By Faith E. Pinho
The Democratic challenger to Rockbridge County’s Congressman Bob Goodlatte is speaking at events, marching in parades and meeting constituents – more than a year away from the election.
Peter Volosin, 31, a self-described “older generation millennial” from Roanoke with no background in politics and a slight wetness behind his ears, announced his candidacy in August. Since then, he has hit the campaign trail, driving all around the sixth congressional district to meet potential voters and garner name recognition.
For many Democrats in the Rockbridge County area, opposition to Goodlatte was sufficient reason to throw support behind Volosin. Goodlatte has firmly held onto the congressional seat in this district since 1993.
“When I moved here 27 years ago, Bob Goodlatte was running on term limits,” said Alicia Jahsmann, a member of the Rockbridge County Democratic Committee. “He promised he wasn’t going to serve for more than 12 years. Well that was 27 years ago. So I’m glad to see some competition and get him held accountable hopefully to folks in the district.”
Attempts to reach Goodlatte or a spokesperson this week were unsuccessful.
Volosin graduated from Brown University and began his career in business, working at a Hilton hotel property that he helped unionize. He then went on to serve as a paramedic before returning to school to obtain a masters degree in urban and regional planning from Georgetown University. A first-time campaigner, Volosin said he is hoping to get a head start on his strong incumbent opponent.
“We’re going to need everything that we can to take on Bob, but I think this is the year that we finally get him off the hill,” Volosin told a roomful of cheering Democrats at the monthly Rockbridge County Democratic Committee dinner last week.
Volosin attended the dinner at the Virginia Horse Center in tandem with a visit to the Democratic headquarters in Bedford. He also showed up at the Buena Vista Labor Day breakfast last month, a kickoff campaign event for politicians from around the state.
Volosin is working to spread his message of sustainable innovation. The regional planner proposed “the Green New Deal” – a plan to reduce carbon emissions, create more renewable energy sources and update infrastructure without relying on fossil fuel.
“If we do these upgrades, we will literally pave the way for new industries to come into our area,” Volosin said. “We are at a dangerous spot where we have a lot of older people…That brain drain has been happening. And so we will only see it continue unless we start to invest in our future economy. We have to make those changes.”
Volosin said the loss of traditional factory jobs in the region was one of the reasons he decided to run for Congress. Volosin emphasized the need to implement cheap, fast Internet everywhere and to bring more passenger rail and air service to the region.
“Look, we had a ton of manufacturing jobs back in the day,” Volosin said. “Those manufacturing jobs are going away. That is a fact. Robots are actually taking the place of manufacturing.”
The crowd of mostly older generation Democrats at the Rockbridge County Democratic Committee dinner pressed Volosin for his thoughts on healthcare. He said his “ideal” is single payer healthcare, but the political reality of it seemed unlikely. He said a long-term, stepwise approach would make healthcare for all more feasible.
A member of the audience challenged Volosin to be more specific about his plans to support healthcare reform in the state.
“Peter, I like you, I’m going to vote for you, I’m going to work for you but you’re not convincing,” the man said.
Katherine Smith, a retired market gardener, came to the Democratic dinner last week to meet Volosin. In the question and answer forum with the candidate, Smith asked him about the possibility of adding a lane to Interstate 81 – a notion that Volosin said he does not support.
“I was concerned that he didn’t know enough about Rockbridge County,” Smith said. “When you talked about the programs that he thought would help, he’s talking about the Roanoke area and perhaps the other cities that he would…have to create a presence in.”
With more than a year until the election, the Democratic candidate has time on his side to hear from voters and learn more about the area. For now, Volosin has the support of the Democrats in Rockbridge County.
“I expect to be doing what I can to support anyone but,” Smith paused for a sigh, “Bob.”