Fifth Congressional District Democratic candidates Andy Parker and Joshua Throneburg outlined some of their priorities and visions for the district during an in-person candidate forum Tuesday.
Hosted jointly by the Goochland, Louisa, Powhatan and Albemarle Democratic Committees, the event at the Goochland Recreation Center was a rare occurrence in a post-COVID world, allowing the candidates to share a stage and talk directly to voters.
But COVID’s specter still loomed, with the advertised moderator being unable to attend due to contracting the virus. Nevertheless, Democrats persisted as the candidates touched on a broad range of topics during the course of the approximately 90-minute event.
Parker, a former member of the Henry County Board of Supervisors, has become well known in recent years for his efforts to broaden gun control legislation. During Tuesday’s forum, Parker emphasized his support for gun control efforts, which he said are inspired by the murder of his daughter Alison Parker, a television reporter who, along with photojournalist Adam Ward, was shot and killed in 2015.
“When my beautiful daughter was shot and killed on live television I had a choice: I could either curl up in a fetal position and waste away or I could fight back and honor her through actions,” he said. “I chose the latter. I know what it takes to pick yourself up and move forward.”
Throneburg, an ordained minister and small-business owner, emphasized the impact of his family and their values in his decision to run for public office. When asked about gun control, Throneburg also advocated for stronger gun control legislation and said that cooperation between parties would be crucial.
“The reality is that Sandy Hook happened 10 years ago and Columbine was 20 years ago and we’re still sitting here having the same conversation decades later,” he said. “We can’t as Democrats just go and do whatever we want. That’s clear. We’re going to have to have some cooperation.”
Later in the forum the candidates were asked about how they plan to win an election in the 5th District, which is generally considered by political analysts to favor Republicans. Last year the 5th District was redrawn as part of a once-a-decade process, shifting the district slightly south and east to now include the counties of Fluvanna, Louisa and Goochland as well as a portion of Henrico County.
Throneburg said that he believes the 5th District is the best situated to switch from Republican to Democratic, emphasizing the bipartisan need for better healthcare, education and broadband access.
“I was raised in a Republican family and a Republican community so I understand what Republicans are thinking, even if I don’t agree with them,” he said. “I’m an ordained minister and I’ve spent my life pastoring in the local church. If there’s anybody that can actually access space in those communities and have them consider a Democrat as their potential representative, I think it’s me.”
Parker agreed that finding common ground is crucial for Democrats in the 5th District and pointed some of the blame for divisive rhetoric pervading political discourse on social media.
“For all the good stuff that Google and Facebook have done, they’ve also created this underbelly where you’ve got all this misinformation, video of my daughter’s murder, illegal drugs, illegal gun sales — you name it,” he said. “Your kids and families are exposed to this kind of stuff and I think this is what I found resonates across both sides of the aisle.”
In addressing the role of diversity, inclusion and equity in schooling, Throneburg said that, on a federal level, representatives should work to ensure that schools have the resources and training needed.
“It’s not going to work for us as a country moving forward if we just start telling just part of the story, restricting knowledge and information and cutting kids off from the reality of our history,” he said. “We have to actually talk about that history and learn about the good things and the bad things so that we know what we need to do to create a more just and equitable future.”
Parker agreed with Throneburg, arguing that the outrage over “critical race theory” that stoked the recent gubernatorial election was manufactured.
“Kids should be taught factual history, warts and all,” he said. “I think that education policies should be set by experts, school administrators, teachers and parents, not politicians.”
Both candidates ended the forum by pledging to support the other candidate if they lose the nomination and urging voters to reject political apathy.
Parker and Throneburg will face off on the June 21 primary ballot. A third Democrat, Warren McLellan, announced his candidacy in November but was not at the forum Tuesday.
The winner will face the Republican nominee, either incumbent Rep. Bob Good or challenger Dan Moy. Republicans in the 5th District will select their nominee via a congressional convention in Farmville on May 21.