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Candidate Profile: Larry Barnett

Candidate Larry Barnett
Democrat Larry Barnett is running against Republican Roxann Robinson for the 27th House District Seat. (Photo: Craig Carper)

VPM is profiling some of the closest General Assembly races in November’s election. Today we’re looking at the 27th House District.

It runs from Bon Air in the North to parts of Bailey Bridge in the South, just past Pocahontas State Park. In the 2017 election, Democrat Ralph Northam beat challenger Ed Gillespie by almost 700 votes. And the district split the percentage of the votes 50-50 for the Lt. Governor and for the Attorney General’s races. President Trump won the area with 49 percent of the vote in 2016.

In the 2017 elections, Republican Roxann Robison won the district by 128 votes. Her opponent back then, as it is now, is Democrat Larry Barnett. VPM reached out to Delegate Robinson several times for this profile, but she declined our requests for an interview.

Since the last election was so close, I asked Barnett what he’s doing differently in this campaign. He says he’s increased his canvassing efforts.

(0:32) Barnett: “ So I have stepped that up significantly. I'm well above 5,000 doors that I've attempted to knock in this cycle. It’s something that I do most days of the week. I go out to neighborhoods and I talk with the voters. And it gives me a really good sense of the community, a grainier level understanding of the, the people, the issues, the concerns, the hopes of people who live in this district. So for me it has been one of the best forms of education. In the event that I'm elected on November 5th, I think I'll be able to do a much better job of representing the people that I've met and talked with.”

(0:25) Barnett was the director of emergency services for Chesterfield County. He led programs for the county’s mental health department. He says he was very involved in coordinating training for police and first responders on how to safely de escalate situations involving people with mental illness, addiction issues or with developmental disabilities. I asked him what he would do about the hundreds of people stuck in over-crowded state psychiatric hospitals.

(0:36) Barnett: “ We need to look at how do we have good community resources available to help ameliorate, and as much as possible, prevent those kind of serious crises from happening to drive down the rate that people need to go into a hospital, instead getting the kind of services people need in their local community. That means having a pretty robust, comprehensive set of mental health services available to Virginians across the Commonwealth. The more we can keep people in the community functioning well and being able to really manage without needing an involuntary hospitalization, it will help at the backend. But right now it is very challenging, daunting situation that we're in.”

(0:11) Barnett says he also supports expanding affordable access to essential healthcare for all Virginians. I asked him to explain that in greater detail.

(0:27) Barnett:  “ You know, I think one of the things we need to do is look at where do we get the best bang for our buck, because taxpayer dollars need to be carefully allocated in ways that really are going to yield the most benefit to the people in our communities. So prevention and access to primary care, nipping conditions in the bud, is the way to go. We have so much research that shows that's the cost-effective, most efficient way to go.”

(0:10) Barnett says expanding Medicaid to make primary care available with some preventative services is a smart thing to do.

(0:46) Barnett: “ And I'd like to amplify on that a little bit because a lot of my work is involved working at the backend of our system with emergency service and crisis. And I've seen firsthand how inordinately expensive it is to have a system that responds to people on the worst day of their life. It takes a lot of resources from the local community, from law enforcement, from fire, EMS, ambulances, emergency room time. And many of these conditions could have been prevented if those individuals had access to the health services that they needed at earlier points in their life. So orienting ourself towards that and looking for ways in the General Assembly to really promote prevention and access to primary care is a really smart way to go and it's a good use of taxpayer money.”

(0:35) Barnett connects his work in mental health with the legislature’s debate around gun safety. He agrees with creating a red flag law. Those rules allow police or family members to ask a judge to temporarily remove firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves.

(0:24) Barnett: “That would reduce a number of suicides that take place across the Commonwealth each year and safely get the person through the crisis and then be able to, have their weapons back at a point when they're doing well. But the red flag laws I think will save lives. And I have to say, I've also talked with many a responsible gun owners in the 27th where I'm running who voiced very similar perspectives to me. They would like to see those actions taken to make our communities safer.”

Barnett also supports other gun control bills popular with his fellow Democrats. The issue gained attention after the mass shooting in Virginia Beach in May. After the tragedy, Governor Ralph Northam called a special legislative session of the General Assembly devoted to gun violence. The Republican majority adjourned the session after 90 minutes, saying the governor's call was politically motivated. The GOP delayed the session until November 18th, after the election, but before new members would be sworn in. They assigned the state’s bipartisan Crime Commission to study proposed legislation. Barnett says the legislature should have acted sooner.

(0:28) Barnett: “ I think there's been a number of good, commonsense gun laws that have come forward, both in the last session and some of them were, I think in the wings during the special session, if we've had an opportunity for there to be a healthy debate about the issues. 

There's a few that stand out for me as ones that would pull many people together:universal background checks and making sure that firearms don't get in the hands of people who shouldn't have them, as something that most Virginians see as a very good commonsense measure to move forward with. And it’s long overdue."

(0:25) The General Assembly has also been debating what to do with Confederate monuments around the state. Virginia law currently bars the removal of memorials to war veterans, like Jefferson Davis. Some lawmakers want to change the law to allow local governments to take action. Barnett says it’s a good idea to have local control over the statues. But he says politicians need to discuss the issue with their constituents before taking action.

(:20) Barnett: “So I think engaging in that vigorous dialogue at a local community level is the way to go. And if communities in Virginia want to make changes, whether it's changing the names or changing a certain monuments that have been up over time, that's something that could be left to those groups to sort through and come up with the best solution for their local community.”

(0:15)  One change Barnett would like to see the General Assembly make is stricter regulations for Virginia’s campaign finance laws. Right now, candidates can accept unlimited contributions and can use them for almost any purpose if they say its connected to their campaigns. Sometimes candidates report spending campaign funding on fast food or hair cuts.

(0:28) Barnett: I think campaign finance reform is, is badly needed in Virginia and it's one of the improvements I would hope to see.  I think it's important that any funds that are raised for campaign purposes are used only for that and not for personal use. That to me is one of the places where there should be a clear red line drawn. I also think we should not be able to accept funds from businesses or organizations that might profit by certain pieces of legislation moving forward. There should be a line drawn there--and that's for both parties. We just should not have that in Virginia.

(0:20) You’ve been listening to our interview with Democrat Larry Barnett. He’s running for a Chesterfield-area House of Delegates seat against GOP incumbent Roxann Robinson. VPM requested a similar interview with Robinson but she declined. To hear this entire interview go to

For VPM News, I’m Ian Stewart. 


Ian M. Stewart previously was the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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