HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- A Richmond judge once described its shape as looking like a "salamander" in a gerrymandering case. Voters in the 72nd House of Delegates district will soon choose a new representative at the statehouse. Del. Jimmie Massie (R) decided to retire after representing the district for a decade and leaving his seat open in the process.
Republican Eddie Whitlock, a lifelong resident of Henrico, and Democrat Schuyler VanValkenburg, a government teacher at Glen Allen High School, are vying to represent the 72nd district. Republicans have held the seat for decades, but the district went to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential election. Democrats think changing demographics in the district give them a chance to flip the seat.
Whitlock, who practices law and serves in various community groups, has seen the evolution of the district firsthand. He believes that makes him the best fit to continue the growth in the area.
"I know their issues. I've lived here from when it was a rural county to a suburban county to where now we have lots of businesses. I mean, Regency Square was not built when I was first living here," Whitlock said.
Whitlock said if elected one of his primary areas of focus will be keeping state taxes low and cutting anti-business regulation.
"You need to make a choice as to whether we're going to continue on fiscally conservative, good Henrico policies the way they've been. Or whether you want Henrico to be more progressive; be like Bernie Sanders," Whitlock said.
VanValkenburg entered the race earlier in the year after the results of the 2016 election.
"Over the course of that campaign, watching constitutional norms get trashed, really, kind of got me going," VanValkenburg said.
Republicans in the General Assembly have gone unchecked for too long, according to VanValkenburg. He has never run for elected office before, but said as a government teacher he has witnessed GOP state lawmakers ignore the need for increased school funding and SOL reform.
"You moved out here (Henrico) because you think your kids can do go out and do better things; you moved here because you know businesses are going to move here because of our school systems. The Republicans in the General Assembly haven't had those interests at heart from ten years. They've kind of been able to fly under the radar," VanValkenburg said.
The 72nd district wraps from western Henrico to the north part of the county along the Staples Mill Road corridor. The district's current lines have drawn criticism from anti-gerrymandering groups, who argue the districts shape does not make sense.
VanValkenburg said it was obvious that the district was gerrymandered by Republicans who drew the lines in 2011, but added that "this is not your grandma's Henrico" anymore. Whitlock said he was not involved in drawing the lines of the district, and that the problem with appointing non-partisan commissions to draw district lines is that finding non-partisan members is impossible.