CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — With a slim Republican majority in Virginia’s General Assembly, there is a lot at stake come Election Day for both sides of the aisle. But what about for an Independent?
Linnard Harris is running without a major party affiliation for the 66th House of Delegates District. Residents there have been represented by Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox for nearly three decades. Last year when Harris started campaigning, he was actually zoned for the 70th District and was running against long-time Democratic Del. Delores McQuinn.
The voting district lines were changed this year after a judge ordered a new map to be drawn after finding black voters were packed into certain areas, which is called racial gerrymandering. Because of this, 25 districts have new lines and more than 400,000 voters were put into different districts for this election.
“Everything that I started had to stop and I pretty much had to put it in reverse,” Harris said. “All of the literature I put out, the cards, all of them had the 70th District on them. And so I had to stop everything and we had to reorder cards.”
The Democrat Harris is now up against, Sheila Bynum-Coleman, had previously run in the 62nd House District. As part of a series looking at the 66th District candidates, Capitol Bureau Reporter Sara McCloskey sat down with Harris before he went door knocking in Colonial Heights.
“Because I don’t have the money to actually go on TV, I’m out there twice as much,” Harris explained.
Harris wanted to run without a party backing him because he thought they’d focused too much on raising money.
“Because all they talked about is money. Which I do understand that money is needed,” Harris said.
When he was younger, Harris served in the Army and injured his back. While living in Richmond in the early ’90s, he and an ex-girlfriend broke up and he found himself without a place to live. The disabled veteran became homeless and slept in his car for six months.
”It taught me to plan better,” he explained. “I thank God for it because it pretty much made me who I am today.”
Through this and other experiences in his life, Harris says he can relate to others and see their perspectives. Now he works as a substitute teacher. He was also a police officer for a few years in Spotsylvania County.
A major issue focused on while he’s talking to voters is education. Harris thinks teachers need more support and backs pay raises.
Gun control has become a big part of campaigns this year. Gov. Ralph Northam called lawmakers back to Richmond for a special session on stopping gun violence after the mass shooting in Virginia Beach, May 31. Lawmakers adjourned within 90 minutes and are expected to return on Nov. 18, after the election. The Virginia State Crime Commission, a bipartisan group, was tasked by Republicans to look at the legislation proposed and to develop a report back to the General Assembly.
There’s been a lot of back and forth between the parties about how to handle this issue, which Harris thinks shows how much party allegiance can sway lawmakers to take action.
“No one can really think what’s going on with us. And that’s the party mentality,” he said.
Harris supports the Second Amendment when it comes to handguns and protecting your own property, but does not think “assault weapons” should be on the streets.
”I would fight to ban assault weapons period. Unless you are a police officer, unless you are military,” Harris said. “You shouldn’t have an assault weapon with you. You shouldn’t be carrying an assault weapon with you into a McDonalds, into a Walmart, into a Target.”
With never having held office before, Harris says it’s a benefit because he would go into the General Assembly “with a fresh view.” While out campaigning, he has met up with other lawmakers including those he’s currently running against.
The Independent says he’s willing to work with anyone and any party to make sure Virginians’ needs are taken care of, but thinks longtime lawmakers aren’t doing enough right now to make it happen.
“But you’ve been here for three decades, What can you do that’s going to be different than what you’ve done back them?” he said.
If you haven’t registered to vote already, the deadline to do so is Oct. 15. Election Day is Nov. 5.
This story is part of a three part series on the 66th House of Delegates District candidates, including House Speaker Kirk Cox and Democrat Sheila Bynum-Coleman.