The farmer-businessman vs. the government grad

In the 18th District, incumbent Webert and challenger Harris face off

With up-for-grabs school board and supervisors seats in the Piedmont and Stonewall-Hawthorne districts uncontested this fall, Rappahannock County voters are left with just one contested race in the state House of Delegates — between 22-year-old Democrat challenger Colin Harris and incumbent Republican Michael Webert.

So far, Harris has received endorsement from Virginia’s Sen. Mark Warner and also outraised Webert $115,607 to $99,081 in campaign contributions. The two men, who admittedly have many differences, are going head-to-head to win the 18th district seat in the General Assembly this Nov. 5.

Michael Webert speaks to a small crowd at a recent clay shooting fundraising event at Bill Fletcher’s farm in Sperryville. Courtesy photo.
Michael Webert speaks to a small crowd at a recent clay shooting fundraising event at Bill Fletcher’s farm in Sperryville. Courtesy photo.

Rappahannock represents 10 percent of the district, based on the number of registered voters; 53 percent of the district’s voters live in Fauquier County (home of both candidates), according to the Virginia Public Action Project (VPAP). The 18th district includes all of Rappahannock County and parts of Fauquier, Culpeper and Warren counties.

Webert is a 34-year-old father of an 18-month-old son, and runs a farm in northern Fauquier. Challenger Colin Harris, who grew up in Orlean, is a 2013 Dartmouth graduate and son of former Obama administration attorney Scott Harris. While Webert has received money from the tobacco, coal and electric industry (Dominion Power), Harris has received cash donations from both the nuclear industry and an electric transmission company in Texas.

Webert visited the Rappahannock County Public Schools this Monday (Oct. 7) to talk with students in both the elementary and high schools about the inner workings of state government. He sat with several members of an advanced-placement government class, discussing the campaign process, the federal government shutdown and ways to bring more jobs to Rappahannock County — before fielding questions for the Rappahannock News in the same classroom.

When asked by local supporters in the district to run for delegate two years ago, Webert said he ran on a platform of innovation and small business, and has stayed true to that vision. His proudest achievement during his first term in office, Webert said, was his formation of the 27-member bipartisan Business Development Caucus, which allows business owners to voice their needs to government officials. Webert also sponsored a successful bill protecting and encouraging individuals running home businesses.

“Apple, Google, Microsoft, all these companies started in garages,” Webert said. “We want to encourage that type of innovation, because that’s what this country is about, that’s what this state is about. If you think about it, from the inception of this country, we have been about innovation, and that’s kind of what makes this country great.”

Harris accuses Webert of representing the interests of the “big boys” in Washington, rather than the interests of citizens in the 18th District.

“The vast majority of my contributions come from individuals; his come from big corporations and PACs and special interests,” Harris said, also criticizing Webert for voting for the bill that required women seeking an abortion to undergo transvaginal ultrasound treatments.  

Webert dismissed Harris’ accusation that the incumbent Republican is only looking out for special interests in Richmond.

“I would just say, if you look at the various public officials who have endorsed my campaign — which is four out of the five supervisors in Fauquier County, a number of supervisors in Culpeper and Warren, and we’re garnering support here in Rappahannock,” Webert said, “those local officials seem to be okay with the work that I’m doing, and appreciate that I’m not interfering with their ability to do their jobs to govern their constituents.”

Harris noted that while his Obama administration attorney father taught the younger Harris the value of public service, it was his mother that was his biggest political influence.

Democratic challenger Colin Harris.
Democratic challenger Colin Harris.

“My mother instilled in me a sense of empathy, and the belief that empathizing with people whose life experiences may be very different from yours is essential to public service,” Harris said. “This district encompasses the entire breadth of diversity that we have in this state. And I think that being able to empathize with people from a wide variety of backgrounds is essential to representing this area well. And that’s why I’ve been so aggressively knocking on doors in all four counties of the district. You don’t have any legitimacy to represent people, or claim to represent their interests, until you’ve met them face-to-face.”

If elected, Harris said he hopes to provide a fresh take on politics, by promoting bipartisanship and fighting to maintain the power of government at the local level.

“I think that I offer a new approach that is different from the very invasive, overreaching agenda that has been coming out of Richmond in the last couple of years,” Harris said. “The transvaginal ultrasound bill, violating the sacrosanct nature of the doctor-patient relationship, that’s something that I was horrified by and that I would vote to repeal. We’ve seen an effort to concentrate zoning power and education regulation in the state government, which is also very bad. Between the twin pillars of zoning and education, that controls pretty much our entire future on the local level.”

According to figures from the VPAP, as of Aug. 31, campaign funds raised through contributions for Harris totaled $115,607, for Webert, $99,081. Harris has raised $98,435 in cash contributions more than $100, and $17,044 in cash contributions of $100 or less. Three of Harris’ top four contributors share the same last name, with Scott Harris giving $6,151 to his son.

Webert has raised $75,665 in cash contributions of more than $100, $4,285 in cash contributions of $100 or less and $8,931 in in-kind contributions of more than $100. Webert’s top contributors are predominantly organizations rather than individuals, including Dominion Leadership Trust, the Virginia Coal Association, Dominion Power, Majority Leader PAC, the Virginia Bankers Association and the Virginia League of Conservative Voters.

Election guide

Look for the Rappahannock News’ guide to the Nov. 5 general election in the Oct. 17 newspaper next Thursday.