Two Suffolk races challenged

Published 10:01 pm Thursday, October 29, 2015

Two races for the Senate of the General Assembly affect Suffolk voters in North Suffolk.

Both districts — the First and the Third — cover only one precinct or so in the northern end of the city. The First District also contains much of the Peninsula. The Third District also covers parts of Surry and Isle of Wight counties as well as much of the Peninsula and counties farther north.

The incumbent in the First District is John Miller, who is running for his third term. He is challenged by Mark Matney.

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“I think there are incredible opportunities that need attention,” Miller said in a phone interview this week.”

He views one of his best achievements so far as convincing his fellow legislators to reduce the number of Standards of Learning tests Virginia students are required to take.

“We went from 34 tests down to 29,” Miller said. “I think we need to go further. We spend too much time teaching to the test and developing a generation of children who are great at memorization but not thinking critically.”

He said requiring 20 minutes of physical activity for schoolchildren every day is also a priority.

Miller also wants to create an independent redistricting commission.

“I think that’s critically important,” he said. “We’ve got to get the redistricting pen out of the hands of people who have a vested interest in it.”

Miller said he believes he’s worked to build a strong record of accomplishment.

“This election, I believe, is going to be decided over whether people think I’ve done a good job or not,” he said.

Running against Miller is Mark Matney, a Baltimore native and Newport News attorney who lives in James City County. He moved to the area in 1992 after graduating from William and Mary law school. His wife is a local.

“As an attorney, I’m able to help people on a one-to-one basis,” he said. “I thought if I was in the legislature, I could help the whole region and the whole state.”

Matney said his priorities are diversifying the economy, attract jobs and improve transportation.

“It’s great to have the military, but our local economy is dependent upon the defense industry for 43 percent of our economy,” he said. “I feel like we need to be taking action to plan to bring other types of business to the area.”

He hopes to take steps to improve vocational and technical training as well.

“We need to do a better job for those who don’t go on to college in preparing them for real work,” he said.

Matney said he has a background in mediation, negotiation and advocacy, which he believes will serve the First District Well.

“I believe I would bring a fresh sense of enthusiasm to the office,” he said.

In the Third District, Thomas Norment, an attorney, is the six-term incumbent. He is being challenged by Hugo Reyes.

“I think there are still a number of unfinished pieces of business in the Third Senate District,” he said. “That would include trying to direct more money into public education.”

Norment also seeks a sustainable revenue source for tourism, as well as greater access and affordability of higher education, both community colleges as well as four-year institutions.

“I’m particularly interested in expanding the scope of what the community colleges do to provide degrees or certifications in some of the trades,” Norment said. “Education is the key to financial independence, and we ought to be promoting that. We have a lot of people in the Third Senatorial District who need some encouragement and need an opportunity to pursue advanced degrees beyond high school.”

Norment said he believes his seniority benefits the Third District. He is the Senate majority leader, chairs the courts of justice committee and the Senate finance subcommittee on education, and is one of the budget conferees.

“Just through mere perseverance, I’ve been blessed enough to enjoy some positions of seniority that I think benefit the entire district,” he said.

Hugo Reyes is Norment’s challenger. He is a California native who enlisted in the Army Reserves in high school, then went into the National Guard and saw active duty during Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

He found Virginia during his service and decided to stay. He holds two associate degrees, a bachelor’s degree, a Master of Business Administration degree and a Master of Science degree and currently works for a federally funded research and development center.

His priorities are mental health, education and veterans services.

“We talk about these things all the time, but nothing gets done,” he said.

He said funding to Eastern State Hospital has been cut, resulting in fewer beds for mentally ill patients. Tragedies could have been prevented had that not happened, he said.

He wants to fund education starting with pre-kindergarten.

In the realm of veterans, he said he wants to increase federal dollars coming into Virginia for liaisons between veterans and the Veterans Administration “so that veterans don’t have to deal directly with the VA,” Reyes said. The liaisons “are familiar with the system, they know who to call, what to say, what to ask for, and they don’t tend to get the runaround.”