Mason takes the long view

Published 9:51 pm Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Though Monty Mason is running unopposed for re-election to the Senate 1st District seat, it doesn’t mean the Williamsburg Democrat hasn’t been sharing his ideas and plans for once he returns to the General Assembly.

He said he wants voters in the 1st District to know where he stands on the issues. The district slithers along either side of Interstate 64 from James City County south through Williamsburg, Hampton and a large portion of Newport News before crossing the water to encompass the Burbage Grant area of Suffolk.

“This is really the first time that I can look towards laying out a four-and-a-half-year business plan, if you will, and try to take a longer-term view of some issues and some opportunities for things to accomplish,” Mason said. “I think from that standpoint, it’s really very positive.”

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Mason, 52, who used to work for Visa but is now an investor, was first elected to the House of Delegates District 93 seat in 2013, defeating Republican incumbent Michael Watson and served there until 2016 when he won the special election for the Senate’s 1st District seat following the death of Democrat John Miller.

“One thing that hasn’t changed running for re-election, even unopposed,” Mason said, “is I always take the approach (that) I’m proud of the things that we’ve accomplished, but there’s much, much, much more to do.”

He said the widening of Interstate 64 on the Peninsula has been transformational, and with his appointment to the Finance Committee of the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission, he wants to see that project to widen it all the way to Richmond come to fruition, as well as the multi-billion-dollar expansion of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.

Another issue of focus is child welfare, as Mason touted his work in passing legislation to take money from the federal government and allow social service departments to offer prevention services to families. He also helped to start the Foster Care Caucus — which he co-chairs along with Republican House member Emily Brewer — during the 2019 General Assembly session.

In education, Mason noted that the next re-benchmarking of schools in Virginia — a process by which the state determines how much state and federal funding to provide to school divisions — would cost $450 million in the next two-year budget cycle. Couple that with an 18-percent increase that the Board of Education is asking for that will cost another $950 million — that money would go toward reducing class sizes, hire more reading specialists and taking out a cap on the number of support positions a school division can have — and he said that’s about $1.3 million in operational money that will be needed for education.

None of that, he said, would address aging infrastructure, noting that more than 40 percent of the state’s public schools are more than 50 years old and present security challenges. Nor would it address expanding pre-kindergarten programs, as he noted that Virginia First Lady Pam Northam has been traveling the state looking to restructure early childhood education.

“We have to figure out some sort of bonding mechanism that doesn’t put a lot of the onus on the localities,” Mason said, “in order to ultimately replace the infrastructure.”

Mason said it would be difficult to balance the needs of the district and state with the myriad and costly issues likely to be on the table.

“This is a budget year,” Mason said. “Everything pales in comparison to the budget, because there are always more needs than there are resources to apply to them. We have to apply them in the most efficient way possible. I think we do a good job in Virginia of conservatively laying out a budget, but unfortunately, that means we tend to shortchange some things.”

Mason wants to focus on workforce development to provide job training for those who do not want to go to college. He added he sees wind energy as a big opportunity for the state and said he is pushing Dominion Energy on the issue.

He also favors what he calls common-sense gun laws, such as background checks and red flag laws, the latter which allows police or family members to petition a state court to allow for the temporary removal of firearms from someone who may present a danger to themselves or to other people. He said the gun issue is one of the few in which Republican and Democratic lawmakers talk past each other, and said people focus on that rather than concern themselves about such issues as rural broadband access and economic development.

“Guns is one thing where we’ve gone to our corner and played to (our) bases,” Mason said. “We need to do something, and, as I told a lot of my friends I grew up with (in Farmville), you’re not even going to notice. It is not going to impede you going deer hunting, turkey hunting, buying guns, being a collector. A background check will do nothing to slow you up for that.”

Mason said there would be much for him to focus on in Richmond, even the less-prominent but still important issues with daily impacts on residents in the district and state.

“Child welfare, foster care, mental health, opioids, they don’t really resonate in a campaign,” Mason said. “You don’t get re-elected on those issues, but boy, they require the attention and the focus of public policymakers. It’s essentially providing help to those who are least able to help themselves.”