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Amanda Pohl Challenges Amanda Chase For Virginia's 11th Senate District

Amanda Pohl and Amanda Chase

VPM News is profiling some of the most competitive General Assembly races in this November’s elections. Here Roberto Roldan takes a look at the race for Virginia's 11th District Senate seat. 

Transcript:

From the VPM newsroom in Richmond, I’m Roberto Roldan.

We are profiling some of the closest General Assembly races heading into the November elections. Today, we're looking at the 11th District senate race.

The district includes large swaths of Amelia County to the west as well as parts of Chesterfield and Petersburg in the east. The seat is currently held by Republican Amanda Chase, who came into the Senate as a Tea Party favorite in 2016. Chase pitched herself as an outsider and a small business owner, having never ran for public office previously. She’s now being challenged by another first-time candidate, Democrat Amanda Pohl. She’s a social worker and church deacon who is making her first foray into politics. 

While the 11th District has traditionally been a safe bet for Republicans, there are some signs of change. President Donald Trump carried the district by nearly 13 percentage points in 2016...but last year, 11th District voters narrowly chose Democratic Senator Tim Kaine over Corey Stewart. 

And Democrats are pumping money into this race. The most recent campaign finance reports show Pohl outraising Chase...and...for the first time...Pohl now has more cash on hand than the incumbent senator.

Pohl is running as a moderate Democrat. But one area where she diverges greatly from her opponent is on the issue of gun control. I asked Pohl about changing Virginia’s gun laws and she said she would support universal background checks and a red flag law.

Anamda Pohl: If someone is a danger to themselves or others, and that can be determined by a judge, we should make sure that they have a cooling off period, that they temporarily do not have access to their weapon, so we can just make sure they aren’t going to hurt someone.

Pohl also says she supports local governments being able to implement some firearm restrictions.

Chase, on the other hand, has made a name for herself as a vocal gun rights advocate. She recently faced criticism for a Facebook ad campaign showing a photo of her at a gun range with a caption saying “I’m not afraid to shoot down gun groups.” Chase blamed the tone of that ad on the media company that produced it. She also received national media attention during the most recent General Assembly session for open carrying a pistol in a committee meeting.

Chase says she’s opposed to all firearm restrictions.

Amanda Chase: Anytime that we pass legislation, what we are doing is restricting the rights of law abiding citizens, because the criminals are never going to follow the laws. They’re not looking in July to find out the next slate of laws that we in the General Assembly have passed to find out which laws they need to obey. Absolutely not.

Chase says that if she is reelected she’s introduce legislation to outlaw gun-free zones in Virginia.

Chase: And, if I have to compromise, I would at the very least say that if a gun-free zone is imposed that there has to be some type of armed security, so that people aren’t sitting ducks, kids aren’t sitting ducks in schools.

The question of firearms regulations continues to be a hot topic for legislators and the public following the mass shooting in Virginia Beach earlier this year. Democrats have responded by introducing new restrictions on guns. Republicans offered mandatory minimums for violent criminals.

Pohl says she wouldn’t support any new mandatory minimums.

Pohl: Those are strictly punitive and actually harm people.

Pohl says mandatory minimums are also not uniformly applied across races.

Chase supported a bill creating a mandatory minimum sentence for anyone who kills a law enforcement officer. But she told me recently that she tends to agree with Pohl, saying that judges should have the discretion in sentencing. 

Chase: We have to be careful that we also allow judges the ability to weight every single case and make those determinations as well.

Another area where Chase and Pohl are at odds is what should be done with Confederate monuments.

Pohl says she sees the issue as one that should be decided by localities because they have a better understanding of what their residents want.

Pohl: When the people say they want this, let’s let localities make those decisions.

But Chase says she’s fine with keeping the existing law, which makes any modification to Confederate statues a state issue.

Chase: I think we need to learn from history. I don’t think we should erase it. I mean, let’s add more. Let’s add more statues of heroes from all different communities.

When I asked Pohl and Chase what some of the top issues for voters in the 11th District are, both said healthcare affordability was a common topic they heard when out knocking on doors. 

On this topic Pohl draws from her past work, both as a social worker and as a hospital chaplain. She says she watched as a patient died who wouldn’t have had Medicaid expansion come sooner in Virginia.

Pohl says experiences like that motivate her to protect Virginia’s Medicaid system, which has enrolled more than 300,000 people since last November.

Pohl: I believe that we not only have to protect that, but we have to build upon that, so we have to think about some innovative solutions. I do have some innovative ideas around how we work on public/private partnerships so we are not increasing taxes, but we are reducing the price of healthcare.

While Chase says she fundamentally disagrees with the idea of government paying for people’s healthcare, she does recognize the need to reduce premiums. Chase has been a strong opponent of medicaid expansion. She voted against the legislation last year, and...until recently...her campaign website pledged to continue to fight it if reelected.

Instead, Chase has focused on pricing transparency. She introduced a bill this year that requires hospitals to notify patients of their right to require an estimate for services. The bill got bipartisan support in the house and senate.

Chase: By having that transparency and allowing a consumer to [get] an estimated cost of service for a particular procedure, they can now shop around and, in essence, that’s going to drive down the cost of healthcare.

An area where both Chase and Pohl agree is on the rising costs of college tuition. 

Chase sits on the Senate Education and Health Committee...and she says she’s supported any bills that she believed would increase college affordability. That includes a tuition freeze that passed the General Assembly earlier this year.

Every public college in the state has agreed to hold in-state, undergraduate tuition rates steady in exchange for increased state funding.

Both Chase and Pohl say they’d support a similar tuition freeze in the future. And Pohl says she’d also like to see more studies into what is driving up the price of tuition.

Pohl: We look at a symptom and we want to put a bandaid on the symptom and solve for the symptom, but we aren’t always looking at the underlying causes. What I want to do when I get to the Senate is look at what the underlying causes of the issues are.

But in order for Pohl to get to the Senate, she’ll need to beat an incumbent Republican senator in an unfriendly district. Both Pohl and Chase will continue to court 11th District voters heading into the November elections. For more of our interviews with the candidates visit VPM dot ORG.

You’re listening to VPM News.

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