State race spotlight: Virginia House of Delegates District 66

The Virginia House of Delegates is one of three state legislative chambers holding general elections this year. All 100 seats are up for election, with Democrats defending a majority for the first time in more than two decades. Today,

Ballotpedia identified 22 battleground districts based on four criteria. Sixteen battleground districts met one of those criteria and five met two. The only district to meet three of the criteria was District 66, located in between Richmond and Petersburg. The district is currently represented by Kirk Cox (R), who was first elected in 1989 and last re-elected in 2019, defeating Sheila Bynum-Coleman (D) 51.7% to 47.0%. Cox, who served as speaker of the House before control of the chamber flipped, ran for governor this year rather than seeking re-election. In 2020, Joe Biden (D) defeated Donald Trump (R) 54.5% to 44.2% in the district.

This year, Katie Sponsler (D) and Mike Cherry (R) are running for the seat. Both filled out Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey; see their profile pages on Ballotpedia for the complete survey responses.

Who are you? Tell us about yourself.

Cherry:

Mike Cherry is an educator, veteran, pastor, and patriot. From the flight line to the classroom to City Council, Mike has proven he will work with anyone and everyone to support and protect our community. Mike’s deep belief in Faith, Family, and Freedom drives his commitment to protect the American Dream for all Virginians. Mike was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and graduated from Roanoke Rapids High School in 1990. After graduation, Mike joined the United States Air Force as a Loadmaster on C-141B and C-17A aircraft. He is a decorated veteran with many Commendations, Achievements, and Meritorious Service medals to his credit. Mike traveled around the world defending our values and our freedom — visiting 6 of the 7 continents and more than 75 different countries. That exposure to different parts of the world strengthened his love for our country and his dedication to protecting our values. He is married to Teresa. They have two children, Jonathan and Madison, a daughter-in-law, Mikala, and the most precious granddaughter, Jovie. Mike is a Staff Pastor at Life Church and is Head of School at Life Christian Academy, a growing, thriving, a fully accredited school in South Chesterfield and Colonial Heights.

Sponsler:

I am a veteran of the US Air Force, a former Park Ranger with the National Park Service and a mother to 2 children on the autism spectrum. I am running to bring a working class voice to the GA.

Please list below 3 key messages of your campaign. What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?

Cherry:

When Mike entered the USAF, he took an oath to protect our constitutional rights. He believes all Americans have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Mike believes a strong and safe Virginia is only possible with a strong police system.

As an educator, Mike has a very clear understanding of what is going on in today’s education system.

Sponsler:

Education should be public, equitable, and fully funded to serve the needs of diverse communities and a wide range of abilities

Economic Justice is central in every American family’s needs. Without reliable, fair, and safe employment our communities and families can not thrive.

Our environment is not just climate change, it is the landfills and factories in our our backyards. We must address the air, water and soil pollution in our district.

What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?

Cherry:

Preservation of constitutional rights and individual liberties. Support for law enforcement and allowing the flexibility to do their jobs and preserving qualified immunity.

Sponsler:

Labor, Education, Gun Violence Prevention, Healthcare, Disability and Mental Health Advocacy

What characteristics or principles are most important for an elected official?

Cherry:

Honesty. Integrity.

Sponsler:

Integrity, and compassion. The ability to listen and process the stories and requests of your constituents into effective policy that makes real differences in the lives of those you serve is the most important ability anyone should bring to this office.

What qualities do you possess that you believe would make you a successful officeholder?

Cherry:

Honest, caring, integrity, personable.

Sponsler:

I have a knowledge of policy and how it actually impacts those on the ground. This is my reality and has been for most of my life. When I look at policy I know how it impacts many communities because I’ve lived in them, but I also know what I don’t know. I can listen and integrate the stories of others.

What legacy would you like to leave?

Cherry:

Change in the direction of returning this state back to its conservative values.

Sponsler:

That the Commonwealth and the 66th District are a little bit less painful for people on the margins.

What is your favorite book? Why?

Cherry:

The Bible. It is the most impactful book in the history of mankind. It is the instructions for a successful life.

Sponsler:

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

It’s discussion of the human experience and how that forms us in different ways causing a deep internal look no matter how many times I read it and that is what I think all the best books do.

Do you believe that it’s beneficial for state legislators to have previous experience in government or politics?

Cherry:

Yes. It gives the citizens a real representation of how you will vote and represent them in the legislature.

Sponsler:

I believe networks, knowledge, and connections matter but that those can be built through many means. Too much experience often creates a complacency and a withdrawal from the real life experiences of the people within the district they represent.

Do you believe it’s beneficial to build relationships with other legislators? Please explain your answer.

Cherry:

Yes. You are more likely to get a positive response if you know them and they know you.

Sponsler:

Relationships are always valuable. Those relationships should be based in values that align and should not override the needs of the people you represent or the values that you represented on the campaign trail, however. Bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship or personal relationships that distance you from what you have set out to do should never be acceptable.

Both sitting legislators and candidates for office hear many personal stories from the residents of their district. Is there a story that you’ve heard that you found particularly touching, memorable, or impactful?

Cherry:

Recently there was a young man who ran 100 miles to raise money for a new police dog. That is the kind of community togetherness that I love and appreciate.

Sponsler:

After my first run in a district in which the partisan shift was severe and in opposition to my party I was wondering if a run to move the needle had been worth the exhaustion I was feeling . A young couple in one of the reddest part of the district reached out. I had never met them in person, but had knocked on their door a few times, each time leaving a note with my literature. They reached out to tell me that they were queer and had been both kicked out of their homes at the age of 16. They asked me to officiate their wedding in 3 months, saying simply that they had felt that all they had in the world since being shunned by their families was each other, until they started receiving my notes. Knowing that I lived around the corner made them feel like they were seen. The request was too beautiful to be ignored and watching this quirky, wonderful couple celebrate their love and getting to be a part of it, made me certain that not only was running worth it, but that I would never stop advocating for people like them.




About the author

David Luchs

David Luchs is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.