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Deborah Rodman Gives Up House Seat To Challenge Senator Siobhan Dunnavant In 12th District

VPM News Director Craig Carper (center) moderates a candidate forum between Sen. Siobhan Dunnvant (left) and Del. Debra Rodman (right).
VPM News Director Craig Carper (center) moderates a candidate forum between Sen. Siobhan Dunnvant (left) and Del. Debra Rodman (right).

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 12th District Senate seat. 


We are profiling some of the closest General Assembly races heading into the November elections. Today, we're looking at the 12th District senate race.

The 12th district includes parts of Henrico like Short Pump and Glen Allen, as well as western parts Hanover County. The two candidates in this race are incumbent Republican Senator Siobhan Dunnavant and her Democratic challenger Deborah Rodman. Rodman is a one-term member of the state House of Delegates and an anthropology professor from Henrico. Dunnavant, who is an OBGYN in Henrico, is fighting to keep the Senate seat she’s held since 2016. It’s one of the most hotly contested...and expensive...races in Virginia. Recent fundraising reports show Rodman raised more than a million dollars in September in cash and in-kind contributions - a record amount for this election cycle. Compare that to $420,000 that Dunnavant raised that same month.

Dunnavant is hoping that name recognition and her record in the Senate are enough to convince voters she deserves another four years. At a recent forum hosted by VPM and sponsored by Chamber RVA, Dunnavant touted her work on healthcare affordability...namely two pieces of legislation she helped create. One requires doctors to share information about cost-saving, alternative treatments with patients. The other requires healthcare companies to count prescription coupons toward deductibles.

‘I have repeatedly carried legislation to ensure they would have to pay less, to provide competition."

Dunnavant repeatedly accused Rodman of being more about rhetoric than action.

While none of the major legislation Rodman proposed in the 2019 General Assembly session was passed, Rodman sees it through a different lens. She says she is proud to have carried legislation that included removing test scores from teacher evaluations.

“It’s not about racking up numbers, it’s about getting things done. For example, I put a bill in so that teachers are not evaluated on how they teach to the test. It died on party lines. I worked with Republican leadership, they wrote a letter, and just this week it was announced that they are going to be pulling back on evaluating our teachers to the test.” 

Rodman has repeatedly attacked Dunnavant for voting against Medicaid expansion in 2018. More than 300,000 people have received health insurance under Medicaid expansion since last November.

“What Medicaid expansion did, that was blocked for years by my opponent and her colleagues, has given people a new lease on life."

Dunnavant says she stands by her choice to vote against Medicaid expansion. She had proposed an alternative plan that would have expanded Medicaid to those with existing medical needs but would have left out low-income, young adults.

“I’d love to get access to everybody, but you have to make choices when you’re at the state level. Healthcare is not a conversation about Medicaid expansion. Only 30 percent of people have Medicaid or Medicare. Seventy percent of people pay for their healthcare.” 

But Rodman says her opponent's position shows that she doesn’t care about a substantial portion of Virginians that were previously uninsured.

The two candidates also differ greatly on the economy.

Rodman co-patroned a bill that would raise Virginia’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2023. She also says she would support the repeal of the state’s right to work law, which bans unions from requiring mandatory membership and dues.

“We talk about apprenticeships, I hear about apprenticeships all the time as an alternative to college, but it’s our unions that are carrying those apprenticeships.” 

In a recent survey by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce,  the majority of Democratic lawmakers that responded to their poll were against right-to-work.

Dunnavant says she’d oppose repealing the right-to-work law. And on raising the minimum wage, Dunnavant says that it may be time for Virginia to increase it, but not to $15 per hour and not in a way that jeopardized the state’s business-friendly reputation.

“Fifteen dollars an hour is not going to give somebody an economic future where they can save for their children to go to college, especially if they lose hours.” 

State legislators met in July to discuss gun reforms in light of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach...but Republicans delayed the session until after the elections, after meeting for just 90 minutes. 

Rodman says gun control is the area where she and Dunnavant most disagree. She points out that Dunnavant ignored what she calls common sense gun reforms proposed by Democrats and voted with her party to end the special session.

“I have children. I want my children to be safe. This is common sense, like universal background checks. It takes five seconds to get a background check and will make a difference in saving people’s lives.” 

Rodman also supports a red flag law that allows judges to take away the gun rights of people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

Dunnavant dismisses the implication that she doesn’t care about gun violence. She introduced a bill earlier this year that would create a mental health crisis hotline.

“We have teenagers that are committing suicide that would benefit from that access. We also have the ability to report somebody and reach out if there are mental health issues.” 

Dunnavant says her proposal could help prevent school shootings like the one that happened in Parkland, Florida. That bill did not pass the General Assembly earlier this year. She also has run recent TV ads saying she supports the federal ban on bump stocks, despite voting against similar legislation at the state level.

One area where Dunnavant and Rodman agree is on the need to reduce the cost of higher education. Earlier this year, the General Assembly voted to give more funding for public universities if the schools agreed to hold in-state, undergraduate tuition steady. Every university in Virginia took them up on that offer.

Both candidates said they would support future tuition freezes, but they each feel like it doesn’t do enough.

Dunnavant has carried legislation that requires universities to be clear about how much debt a student is likely to graduate with. And she says there need to be incentives for schools to get students out on time.

“We don’t have the ability to direct our schools [to do] exactly what to do. We have a decentralized higher education system. What we have to do is incentivize them. If we told schools that we were going to pay them for a kid to graduate in three years instead of five years, I bet they’d get done early.”

Rodman says she wants to focus on the student debt problem. She co-sponsored the legislation that created Virginia’s first student loan ombudsmen. Students can now go to the ombudsmen if they are having issues with a loan company.

“I still have my student loans from college at 4 or 5 percent. But my students are graduating with 8, 10, 12 percent or even more interest rates on their tuition. That impacts not only their immediate lives, but in terms of generational wealth.” 

With less than two weeks left before Election Day on November 5th, Dunnavant and Rodman will continue to court 12th District voters. 

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