By Sage Um
Janet M. Mogensen, with her husband Eric, operates Virginia Safari Park, a 180-acre zoo in Natural Bridge featuring wild and exotic animals in a drive-through and walk-through safari setting. A Republican, she believes that private enterprise propels the local economy.
Her opponent, John Marshall Higgins, for the past 11 years has been superintendent of the Rockbridge County jail. An independent, Higgins believes in listening to what the people of his district want from county government.
Mack Smith, a farmer who is stepping down after eight years, now represents the Buffalo District, which has about 3,000 registered voters in the southwest corner of the county.
Janet M. Mogensen
Although not a Rockbridge County native, Mogensen has been a county resident for more than 25 years. The Mogensen have owned and operated the safari park in Natural Bridge since 2000.
The safari is one of the major regional tourist attractions and attracts more than 100,000 visitors a year, bringing in more than $2 million in revenue. Mogensen manages more than 25 full- and part-time employees and is in charge of on-site supervision. The Mogensens also own another Virginia zoo and one in Florida.
As a mother of four children who have gone through the local school system and attended Virginia state colleges, Mogensen said one of her platforms is striving for excellence in public schools.
“We have a wonderful school system and I’m not saying it’s lacking,” she said. “I’m really here to make sure, with the changes in the future, the consolidation and the buildings that have to be brought up to speed, that we watch our spending and do it in the most fiscally responsible way.”
Throughout her campaign, Mogensen has emphasized the importance of fiscal responsibility and keeping tax rates low. She has pointed out that she is a private enterprise owner who has had plenty of experience with balancing budgets and project planning.
“I feel the taxpayers are paying their fair share and that we need to watch our spending in a major way,” said Mogensen. “We should let private business enterprise partner with the county on the extra things that need to be paid for.”
She promises to bring her perspective as a private business owner to the Board of Supervisors and try to incorporate local businesses even more into the management of the $35 million budget.
“I’m interested in making this county more business-friendly,” said Mogensen. “Over the years, we had lots of opportunities for businesses to come into this community. One way or another, it didn’t work. I think we need to work a little harder on that.”
Mogensen was first introduced to running for supervisor when current Buffalo District Supervisor Mack Smith told her of his resignation and suggested she run for the position. Smith and Mogensen had been business associates for many years.
“Everybody’s here for the betterment of this county,” said Mogensen. “We all love where we live. That’s why we’re even interested in putting forth the effort. These are not jobs that you make money doing. These are jobs you put your time and effort into it.”
John Marshall Higgins
“It’s not going to be my voice. It’s going to be the voice of the people in my community . . .what they want,” Higgins said during an interview.
A county native, Higgins has been superintendent of the county jail for the past 20 years. At any time, the jail has more than 100 inmates.
“It’s like running a small city,” said Higgins. “Each inmate has his own problem and I have to make sure everything’s fair and all the rules are carried out.”
Higgins says he believes in working for the common people, noting that his political views that don’t lean either way.
“We need to start taking care of the people who vote them in” he said. “We need to listen to those guys that work the 3 to 11 shifts who can’t come to nightly meetings or [have] those two jobs. We need to be their voice so that they can have a voice in these meetings.”
During his campaign, Higgins has driven to every house in his district to ask residents what they want from supervisors.
“People tell me, ‘Mr. Higgins, we want our kids educated,’” he said. “So many of our children are going away because there’s not jobs.”
Like Mogensen, Higgins emphasized the need for jobs in the county. Although they differ on the method of bringing jobs into the county, they agree that new businesses must be brought in to introduce a wider variety of jobs.
Higgins’s campaign is focused on preserving the community’s roots. By bringing in new jobs, the county’s natives can stay and work.
“My goal is to do whatever it takes, within our budget, to educate our children,” he said. “I want them to have advanced classes, so if they decide to go to college, there may be some classes they don’t have to take when they get to college. But also, let’s face it, not everyone wants to go to college. If they don’t, let’s have some technical classes for them. Let’s have whatever it takes to get them prepared for when they get their degree to find a job.”
Higgins said the county should draw more on Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute as resources.
“We have some of the most intelligent students, professors and alumni at both schools,” he said. “I think it’d be nice if they do something for the county. I think the county and the schools can work out some sort of program that would promote our beautiful lands and help conserve our resources.”