that area and needs to be complemented and recognized for that,” McCready continued.
Hackworth has been on board for 5 years and is in his second term. He was previously on the Town of Richlands Industrial Development Authority, the Cumberland Plateau Board, and the Tazewell County Planning Commission for seven years before joining the board of supervisors.
“I’ve been in local government for 12 years and have seen the budgets, crises,” Hackworth said.
“Even with your Constitutional officers, you’re only ‘comped’ so many positions and so the localities have to pick up any additional costs. The sheriff’s department especially. Bland County for example, is one-third Jefferson National Forest. So, they only get comped nine deputy positions, but they have to have 20 for what they need to service their constituents. That’s why when you go through Bland County on the interstate you have to put your cruise control on about 5 mph over or you’re going to get a ticket. They run radar to supplement those deputies’ pay. They don’t want to do that, but it’s a necessity.
“The inequalities that the General Assembly has done – I know what they do, they don’t want to raise taxes on their end, so they just enact these mandates on localities, and they’re forced to have to do something.
Hackworth sees local economic development as another major issue.
“Driving through Pulaski this morning I saw all the empty buildings and it resonated with me because Richlands is the same way. I’d love if we could get a revitalization program to incentivize some of your local businesses to invest back into vacant buildings or school buildings. We’ve got vacant school buildings that are just deteriorating.
“Being on the board of supervisors that really gives me an education so when I’m in the General Assembly I’ll be able to help some of our local boards of supervisors and town councils because I’ve been there.
“Being a local leader, it’s really helped me to know the needs of our local communities,” Hackworth stated.
He said Buchwald is far to the left on the issues in the campaign.
“The best advertising we could get for our campaign was when Gov. Northam endorsed her,” he said. “That was wonderful.”
“There’s a lot of issues in this race, but I believe the biggest is the partisan divide that we have. We [Republicans] are three votes down in the State Senate right now, with Ben’s seat being vacant. If I get in it will cut it to two.
“I asked the other day, how many times does that one vote – that one empty seat – matter, and they [Senate Republicans] said several times this year. They said they’ve got some moderate Democrats that will still stand up and say, ‘you know, that’s too far.’
“Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has had to vote several times this year [to break tie votes]. So, this one seat is the biggest issue I see right now. We have a void – a vacuum – that the governor has refused to act on in a timely matter, even though precedence has shown he’s filled seats within 30 days when it was a Democratic seat. He’s refused to do this all through this session, and I think that’s why he’s called for a special session the next week because he knew this election was coming on the 23rd and so the only thing I’ll get to participate in if I win will be the veto session.
“So, I think that’s the most important issue in this election. Get another conservative up there and get some moderates to go across the aisle.
“That umbrellas overtop all these other issues,” he said.
The 38th State Senate District includes the counties of Bland, Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell, Tazewell and Pulaski; the cities of Norton and Radford and portions of Montgomery, Smyth and Wise counties.
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot