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Brandon Bell Files As Independent Candidate For 19th Senate District

Brandon Bell with son Parker, wife Debbie and daughter Sarah.

by Valerie Garner

Last Monday the former Virginia State Senator in the 22nd Senate District officially became the Independent candidate in the 19th Senate District—a race people are calling a “rematch” though Bell dismisses the term.

It can’t be ignored that Sen. Ralph Smith won against Sen. Bell, the Republican incumbent, in a 2007 primary. However, Bell was confident and relaxed when he filed. His confidence stems from what he has heard from 19th district constituents. He says “they are tired of both political parties standing in their respective corners with their arms folded – unwavering and refusing to compromise.”

He also says he has learned a lot from past elections – both the primary and his loss to Democratic challenger Sen. John Edwards in 1995.

It was a family affair Monday afternoon at the Roanoke County Registrar’s office. Bell, 52, was accompanied by his wife Debbie, 6 year-old daughter Sarah and 2-½ year-old son Parker.

Sarah insisted on having her name on dad’s petition and a separate piece of paper was attached to the clipboard inscribed with “Sarah Bell.” Above her name was “D-A-D-D-Y” with backward “Ds.” Sarah proudly handed the clipboard over to the Registrar.

Sen. Bell still clings to the “conservative” side of the political spectrum and when asked what kind of conservative he is, he said “a reality-based conservative.” He contends that “it’s about solutions and not locking yourself into a position that’s uncompromising.” He sees the Republican Party pulling itself apart.

After filing, Sen. Bell challenged Sen. Smith to at least five debates throughout the district. “Not just forums, but actual debates where [they] could ask each other questions directly,” explained Bell. “A good back and forth debate like on the Senate floor or in the British Parliament,” he said with a grin.

He asked for civic groups or anyone to host a debate and invite both Bell and Smith. If both agree to the format it would be time to drop that remote control and attend this no-pay-for-view event.

He suggested having four candidates, including those in Roanoke’s 21st senate district.

Smith proposed a bill requiring 72 hours to read the State’s budget before voting. Bell suggests an amendment allowing legislators to “take a recess” for a week and let constituents weigh in on the budget before returning to Richmond for the vote.

He repeated that if elected he would neither caucus with the Senate Democrats or the Senate Republicans.

“It’s time for people to get out there and tell both parties they are being too extreme,” said Bell. He’s seen party loyalty dwindle and extreme elements take over party identification. He pointed to Smith as being part of the extreme few. “This is the big dramatic contrast people are going to see … people will see [Smith] is not flexible enough in today’s environment,” said Bell.

In the primary Smith used Bell’s support for “smoking legislation” as an issue that brought at least a small group to Smith’s side in 2007. “It’s interesting that over the years [Smith] has been [in Richmond] he hasn’t introduced a bill to repeal it either,” said Bell.

Bell, pointing to his two children said, “not having them exposed to second-hand smoke was more important.”

“People don’t take chances enough in politics,” he added.

Bell couldn’t recall any other former member of the Senate with a party label who later ran as a “true Independent.” It’s not so easy to “do your own thing” when chained to a party. If you break ranks “you may find that you are not on a committee you really want to be on or you may not have your bill heard,” said Bell.

It would take 27 members of the Senate to vote a member off a committee. “You’re much more able to vote conscience in the Senate,” he said.

The rule of twenty-one (21): Bell said he would be able to do more for the Southwest district because “both parties will need him on every vote.” Even with a wider majority between the parties they still have to please a wide range of views and interests on their home turf.

In general Bell thinks Governor Bob McDonnell is “doing a good job” though he believes that funding for the Virginia Retirement System and funding for roads has only been delayed and Virginia will have to pay in the end.

 “The [Governor’s] ‘borrow and spend’ approach to fund roads won’t work indefinitely,” Bell said. He added that “we need a new revenue stream.”

Over time the gas tax would result in a diminishing-return revenue stream as more electric and hybrid vehicles take to the road. They would pay no tax and get a free ride. “It should be a pay-as-you-go system,” he said.  He wouldn’t rule out some form of tax.

Bell says he cares about social issues “but if someone is not able to provide food for their family and doesn’t have a job, that trumps everything.”

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