A local leader running to replace Sen. Bill Carrico to represent Southwest Virginia in Richmond is criticizing the Republican nomination process.
For this reason, Marion Community Economic Development Director Ken Heath announced he’s running as an Independent, instead of challenging Del. Todd Pillion for the Republican nomination.
“Let the people have the ultimate voice on who they want to lead, on who they believe has the best voice, the strongest voice and has the most passion for Southwest Virginia,” said Heath.
The switch comes after Heath criticized Republican party leaders in the 40th senate district for planning to elect their next candidate through a mass meeting, where only those in attendance have a say in who wins.
“It’s more or less a coronation party and that’s cool, that’s fine if you don’t have a challenger,” said Heath. “We wanted to have more people participate in the process.”
The district covers seven counties and one city, according to Carrico.
Some voters would have to drive well over an hour to attend the mass meeting, originally planned for a weeknight in Gate City.
“You can actually get from Knoxville, Tennessee to Gate City quicker than you can from some parts of the district,” said Heath.
Virginia law allows the incumbent lawmaker or the local party chairmen to choose between holding a mass meeting, a convention or a primary.
Paul Grinstead, 40th senate district chairman, defended the choice Friday. “This has been at the same location since the 1990s. If we had it somewhere else, somebody over in all the other areas would say the same thing,” he said.
“There are other mass meetings that occur, Democrats do it,” said Carrico, pointing out that other localities choose to hold mass meetings instead of primaries because they’re less costly.
Heath thinks the Republican party should switch to a primary nomination process in the future. He said this would allow voters to engage in democracy closer to home, which could bolster participation in a contest with typically low turnout.
“If we don’t encourage them to participate in the process, we’re setting ourselves up for failure,” said Heath.
Grinstead said that the deadline to switch to a primary format had already passed by the time Sen. Carrico announced he wasn’t running for re-election.
Grinstead would not answer the question when asked if the party would consider the change in the future.
The mass meeting, originally planned for April 25th in Gate City, has been canceled since Del. Pillion is the only Republican running for the party nomination.
Pillion did not return News Channel 11’s request for comment.