Candidates tackle top issues at 8th Virginia House District Forum

Shawn Nowlin

On Wednesday, September 19, the Roanoke Regional Chamber welcomed Democrat Carter Turner and Republican Joe McNamara to engage in a spirited debate at the Patrick Henry Hotel in Downtown Roanoke. The outcome of the November special election will determine the balance of power in the House of Delegates. The body is currently split 50-49 in favor of the Republicans.

WDBJ7 Senior Reporter Joe Dashiell served as the moderator. Ben Cline, a Republican running for Virginia’s 6th Congressional District, also participated in the debate. Jennifer Lewis, Cline’s challenger, declined to appear. The purpose of the forum was to give voters an opportunity to get a better understanding of where the candidates stand on a variety of issues.

Carter Turner (opening statement) “When I think about the reason why I am running for this office, it really is because I feel like we have to try to move away from all of the noise and ideology back and forth that we see pretty much everywhere we look these days. So much of our political process is paralyzed. I’m trying to come to this race with the attitude that there are some things that we can all agree are problems that need to be addressed now.”

Joe McNamara (opening statement) “About 22 years ago, I was elected to the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors. Most who know me would view me as a common sense business oriented kind of leader. When I was elected, it was a Democratic Board. Over the years I’ve served on both Democratic and Republican control boards. I’ve also served on countless commissions and committees with participants from all walks of life, political affiliations and geographical locations. My one common thread is I try to always serve with a conservative collaborative approach.”

(Moderator) We will start with the online sales tax. This past summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states have the authority to collect sales tax from online retailers based in other states. In light of the recent Supreme Court decision, how should Congress respond?

(McNamara) “Once upon a time, our tax code followed certain principles. I happen to know something about this. While I might sell ice cream during the day, I am also a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). My suggestion is our overall tax program has failed. I look forward to bringing my collaborative approach across the aisle as we try and change the tax system in Virginia to better support the current economy. As a member of the County Board of Supervisors for a number of years, and what we have to work with when we create our own tax policy, certainly anyone who reads the newspaper sees the need to modify our tax programs.

(Turner) “I think this needs to be part of a broader evaluation and discussion. I will say that the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, which I am a part of, on numerous times, has talked about marketplace fairness. Now marketplace fairness is just a simple, fair way to approach taxation. It is something fundamentally wrong for me to buy rice paper from a company in North Carolina to avoid paying taxes from purchasing that same rice paper in Virginia.

(Moderator) What do you see as the role of the federal government in addressing I-81? Also, what strategies do you see worth investing in?

(Turner) Well I-81 is the economic background of the 8th Congressional District. It stretches about 150 miles through the entire district. It is so important for businesses, for manufacturers and for commerce up and down the valley. We have, quite frankly, outgrown Interstate 81. We are to the point where we absolutely need to do something about this road. My plan is to bring various constituents together. From the federal perspective, infrastructure is a core function of government. We do need to place a high priority of making sure the federal government contributes its fair share to I-81.”

(McNamara) “You should expect us to look and continue to develop long-term solutions, such as trying to remove commercial traffic from I-81. A magical pill simply does not exist. If you think we’re going three lanes 81 north and south along this quarter, we’re in a dream world. You can wave magic wands, but even magic couldn’t do it. How do you make those improvements? You work with legislation?

(Moderator) The Joint Subcommittee, established by the General Assembly, has been working over the last few years to specifically access the delivery of mental health services in the Commonwealth. Where do you see opportunities to reform and improve mental health policies in Virginia?

(Turner) “We need to do a better job of training our teachers, among other state employees, to recognize mental health issues and help people get the help that they need. We have a suicide epidemic in this country, and most of that is tied to mental health and substance abuse issues. We have to address it. We have to have the full force of the federal, local and state support to address this. The solution is to focus on the front line of this issue.

(McNamara) “I essentially agree with Mr. Turner. Mental health is a huge issue. The stigma is just awful, and we need to get rid of it. It all ties back to healthcare. Our health and human services budget goes up $3.6 million this year. That money takes away from so many other valuable things like mental health. I’m willing to bet that healthcare was the first question submitted as the biggest problem with businesses.

Joe McNamara (closing remarks) “At the end of the day when you think and discuss with your friends, neighbors, spouses and adult children, I hope you think about where do we go? How do we go? As far as the 8th District goes, if you want to vote for the nice guy, you can vote for either Mr. Turner or myself. If you want to vote for the guy that has a wonderful family, you can vote for me for Mr. Turner. If you want to vote for the person that really cares about the government, you can vote for Mr. Turner or myself. But at the end of the day, we have different philosophies about the role of government. That’s what I ask you to make your vote on. Not surprisingly, with my business experience, I’m very familiar with writing checks. Today was payroll at one of the stores. When you write checks, you have a clear understanding of just how important it is to balance a budget.”

Carter Turner (closing remarks) “I’ve talked to Mr. McNamara enough to know that he really is a good man. If he is elected, just know that you will be represented by someone with high character. He’s also absolutely right that the difference between us is about the role of government. I think it’s really easy to say that I’m a Democrat, so I’m in favor of large government. That means absolutely nothing to me. I believe in effective government, and I believe there are things that we face right now that effective government can help us address. Interstate 81 is absolutely one of those things. Expanding broadband is something the government should also be helping with. Government can help us with education. Government can help us with opioid addiction. Government doesn’t have to be involved with everything though. We do need government to do something about the I-81 problem.”

For more information about Carter Turner, visit For more information about Joe McNamara, visit

more recommended stories