When voters in Virginia’s 56th District hit the polls in November, they’ll have another choice for who they send to the House of Delegates besides Republican Tom Garrett.
Thomas Jordan Miles III has launched a write-in campaign in hopes voters in his conservative district will opt to send a moderate Democrat to Richmond over Garrett, a one-time U.S. congressman attempting a political comeback and an admitted alcoholic whose bitter divorce proceedings have produced multiple allegations of spousal abuse.
But they’ll have to remember Miles’ full name first, including the “III.”
“If they do Thomas Jordan Miles II they’re liable to elect my father,” Miles told The Daily Progress. “And if you do Thomas Jordan Miles I, well, the man has been dead 100 years, so don’t do that either.”
Miles’ campaign largely centers on education, with a desire to bring more funding to public schools to the district, which includes parts of Fluvanna, Goochland, Appomattox, Buckingham and Cumberland counties.
“At Buckingham County High School where I went, up until we invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to helping the school get a new roof, every time it rained, we had water leaking in classrooms. We have schools like that all over this district,” Miles said. “Many of the states around us are doing a much better job investing in students and in education, and that’s quite important.”
“Fully funding and supporting our public schools is huge right now when we see student learning has taken somewhat of a dive,” he added.
Miles, who sits on the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors, argues that investing in rural areas, whether it be schools or infrastructure, creates jobs and helps local economies.
As supervisor, Miles chairs two committees, including one studying economic development for the county.
He beat an incumbent in the race for his current seat in 2019, and now he thinks he can win in another tough race.
But the odds will be against him. Not only does Garrett have name recognition, but the district is a GOP stronghold. More than 60% of its electorate voted Republican in the past two elections.
“Unless the sky turns upside down and hell freezes over, I do think Garrett is going to win,” Tina Winkler, chair of the Goochland Democratic Committee, told The Daily Progress.
Not to mention, because Miles is announcing his candidacy well past the deadline to get on the ballot, he’ll need voters to literally write his name on it. Garrett’s name will already be listed.
“It’s going to take more work. Quite frankly, it’s a whole lot easier to fill in a little oval,” Miles said. “It’s an uphill battle, but it was an uphill battle in 2019 for a moderate Democrat to overcome an incumbent in a red district.”
In August, The Daily Progress spoke to an official with the Democratic Party of Virginia about Garrett running unopposed.
The person, who asked not to be named, said Democrats had little hope of winning in a solid red district.
“The truth of it is it’s a Youngkin 65 district,” the person said, referring to Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 victory there.
“We have a zero percent chance if nobody is running. If somebody steps in there’s a non-zero chance,” the person said of Democratic chances of taking the district.
By that logic, Miles’ announcement gives Democrats at least some hope of winning the seat. And if nothing else, Miles said, he thinks voters deserve options.
He entered the race during the Democratic primary but said he dropped out because he was hoping another Democrat would step up.
“I was hoping someone who has more time and more experience than I do would do it, but they didn’t,” he said.
“I thought when he was thinking about running he had a real good shot of taking on Garrett and possibly winning,” Winkler said. “But as a write-in, it’s very difficult.”
In a campaign statement announcing the news, Miles referred to options and integrity.
“Options are important when voting in this cornerstone of our American process that should be protected, especially when integrity — in a major way — is on the ballot in this district,” the statement reads.
The line was likely a reference to a number of scandalous accusations against Garrett, including that he abused his wife Flanna Sheridan. A court filing from his ongoing divorce proceedings outlines a number of incidents where Garrett allegedly displayed violent and volatile behavior, including strangling his wife in a New Orleans hotel room on Mother’s Day in 2018.
Garrett’s counsel tried and failed to get the court records sealed from the public.
During Garrett’s one term in the U.S. House of Representatives, he was investigated by the House Ethics Committee for misusing government resources, including having his staffers run personal errands for him such as picking up his laundry, helping him move apartments and walking his dog.
Miles would only say that he trusts the justice system and that the allegations made in the Garrett divorce case “sound pretty serious.”
Garrett chose not to run for reelection after his single term in Congress after announcing that he is an alcoholic.
His campaign did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Progress regarding Miles’ announcement.
Before she knew that Miles was going to run, Jenifer Strozier, vice chair of the Goochland Democratic Committee, began a write-in campaign herself.
“We just wanted people to have a choice,” Strozier told The Daily Progress.
But now that Miles is running, she plans to talk with the Buckingham Democrat about whether she should cede the spotlight to him.
“He’s a terrific candidate, and I think he’d do a wonderful job as delegate,” Strozier said.