6 Questions with Luke Priddy, Candidate for Roanoke, New River State Senate Seat

In advance of the June 20 Democratic primary, The Roanoke Rambler is publishing interviews with each of the three candidates.


Three Roanokers are competing for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring state Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke.

The candidates include DeAnthony “DA” Pierce, Luke Priddy and Trish White-Boyd. In advance of the June 20 Democratic primary, The Roanoke Rambler is publishing interviews with each. Early voting is already underway, and any registered voter can partake.

Whoever wins the primary will face state Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, in the Nov. 7 general election. No Republicans are challenging Suetterlein, who is an incumbent in the newly redistricted seat.

The district leans Republican and encompasses Roanoke, Salem and parts of Roanoke County and Montgomery County.

Priddy, 31, is Edwards’s chief of staff. A resident of Roanoke’s Old Southwest neighborhood, Priddy was elected to Roanoke City Council in November.

Interviews have been edited lightly for length and clarity.

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Why do you want to represent residents of the Roanoke and New River valleys in the state Senate?

I want to continue to push for a lot of the things that Senator [John] Edwards has fought for in order to improve people's lives. I worked for Senator Edwards for the last four years. During his tenure, he has been focused on what he can do to put forward legislative action that will help the people of the Roanoke and New River valleys in their daily lives and I want to continue to be able to do that. I have a lot of experience that's unique to this position towards that end.

Please give a specific example of how your experience would make you an effective leader in the Senate.

[I would] work with stakeholders on an issue before it goes through. I try to meet with all impacted people who are both for and against an issue, regardless of whatever position I take on the issue. Before I take a vote, I explain what my vote is, and I'm transparent with them. In the General Assembly, it is important that you have an open door policy and a working policy.

I have to point back to things that are technically wins under Senator Edwards. I know that the work that I've done while on his staff has been integral to making sure that things actually get through, whether that be the roughly $16 million dollars that came for the local biotechnology center, or with the legislation that will allow Goodwill to operate an adult education high school [in Roanoke]. This is the kind of legislation that I want to continue to focus on. When you look at a lot of the legislation that is introduced and advances, and that focuses on this area, most of it is not as divisive. It's really regionally focused. There are times that you will maybe see a Democrat carry something in the Senate and a Republican carry it in the House [of Delegates]. However, even that partisan activity is important to making sure that something gets through.

Thanks to Senator Edwards’s efforts with his caucus, we were able to express what the intent of the Goodwill legislation was and narrow the focus so that it could get through, so Goodwill can operate an adult education high school. For the biotechnology center, there were a couple of projects like that that were selected in the state. All of them required a one-to-one match for how much money the state would put up, versus how much money the locality or organization had to put up. The City of Roanoke was able to leverage $2 million for a roughly $16 million return from the General Assembly.

Let’s say you win the June primary and the general election in November. What is one of the first pieces of legislation you would introduce and why?

The first thing that I would look at is the legislation that Senator Edwards introduced this past year and prior years and see what is viable to be developed further, and what may need to be introduced again. When I first started working for Edwards, I thought that our priorities would come from these great ideas that we had. What really ends up being introduced are [constituent] issues. People come to our office and tell us that they're facing a problem. We investigate to find where the problem interacts with the law, and we work with them to develop a solution. We use our expertise to shepherd that through the General Assembly.

I don’t know what the legislation would look like, but one thing that I'm concerned with right now is happening locally. There seems to be increased resistance to allowing teachers to display certain materials in their classroom because [the materials] are considered divisive or inherently political. I'm specifically referencing the prohibition of pride flags and related memorabilia. Montgomery County took a position on the matter that won't allow teachers to display them. And as of very recently, we're seeing the same efforts being made in Roanoke County public schools. I’m concerned about whether or not students will see something [in the classroom] that shows that it is a safe space. It's something that I consider to be a democratic value. It focuses on freedom of expression. People have used words like calling people child abusers and groomers and [have been] saying that [people are] indoctrinating children. I think it's important that people have a positive role model and getting rid of that will have detrimental effects.

It’s not something that might be experienced as much in our northern Virginia localities or in other places that are typically held by Democrats. If they're not facing it as a problem there, they may not see it as a solution that needs to be solved unless someone brings it to their attention. I think that the blue dot that Roanoke is, what we're experiencing around us, leads to some unique issues and they need to be addressed with legislative action.

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A recent Roanoke College poll found the most important issues to Virginia voters are the economy (including jobs and inflation); abortion; and gun policies. What are your positions on, or approaches to, these issues?

As it relates to the economy, it is important to make sure that we are promoting state investment here locally. In some of [Virginia’s] denser localities, you may have one locality that is represented by multiple delegates, multiple state senators. We have just the one or two that [represent] the Roanoke area and the New River Valley. In order to make sure that investments are distributed and shared to have a positive impact across the Commonwealth, you have to make sure that you have someone who's focusing on investing here.

Take, for example, Mill Mountain Star. That was first put up in 1949 by the [Roanoke] Merchants Association. My grandfather was associated with that organization at the time, and it was done as a means to promote retail shopping during the Christmas season. But the long-lasting impact has had a strong branding impact [for the region]. You can open the phone book right now and look up the number of businesses that just start with the words Star City at the beginning of them. We know that [the Star] is going to need incredible maintenance and I think that the state should have some investment in it. The state focuses on things like sustaining the investment of the Virginia Museum of Transportation, which is a state agency and educational resource. There is also a necessary focus for tourism and economic development.

A few years back, Senator Edwards worked across the aisle with Delegate [Terry] Austin to get the new Airline Service Incentive Fund to help airports attract additional services to their existing airports. We're hoping to see an expansion in our Roanoke airport because the expansion of air service at the Roanoke airport will transform the economy in a way that nothing else could. That will lead to bringing more jobs and investment. What we're seeing across the aisle is an intent to cut taxes for corporations, and we’re hoping to see that investment return. We are not necessarily seeing that return occur when those taxes are cut. There are services that people need and it's important for the government to invest in the services.

When it comes to abortion, any birthing person should have the right over their own reproductive health care. I focus on the term “birthing person” because sometimes in this space, you can have trans-exclusionary language that may unintentionally focus on women's rights or a woman's right to choose. That neglects the focus that access to abortion has on people that may or may not identify that way. It's important that we protect reproductive health care for all those persons.

The legislative measure that Senator [David] Suetterlein introduced a few years back as an amendment to the budget would have prohibited Medicaid funds from being used to pay for an abortion in the case of a woman whose fetus has an incapacitating anomaly. If this language had made it into the budget, you would have a birthing person who has a child who otherwise is not viable in the world. The same language was sought then by Governor [Glenn] Youngkin. Both measures failed. Medicaid funds are already limited to how they can be used for abortion. They can be used in cases of rape, incest, or if life of the mother is at risk. The legislation would not prevent the abortion itself, but it would prevent state funds from being used for it. That requires a person who might not have readily access to funds to make a decision about whether or not they're going to put food on the table. Are they going to pay for this procedure or bring a child to term that otherwise cannot live on its own? That’s just one example of the impact.

I've routinely showed up at events and rallies that occurred over the past years to show my continued commitment to making sure that all individuals have access to reproductive health care.

I've worked on gun policies a lot with Senator Edwards. There were a lot of measures that were put forward in the General Assembly during the Democratic trifecta, when the Democrats controlled the House and the Senate and we had a Democratic governor. I haven't actually put it on my resume, but I've always wanted to say I've been able to function and do my job well getting what is like thousands of voicemails about gun control. An organization set up an automatic program to send us 20 or 50 emails every six seconds. They were concerned that [gun control measures] would pass.

Something that has no chance of passing under the current governor, but legislation that I hope would be seriously considered, was offered by Senator Jennifer Boysko. The legislation would have required the safe storage of firearms in a home where children are present. Senator Edwards worked with her to improve the legislation that would require firearms dealers to have a sign that displays requirements. The intent there is that if you have children in your home, you should make sure that they're prohibited from getting access to a dangerous item. That is where I hope that there can be, some day, bipartisan action moving forward.

Rather than ask why voters should choose you over your primary opponents, we’re going to ask you to give a specific compliment to each of your opponents.

Councilwoman Trish White-Boyd was integral in getting the ordinance considered to move the elections in the city of Roanoke from May to November. We worked together on that process. Watching her whip votes while I focused on the technical legislative language [showed me] the impact that she could have on other issues.

I do not know DA Pierce as well. I've only met him as it relates to this current race. But in every speaking engagement, I see the passion and motivation that he brings forward to it and how he's able to capture the audience, to make them feel for the things that he's pushing for.

Roanoke voters just elected you in November to serve a two-year term on City Council. Why should they now support you for state Senate?

If voters focus on what my experience has been, I hope they see that my time on the dais has revealed an attention to detail and a knowledge of the legislative process. I have hoped to benefit them even being a freshman, freshly elected to City Council. Mayor Sherman Lea saw the experience that I had and immediately made me chair of the legislative committee in January because he understood the benefit I could bring to the city council's agenda. I hope to be elected to continue to push for the items that will benefit Roanoke and the New River Valley, and beyond.

I wonder how much distinction we'll see between the Democratic candidates. The differences will probably end up being differences in experience. I expect a lot of our positions on the top issues, [as identified by Roanoke College], to largely be the same. While there are three people on the ballot for the Democratic primary, and we all hope to be the nominee, we're not necessarily running against each other. Instead, we are running to make the best case for why we should be the person to face the Republican opponent this November.

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