BRISTOL, VA (WJHL)- Some living in Southwest Virginia will soon have a new senator representing them in the General Assembly. Current Senator Bill Carrico (R – Bristol) is not seeking reelection for the 40th District. Independent Ken Heath and and Republican Todd Pillion are both running to fill his seat.
For Pillion, a dentist from Abingdon, the senate seat would allow him to continue on his work as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to continue the path that the Southwest Virginia Delegation has worked on, and all the things I’ve started. And continue some successes,” said Pillion.
Heath is the Executive Director of Community and Economic Development for the town of Marion. He wants to bring his 25 years of development experience to the Senate.
“I’m the guy that has the boots-on-the-ground, hands-on, economic development experience,” said Heath.
For Heath, focusing on economic development is the path to a more prosperous Southwest Virginia.
“Our program, “Pop Up Marion,” is being used by the Commonwealth now as a model for economic development for small business revitalization,” he said. “So those things are what I want to showcase.”
Pillion is a member of the InvestSWVA initiative. This aims to bring future-focused technology jobs to the state.
“We’re looking at an all-the-above, energy approach,” he said. “Any energy job we can get, we feel we should be bringing it back to Southwest Virginia.”
Pillion says his experience in the healthcare field makes him more intuitive when passing legislation to fight the opioid epidemic.
“I’ve passed over a dozen bills relating to the opioid epidemic and we’re finally, finally seeing some progress on that,” he said.
Heath said the greatest issue facing the area is a loss of hope.
“We’ll never arrest our way out of the drug problem,” he said. “What we have to do is promise people that there’s hope. For employment, for a better life, other than what you’ve settled for, that has gotten you into the drug trap.”
Senator Carrico has endorsed Pillion. But Heath says voting for his independent campaign is voting for change from the status quo.
“If we want to stick by a hard party line, and vote for the establishment, we’re going to keep getting what we’ve been getting,” said Heath. “I’m tired of us just getting the crumbs off the table. It’s time for us to tear down the imaginary gates in Roanoke where people think the state ends, open up Southwest Virginia, make Southwest Virginia matter again.”
Republicans currently hold a 21-19 majority in the Senate. Pillion says it’s a critical time to ensure Republican-backed legislation is passed.
“Number one is to make sure Southwest Virginia values are represented in Richmond. Last session we saw a lot of bills introduced and pieces of legislation that were introduced that did not represent Southwest Virginia,” said Pillion.
Even with party support behind him, Pillion says he won’t stop campaigning until the polls close on Election Day.
“I am taking nothing for granted,” he said.
Heath remains optimistic.
“It’s almost impossible for an independent to win? I love that,” Heath said. “Because I believe in the people of Southwest Virginia.”