By Elizabeth Bell
Two candidates who recently moved to Buena Vista are vying to become the city’s commonwealth’s attorney. Daniel Mowry is challenging Josh Elrod, the interim incumbent, in the Nov. 5 special election.
Seats for the Virginia General Assembly are also contested in the upcoming election, but driving through neighborhoods in Buena Vista, the lawns are filled with campaign signs for the commonwealth’s attorney race.
Mowry, 30, is a graduate of Liberty University School of Law and an attorney for the Nelson, McPherson, Summers & Santos law firm in Staunton. He also serves as counsel for the Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services.
Elrod, 48, is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and was appointed interim commonwealth’s attorney in May, after Buena Vista’s former commonwealth’s attorney, Christopher Russell, was appointed a general district judge. Elrod is a partner with Mann, Vita & Elrod in Lexington and had served as Lexington’s city attorney. After receiving his interim appointment, he stepped down as Lexington attorney and he and his family moved to Buena Vista.
Mowry moved to Buena Vista on April 1 to fulfill the requirement that candidates for commonwealth’s attorney live in the city.
“I see Buena Vista as a community that needs refocusing and needs an all hands-on deck approach,” he said. “The city has done a lot of great things in the last year to make a lot of economic improvements and I take it seriously and I’m trying to be a part of that, and I want to see Buena Vista be the best it can.”
Elrod ran for commonwealth’s attorney in Lexington and Rockbridge County in 2011 and 2015 but was unsuccessful.
“This is something that I’ve been interested in for a long time,” he said. “When this opportunity came up to be appointed and to be the incumbent and get in and do the job, I was really excited about it.”
Before moving to Buena Vista, Elrod practiced criminal law in the area for over 20 years and has tried cases in Buena Vista on a regular basis, he said. He has also served on boards for Habitat for Humanity, Yellow Brick Road Early Learning Center, and Rockbridge Area Recreation Organization.
“In terms of trying to shape the policy and have an impact on the community, it’s a much bigger responsibility and opportunity serving as the elected commonwealth’s attorney,” he said. “You’ve got the community as your client and you can seek to reflect in what you do their interests at large.”
Mowry opened his own law firm after law school and had offices in Buena Vista and Fishersville. Since then, he merged his firm with a larger firm in Staunton. The experience of owning his own firm gave him experience with management, he said.
“I’ve had a significant impact on the community and that’s something that’s felt every day,” he said. “With my day job as counsel to the local department of social services, I have very specialized training to deal with child victims. That is a very important aspect in the commonwealth’s attorney’s role.”
Both candidates see domestic violence, substance abuse, crimes against children and overcrowding at the local jail as the most significant issues facing the criminal justice system in Buena Vista.
Elrod said he hopes to implement a regional drug court by the end of his two-year term if he’s elected. His office is already working towards establishing one.
“The intrinsic goal of drug court is to rehabilitate people and really it takes the punishment aspect out pretty much entirely,” he said. “To get the individual in drug court to a healthy state where they’re not substance addicted anymore and where they no longer represent a danger, a burden or a challenge to the community.”
Mowry also supports implementing a drug court in Buena Vista.
“People who truly have that addiction issue are given a second chance and they can come out of a program like that so much better and can be truly productive citizens again, he said. “That is more important than a conviction.”
He wants to focus on prevention, and bringing community leaders together to fight the drug problem. He also supports incarceration and long sentences for offenders who bring drugs into the community.
“I want them out, I want them gone, I want them to become the problem of the department of corrections,” Mowry said. “Often in Buena Vista, folks get minimal time for distribution. I would like to see that change.”
Elrod wants to provide more reform the way the commonwealth’s attorney’s office handles domestic violence issues and provide more resources for victims of domestic violence.
“We’re always trying to better use the services that are available to try to regulate and reform behavior for domestic violence issues,” he said. “That might mean counseling for the perpetrator or better services for people who are victims so they don’t get back into a situation where they’re revictimized.”
Mowry plans to take a firm stance on the issue of domestic violence.
“Anytime someone is in a relationship and they put their hands on or assault their romantic partner in anyway, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office needs to be heavily involved in that matter, he said. “Frankly, we’ve lost too many to domestic violence in our community.”
Both candidates say they hope their policies will decrease recidivism, which in the long term, can hopefully improve the issue of overcrowding at the Rockbridge Regional Jail.
Elrod and Mowry will participate at a candidate forum at Parry McCluer Middle School from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 24. They will be joined by the local candidates for State Senate, House of Delegates, Buena Vista Mayor and Town Council and Glasgow Mayor and Town Council.