We need to determine their (new candidates') stands on 2A issues

House of Delegates: Newport News candidates square off

By Kimball Payne Daily Press 247-4765

May 1, 2009

NEWPORT NEWS - — A pair of Peninsula Republican lawmakers and the Democrats who are challenging them sparred Thursday night over unemployment benefits and transportation in a wide-ranging forum six months before Election Day.

This fall, Dels. G. Glenn Oder and Phil Hamilton will face off against two Newport News attorneys making their first bids for elected office. Gary West is running against Oder in the 94th House District, while Robin Abbott is pushing Hamilton in the 93rd.

Hamilton and Oder largely dominated the forum hosted by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, brandishing their credentials and legislative experience to a crowd of about 100 residents.

"It's easy to criticize a record when you don't have one," Hamilton said.

Oder honed in on his work to reel in payday lenders.

"Those regulations are going to strangle them and they're going to leave the state," he said.

But in their fledgling campaigns both Democrats sought to highlight how they would work differently in Richmond. West said he is frustrated with the lack of progress on transportation.

"In the last eight years we haven't gotten anywhere" on traffic, West said.

Abbott said that "the misguided policies of the House Republican leadership" are leading to gridlock problems at the General Assembly.

"Is Richmond working for you?" she asked.

The two Peninsula races could become competitive because Oder and Hamilton serve in districts with strong Democratic populations where passion should ratchet up during the gubernatorial race. Further, Virginia Democrats are largely re-energized after Barack Obama's run to the White House which beefed up the rolls of Democratic supporters. The stakes are even higher this year because this is the final election before state lawmakers redraw Virginia's political boundaries during redistricting.

"Hamilton has served in the House of Delegates since 1988 and hasn't faced an opponent on the campaign trail since 1995. Hamilton is an influential member of the House, a budget negotiator second in command of the House Appropriations Committee, and also chairman of the Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee. Hamilton's opponent is lawyer Robin Abbott, who works for the Newport News-based firm Consumer Litigation Associates.

Meanwhile, Oder was first elected to the House in 2001 during a campaign hailed for its civility. Oder has made a name for himself within the GOP for willingness to take on difficult issues including payday lending and attempting to solve the state's ongoing transportation riddle.

Oder has only faced one re-election in 2007, winning by more than 6,000 votes. West is a local attorney and one-time partner in the prominent local law firm Patton, Wornom, Hatten and Diamonstein. He served on the Newport News Planning Commission between 2001 and 2008, when his term expired.