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Senate Candidates Offer Alternatives – Tom Garrett

FARMVILLE-Tom Garrett, a survivor off a five-way contest for the Republican Party's nomination in August, is one of two candidates that will be on the final ballot November 8.

The Commonwealth's Attorney from Louisa County recently visited The Herald after stopping by radio station WVHL for an interview.

“I like He Believed, by Aaron Tippin, a great deal,” the candidate says, when asked if he had a favorite country song. “It's an over-arching theme about the power of encouragement and support and faith.”

He goes on to add, “I told somebody last night that I think I've been relatively successful in life because my mom told me I could and my dad he'd kick my butt if I didn't. And, unfortunately, I think that that sort of interlocking support network is missing for a lot of our young people.”

The father of two young girls has been hitting the trail as the election draws nearer. Later that afternoon he was headed to the lone city that is part of the new 22nd District, Lynchburg.

Asked about how he became a prosecutor, Garrett notes: “You know, honestly, watching movies as a young person and seeing…there are a lot of different things that you can do. There are a few where you can make a tangible, quantifiable difference and when I understood the role of the prosecutor, I always admired what they did. I admire anyone who will make a commitment to make a sacrifice to make things better. That's why I served in the military, that's why I honor people in the law enforcement community and why I wanted to become one of them by becoming a prosecutor.”

Garrett likens a prosecutor to a closer in a baseball game.

“I hadn't been thinking about it at all,” he says, when asked about getting into the senatorial race. “I took a phone call on April 28 from somebody who informed me there was about to be a new district and that they thought I ought to take a look at it.”

That somebody, he said, was the attorney general.

“I've always told my daughters 'Daddy doesn't like whining.' One day, probably five or six years ago, Dana said, 'They're young, you're gonna need to define 'whining.' And, so, relatively quickly I said, 'Whining is complaining with no intention or plan of doing anything about what you're complaining about.'”

Garrett reflected on an effort to move the child torture statute from the labor code to the criminal code.

“So when we were prosecuting some of these cases I charged malicious wounding, felony child neglect etcetera, etcetera and then we charged child torture 'cause it seems appropriate to me, but the charges were thrown out 'cause the courts says…it's not a labor employment relationship.”

A bill, carried in the General Assembly by Delegate Bill Janis, that would have moved it from the labor to the criminal code died in committee on what he cited was a technicality.

While they had some success on other bills, Garrett offered that that child torture bill that failed “frustrated the heck out of me and I thought this is insanity. And, so when I got a phone call saying there's a new senate district you ought to look at it, I thought I've been whinin' and complain' I need to have an intention to do something about it. And so we took a leap of faith.”

Throwing his hat into the ring to become one of five candidates and not running for re-election for Commonwealth's Attorney.

“If I'm gonna complain about what happened down there, and God presents an opportunity for me to affect change, then if I'm gonna put my money where my mouth is, I need to take that opportunity,” Garrett said.

Asked what he learned through the primary process about the district, Garrett said: “I didn't learn anything-I confirmed what I already knew. What I mean by that is when we started this primary process, a reporter from the Lynchburg area said 'How do you represent an area…where nobody has anything in common with each other?' And, you know, you never pick a fight with a guy who buys ink by the barrel, but I immediately said, 'I think you're wrong.' And he said, 'How so?' And this was May-I mean this was early on-and I said, 'I think what you generally have here is a group of people who share common values and ideals. I think we still say please, sir, thank you and ma'am. We still hold the door for our elders and we go to church on Sundays…' I mean I think that Bumpass has as much in common with Rice…I think that rural and traditional values Central and Southside Virginia has more in common than it has separating it. And I think we learned that in the primary process. We took the same message to every locality and we finished in a five way race no lower than third anywhere.”

As primary results rolled in primary night, Garrett was in third place in a tight race with only the results of Fluvanna County to be reported.

“We were (watching),” Garrett recounted, “and I had friends who were text messaging me and emailing saying, 'You know, you did the best you could, keep your chin up, don't worry about it.' And we knew we'd do well in Fluvanna and here's the facts: Fluvanna's close to home for us, Fluvanna's in the same media market as us. People in Fluvanna knew us, they knew that what we've done over the last four years is look people in the eyes, tell 'em…we're gonna try to do the best we can and then we went and we did it. And so we felt like there wasn't as much need to identify ourselves in Fluvanna, that folks in Fluvanna already knew us. And we felt like we were gonna win Fluvanna. The challenge was do we win by enough to move from third to first, but we ended up, I believe, with 48.1 percent of the vote in a five-way race in one county. And, so, that indeed was enough to propel us from being down 150 votes to up 171 votes.”

Garrett said he likes the campaign after the primary better than before the primary.

“I'd rather hunt donkeys than elephants,” he says.

He pauses, then adds, “…Ultimately…I'm a gladiator in the arena of ideas. And I think that our ideas are better than the other side's ideas. I think that the beauty of America is that whether you're talking about Democrats or Republicans, we all want what's best for our counties and our state and our country, but the reason we have opposing political parties and ideas is because the recipe for success varies from one side to the other.”

First up, legislation-wise, Garrett offers, would be to eliminate or reduce redundancy in regulation. (It's the first piece of legislation he says he intends to push, noting that the reality of it is that a freshman senator is not going to be effective. “So what you do, if you want to govern effectively, is you find somebody that's been there longer, who's got some seniority and say, 'Here's the idea, will you carry the bill?'” Ronald Reagan said it's amazing what you can accomplish when you're not concerned with who gets the credit.”)

“It kills jobs,” he said. “What I mean by that is where you have two or three or four agencies local, state, federal all promulgating regulations in the same area and each of these entities is gathering information from businesses and job creators and the businesses and job creators have to fill out the same information on different forms three, four, five, six times which takes them away from the business that they're engaged in, you kill jobs. You push employment-what would be wages to productive workers into the administrative and compliance realm. So I think…before we look at growing government, we ought to look at areas where government is already redundant and overlapping and try to roll those together to be efficient. Because the more efficient government is, the more efficient the private sector will be able to be.”

As for a specific example of redundancy, he cited a gentleman in Buckingham who owns an excavating and earth-moving company.

“And he's got nine employees and he said one of them is specifically and solely responsible for compliance and filling out paperwork. That's all she does,” Garrett said.

He noted that his point is that he's filling out the same information for one local, two state and one federal entity at the same time and that it's the same information.

“You address it legislatively by looking at areas where we have overlapping requirements inside of state entities-DCR and DEQ overlap in some areas,” he said. “DEQ and EPA overlap in some areas. The federal government and state government can share information. I know that for a fact. I do it as a prosecutor. We share information all the time with federal law enforcement entities. And, so the people who should be gathering this information are probably the administrative individuals tasked with these entities and not the employers on the receiving end of the edicts.”

He also noted that if you buy a firearm, you fill out one set of paperwork for the state and a separate set for the federal government. While Garrett said he had no problem with the background check, but if you look at the two sets of paperwork, the data “is like 97 percent analogous.”

Garrett suggested a regulatory reform initiative like the Governor embarked upon when he was elected.

Garrett is also supportive of requiring those receiving welfare benefits to submit to a drug test.

“Now the ACLU says that's a violation of fourth amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. I would ask rhetorically what percentage of employees today have to take a drug test as a condition of their employment? And I would submit that that's a pretty high number,” he said.

They wouldn't force anyone to take a drug test, he says, instead as a condition of receiving benefits, they would agree to take a drug test.

“…This is not designed to put people in prison. I do think you'd have a tenuous fourth amendment argument if you argued that having something in your blood stream was tantamount to possession, but instead it's designed to help people address problems,” Garrett said.

He cited private entities that help people break addiction problems that already exist.

“And so it's already out there,” Garrett said, noting that what you then would be able to help point people in the right direction.

He offered, “…The point is that in order to break the cycle of poverty where it exists, you need to break the cycle of addiction. And there are two legitimate expectations that taxpayers should have as it relates to welfare programs. The first is that it'll be used as a hand up rather than a hand out. And the second is that your tax dollars won't go to subsidize an illicit drug habit.”

Other states have taken similar plans. The Constitution and the Supreme Court have repeatedly supported the right to enter into contracts, he points out. Though challenges have not reached the Supreme Court level, it had so far been successful in Arizona and has been struck down in Michigan and (after The Herald's interview) Florida.

How does he think his extensive experience in the courtroom would help prepare him?

“…I think the most important experience to have is common sense life experience,” Garrett said. “And I'm more proud of my experience, you know, growing up in rural Virginia and serving in the United States Army. I do think that understanding how the (state) Code is written and how…laws impact every day Virginians is helpful. If you're gonna have a group of people making laws, it's probably good to have people who understand them. But I think that just life experience growing up in rural central Virginia in a community where we cared about our neighbors and we worked hard and our word meant something. I think that's more important than any courtroom experience.”

Still, he adds, “The one that I think I've gotten from my time as a prosecutor is the willingness to work really hard even when people say we can't do it.”

The battle in the General Assembly has sometimes been characterized as urban versus rural.

“The senator from the 22nd District will need to represent Lynchburg, they'll also need to represent Cumberland, Buckingham, Prince Edward, Appomattox, Amherst, Louisa, Fluvanna and Goochland,” Garrett said. “And, having grown up in small town Virginia, and having worked in local government in small town Virginia, I think I bring a unique understanding of the issues,” Garrett said. “And I think it's important for rural Virginia to continue to have some voice.”

Garrett offered that there are a lot of people at the General Assembly “who think we should raise the gasoline tax because we have a transportation problem. While I concur that we have a transportation problem, I'm not just gonna give lip service on not raising the gas tax, I'm gonna stand and I'll fall and I'll fight and I'll die on that hill and I'll tell you why. Because if you live in Buckingham, you probably have to drive 15 or 20 minutes just to get to the supermarket. If you live in Prince Edward and you commute to work in Richmond or Lynchburg, you're not fortunate enough to work here in the county, your commute is a lot longer than the average person in a urban area and so a gas tax increase is unduly burdensome. Unduly burdensome on small town rural voters in the Commonwealth. And, as big cities where people have shorter commutes and public transportation readily available, get more and more votes, it's more and more likely to pass. And I think it's unfair for the people of Prince Edward County and Buckingham and Cumberland and Appomattox to be saddled with a tax that will benefit the people in Fairfax and Virginia Beach.”