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What you need to know about Virginia's 9th District House race

Anthony Flaccavento, Morgan Griffith are on ballot

Midterm elections will be held nationwide Nov. 6 for all 435 districts that make up the U.S. House of Representatives.

One of those elections is for Virginia's 9th Congressional District. This district contains Lee, Wise, Dickenson, Buchanan, Scott, Russell, Tazewell, Washington, Smyth, Bland, Giles, Grayson, Wythe, Pulaski, Montgomery, Carroll, Craig, Floyd and Patrick counties. Parts of Alleghany, Roanoke and Henry counties are also in this district. The cities of Bristol, Covington, Galax, Martinsville, Norton, Radford and Salem are part of this district.

Currently, the seat is held by Morgan Griffith, a Republican who was first elected to his seat in 2010.

Challenging Griffith this November is Democrat Anthony Flaccavento.

Morgan Griffith is currently serving his fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Griffith graduated from Salem's Andrew Lewis High School, Emory and Henry College and earned his law degree at Washington and Lee University.

Before serving in the U.S. House, Griffith served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1994 to 2011.

Griffith and his wife live with their three children in Salem, Virginia.

Anthony Flaccavento, who is from Abingdon, describes himself as a family farmer, community leader and small business owner.

Flaccavento wrote "Building a Healthy Economy from the Bottom Up: Harnessing Real-World Experience for Transformative Change," which he says is about building healthy economies from the bottom up.

He and his wife have a blended family with three children and live on the outskirts of Abingdon, Virginia.

Candidates' stance on various issues:

Interstate 81

Interstate 81 has emerged as a leading issue in the race.

The highway’s issues are well known, and well documented, with an increase of 12 percent in traffic and a 55 percent increase in delays because of crashes, construction and bad weather.

While traffic backups are part of daily life in places like Northern Virginia, Tidewater and Richmond, the delays on 81 tend to be the result of horrific, often fatal crashes that close the road for hours at a time.

The candidates seem to feel like the highway has become a big enough problem that they are willing to push harder for transportation dollars to deal with it.

Flaccavento says he is not so much in favor of widening the interstate, as in reducing truck traffic by putting more cargo on trains.

“What I would primarily support is not the widening of Interstate 81, but the addition of both passenger and rail lines. Because what we need to be doing, first and foremost is taking trucks off of 81, and we need to put them on rail,” Flaccavento said.

Flaccavento says he would pay for improvements with a unique new formula. “I am a supporter of a national infrastructure bank.  A bond-funded infrastructure bank, not by taxpayer dollars but by savings bonds that you and I would purchase, much as we helped fuel the Second World War. This could create a tremendous pool of capital that we could use not only for 81, but for broadband and for many, many other infrastructure needs that we have here and all around the United States,” he said.

Griffith has long been an advocate for improvements on 81.  He prefers to revamp the entire interstate as a major project.

“Some people say, well let's fix it in the Shenandoah Valley. Well, that doesn't help the 9th District. We need a long-term project where we are looking forward, because the traffic is only going to get worse. And I believe we need to (make it) four-lane border to border,” Griffith said.

“The state legislature is still going to have to come up with some solutions, but the interstate highway is a federal highway system, and they will need some assistance if they come up with a creative plan on ways that they can make traffic on 81 better. They are going to need some approval from the federal government. And I am standing ready, willing and able to assist Democrats, Republicans and independents in Virginia state government in figuring that out and trying to figure out ways that we can improve the highway,” Griffith said.

The Commonwealth is currently studying the highway.  A report on the best approach to fixing it is due at the end of the year.

Opioid Epidemic

The new bestselling book, "Dopesick" by Roanoke author Beth Macy, details how the opioid crisis grew out of pill use in rural areas of Virginia and migrated to more populated areas such as suburban Roanoke County.

The crisis is a nationwide epidemic that caused 72,000 deaths in the United States last year alone.

As a campaign issue, debate revolves around stopping the problem, and then helping addicts who have already succumbed.  

Griffith believes big pharmaceutical companies like Perdue Pharma have some explaining to do.

“It's huge, particularly along that Virginia-West Virginia border, where drug distributing companies dumped millions of pills in small towns. And those pills found their way into my district and I'm mad about it, and I'm not going to sit back and take it lightly. And that's why you'll find my name on a lot of legislation. You'll find my name on the letter to Purdue Pharma and the other manufacturers, saying give us the information. If they don't give it to us, my subcommittee is going to fight to get subpoenas issued by the full committee in the United States House,” Griffith said.

Griffith says he wants to make sure states are sharing the same legal language to prevent and monitor doctor shopping, the practice of addicts of going across state lines to get additional pills like OxyContin and oxycodone from more than one doctor.

Griffith’s Democratic opponent also believes the drug companies are to blame.  

“I very much support the lawsuits that have come from many of our counties as well as our state attorney general, because I think, I’m not somebody who loves lawsuits but unless the Purdue Pharma and the other big pharmaceutical companies are made to pay for this, these kinds of things just continue to happen,” Flaccavento said.

Flaccavento said he wanted to see addicts become productive citizens again.  He advocates the use of drug courts, which are an alternative to incarceration.

“So instead of being arrested for a drug-related crime, instead of throwing them in jail, we give them the option of working through this 18-to-24 month program to get clean to stay clean, to get a job, to keep a job, and otherwise kind of get their life in order,” Flaccavento said.

Gun Control

Gun control is a sticky issue for candidates in rural Southwest Virginia, where much of the population hunts and the NRA enjoys a lot of support.

Both U.S. House candidates the 9th District say they support the second amendment with Democrat Anthony Flaccavento calling for an end to bump stocks, which convert a semi-automatic gun into what is essentially a machine gun.

“I’m a second amendment supporter without question. I have a gun. I’m a farmer so I feel like I need a gun to keep the critter population down on my farm. I believe that there’s no question that we can protect the second amendment rights, protect the rights of law-abiding citizens and take real steps on gun violence and gun issues,” Flaccavento said.

But Flaccavento also wants the federal government to study the issue, which he claims is prohibited under federal law.

“We need to remove the prohibition that is been in place for 22-years on using federal dollars to study gun violence. We’ve not been able to spend the federal dollars to look at what is the cause of gun violence and the causes,” he said.

Incumbent Republican Morgan Griffith is supports the second amendment and is anti-bump stocks.

"Bump stocks are obviously a problem. One (issue) that is the language doesn’t go too far, I’d have to take a look at the language that was presented to me, to make a decision,” Griffith said.

On the issue of handguns, Griffith said he felt that handguns have not been the real issue, instead, he said we need to review how people with mental health issues are treated.

“Well, the biggest problem hasn’t been handguns. These are tools. And people have to recognize these are tools. The biggest problem is who is using the tool. And why are they using it Improperly?... Right now if you’re a danger to yourself or others, you weren’t supposed to be able to get a gun anyway,” Griffith said.

NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem

NFL players haven’t been grabbing as many headlines by kneeling during the National Anthem this season, as they did last year. Despite that, it’s still a hot button issue.

Candidates for the House of Representatives in the 9th District were ready with answers during sit down interviews with 10 News and WSLS.com

Democratic challenger Anthony Flaccavento sees the action as an issue of free speech.

“The person who started that, Colin Kaepernick, has been vilified. He can't get a job anywhere. He and most of those who followed him, I think I've been pretty clear in saying that the reason that they did that is not because they disrespected the flag, not because they are not patriotic, not because they are not believers in America. It was their opportunity to call attention to issues of injustice, racial injustice, of violence in communities of color. Some folks say, they are here to entertain us and that's what their job is and they ought not get political on the football field.  But, if I was them, and it was an issue of great importance to me, I would recognize that that's my opportunity to lift that issue up, and I think they've done that,” Flaccavento said.

Incumbent Republican Morgan Griffith sees it differently. Griffith sees the players as employees who should do what the league or the owners tell them to do.  For him, there is a better time to show dissatisfaction with America than during the National Anthem.

“You know, they're on the job. John Carlin can't go on TV just because he has the right to free speech and spout off whatever his political views are. You'd be fired in a heartbeat. The NFL has the right, once they are on the field to demand that they have respect for the servicemen and women of this country. Staying in the locker room doesn't bother me. Come on the field and kneel, I think it's disrespectful,” Griffith said.

Pipelines

Few issues have generated more interest and anxiety in the region this year than the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

From tree-sitters to court rulings for and against the project’s environmental impact, the issue has been in the news almost every day.

In interviews with 10 News and WSLS.com, candidates for the 9th District agreed that the system is broken.

Rep. Morgan Griffith went so far as to say that you know something is wrong when, “… liberal Tim Kaine and Conservative Morgan Griffith agree…”

For his part, Griffith says FERC needs to be more accountable to Congress.

“Unfortunately over the course of 75 years, Congress has given away a lot of its power. And a lot of that power in this case was given to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” Griffith said. “They condemned people’s property, they didn’t pay attention to the terrain they were going into. I am absolutely convinced that they sat in an office somewhere and drew a line on the map, not paying any attention to topography or what might be there,” Griffith said.

On the Democratic side, challenger Anthony Flaccavento agreed but had a stronger stance against the pipeline itself.

“I’m very opposed to the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The problem here is twofold. Number one, we have eminent domain laws that have simply become too liberal. They allow for the taking of property private land for something that really is not truly compelling public benefit. We should only be able to take peoples farmland, people’s private property, people’s homes, whatever it is when we have a clear and compelling public benefit,” Flaccavento said. “I think we desperately need reform of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Right now in the history of FERC, two-thirds of all commissioners when they have left FERC, have taken jobs with the gas company and the pipeline companies. Something is very wrong with that picture,” Flaccavento said.


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