RICHMOND, Va. — While many incumbents face no challengers in their races for re-election to the Virginia House of Delegates, two third-party candidates are taking on an experienced legislator in the 69th district. Libertarian Jake Crocker and Green Party candidate Montigue Magruder hope to unseat four-term incumbent Democrat Betsy Carr in Tuesday’s election.
Both third-party candidates want to give voters a choice in a district that has not seen a competitive race in a while.
“She’s not getting 100 percent of the vote like last time,” said Crocker, a Richmond restaurateur who owns three restaurants on Main Street. “100 percent is not very democratic.”
“Every time she’s been re-elected since her first election bid in 2009, it’s only been because she’s had no opponent,” Magruder, who works as a part-time mechanic and part-time cook, said.
Carr, who had a primary challenger in 2015, but ran unopposed in the general election, said that serving constituents is her priority and that the new opposition does not change the way she runs her campaign. The 69th district includes parts of the City of Richmond and Chesterfield County, and Carr has held the seat since 2010.
“I’m not doing anything different than I usually do every day. I’ve always walked and knocked on doors whether or not I’ve had an opponent,” said Carr. “It’s a democratic society, anyone who chooses to can run for office.”
As a local business owner, Crocker said that he is entrenched in the needs of the city.
“We are the backbone of the community,” said Crocker. He added that he understands how closely a government’s decisions affect its citizens. His three restaurants sit catty cornered to each other on Main Street, the result of more than eight years of work as a restaurateur.
As Crocker enters his Fan District bar and grille F. W. Sullivan’s, a group of men at the bar begin to chant his campaign slogan “Crock the Vote,” and he waves them off, laughing.
“Everybody in Richmond has passed through here one time or another, and everybody has their own Sullivan story they like to tell me. We create a lot of memories,” Crocker said.
His business dealings with the government have influence his interest in running for office. He said Virginia restaurants are highly regulated by all branches of government.
“One simple decision has the ability to devastate our business, or the ability to make our business thrive," he said. “I’m looking across the landscape of who is making these laws and very few of them are true entrepreneurs or small business owners who have a full operating understanding of how these laws affect the business they are targeted toward."
Crocker, who was president of both the Uptown Civic Association and the Fan Area Business Alliance, is running as a libertarian and anti-career politician.
His political ideology prefers small government, fiscal conservatism and no government infringement on personal freedoms. Crocker said it’s a different experience running as a third party in a system that is skewed toward a political binary.
“No one tells me how to vote,” said Crocker. Even without the party name advantage, the big backers or corporate funding, Crocker said it is all worth it to have a chance to make a change. He added that it’s important to give people a choice, an opportunity to vote outside the bipartisan extremes.
“The big national issues aren’t really local issues. I want streetlights, and graffiti gone, and crime reduced, and small businesses to thrive, and the Richmond city school system to do better,” said Crocker. “This office specifically should be focused on representing the actual community.”
Despite the odds of him winning, Crocker is also excited for Election Day. “I think it’s time for new voices, new leadership, people that aren’t quite as beholden to the party system,” he said.
That’s also the goal of Green Party candidate Magruder, who wants to give underrepresented voters a voice and wants them to know that there is a “progressive alternative” in the race.
“I grew up in poverty, I am a survivor of domestic violence, I have been incarcerated, and I went through homelessness,” Magruder said. “My life philosophy is centered around those experiences and not wanting anyone else to experience it. I came to the realization that in order for me to make that change, I have to get to a position of power that allows me to change policy.”
His platform focuses on fixing economic issues and voting inequalities that will help save people from the hardships that he had to endure. Magruder said that it is “a plan of action to bring the balance of power back to the people.”
Magruder wants to raise minimum wage, abolish lifetime felon disenfranchisement (he calls it “a racially motivated policy that was intended to dilute the power of the black vote throughout the state and ensure white supremacy”), and expand voting rights to ensure election integrity.
Magruder said his alignment with the Green Party is what allows him to seek these changes in policy. As a third party candidate, Magruder said he is not indebted to either major political party.
“In my case, I have more independence,” Magruder said. “If I had run as a Republican or a Democrat, all my literature … would be controlled by those two parties.”
Magruder said that Democrat and Republican candidates benefit from systematic privilege.
According to him, they have large corporate backing and media attention, ultimately drawing an audience on party name, rather than policy. Magruder thinks that it is time for third party candidates to challenge the incumbent Carr.
“When I look at Betsy Carr I see a privileged woman who disconnects herself from the oppression that people in her district, especially south of the river, are dealing with,” Magruder said.
“I understand the realities of how politics work here,” Magruder said. ‘But I’m going to keep fighting anyway, because the last thing I want to do is give up on the very people that have supported me and recognize that it’s time for someone who is ready to fight for them.”
All three candidates in the 69th district are campaigning until ballots are cast on Tuesday.
“I’m out every day trying to continue doing what I’m doing to fight to ensure that our citizens are able to get good paying jobs to support themselves and their families,” said Carr. “Whether or not I have an opponent in the primary or general election, I’m always doing the same thing.”
On Election Day, everyone will just have to wait and see what happens, Carr added.
EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported the following story.