Creigh Deeds is a state senator and candidate for the 11th District Senate seat in the Virginia General Assembly.
He first joined the Virginia legislature in 1992 by winning election to the House of Delegates. He joined the Senate in 2001 and has remained there since.
Ahead of the Democratic primary on June 20, Deeds sat down with The Daily Progress to discuss his plans for the district and the state.
The interview has been edited for concision and clarity.
It seems you have serious competition this primary. What’s been your pitch to voters?
It’s a serious race. My pitch to voters is that I’ve been an effective legislator for a long time. I’ve got seniority, and that puts me in a position to get things done. I’ve used my seniority not only to affect the budget and affect our health care systems, but also to get thing get things done in our educational system. And make government work for people across the board.
My pitch is I believe that the responsibility of any legislator is to make government relevant for the people they represent and to work on solving problems. And that’s what I do. That’s what my track record shows.
Your campaign has emphasized your experience and seniority. Can you explain to voters what seniority and experience actually means in practice for a senator?
When you first are elected to the House or the Senate, your committee assignments aren’t great.
Everybody wants to be on education and health. Everybody wants to be on commerce and labor. Everybody wants to be on finance. But you generally start out at less desirable committees.
The longer you’re there, the better your committee assignments become. And the longer you’re on a committee, the more you climb up the ladder of seniority on the committee. In the Senate I’ve chaired three different committees: transportation, privileges and elections, and judiciary. This session I will chair the Judiciary Committee. I will be no less than the third-most senior person on the Finance Committee.
So the longer you’re there, the more you get to be involved because of the weight of your time. But I don’t think it’s just an issue of simply accumulating the time. You’ve got to do something with it. You’ve got to make it count. Use it for your constituents. And I think the record shows that I’ve been smart about my seniority, and I’ve been able to get things done.
Your opponent has gone after you on your gun record. How has your position on guns changed during your time in the legislature?
Like anybody else on just about anything, my positions have evolved. The tragedy at Virginia Tech was devastating. I was on the campus of Virginia Tech the day after that happened. I had a buddy whose son hid in a broom closet of one of the buildings where the slayings took place. It was just a chilling time.
I grew up in the country. I grew up around guns. When I’d come home from school, I’d grab a gun and I’d go to the woods and hunt. I wouldn’t kill much of anything; I’d mostly just kill time. So I’d grown up around guns.
But I’ve evolved a lot in that area. In 2020, we got a lot of gun stuff passed. We passed the universal background check. We passed the red flag legislation. We reinstated the one-handgun rule. In 2021, we passed legislation to keep guns out of state buildings and state parks.
Where my opponent has attacked me often is a 2020 assault weapons bill. That bill was written so broadly that in the post-Heller world — the Heller opinion that Justice Scalia wrote a number of years ago defined the personal nature of the Second Amendment right — and so in that post-Heller world that broad definition that would include some hunting rifles just wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t going to fly. We sent that bill to the Crime Commission to fix. The Crime Commission was controlled by House Democrats at that time, but they didn’t fix the bill.
So I started fooling some ideas around, and I introduced a bill this year. There were a lot of people that that wanted a stronger bill. But this was a bill where at least I had some hope it would be upheld in federal court. That other bill would not have been upheld in federal court. It just wouldn’t have. And I think I’m the only person in this part of the state that’s ever gotten a firearm-related bill past that one chamber. That bill was aimed right at suburban Republicans, because I knew they couldn’t vote against it.
The criticism always stings, but it is what it is. It’s the political season.
Lives have been lost and lives have been affected by the rise in gun violence in Charlottesville. What can we do to stop this?
It’s heartbreaking. When I was a kid, you would settle your disputes with fists. Now young kids in their teens and 20s are settling their disputes with guns. And honestly, I’m not convinced those kids know what’s going to happen until it does. They see it on TV, and then they see the blood on the street and realize it’s real.
From the state standpoint, you’ve got to focus on things that will reduce the supply of firearms. The firearms used in these offenses are primarily stolen. We have a bill in the Senate to create an offense for someone who has a car unlocked when they have a gun in there. We need to focus on where we can limit the ability of these guns to be out there.
But we’ve also got to fund violence interrupter programs. And our system has to be focused on making sure that everybody has a place in society and that the economy works for everybody. I wish there were simple answer, but there’s not.
If you are reelected, what will be your top priority this session?
K-12 education is number one. If you’re really serious about investing in the future, you’ve got to have the best school system in the country. In the Senate budget, we take teacher pay above the national average for the first time, which is great thing, but we can’t stop there.
We’re the 10th wealthiest state. Our goal should be to have the best K-12 system in the country.
My priorities will focus on K-12 and higher education and community colleges and health care, specifically mental health care. But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in doing other things too.
After redistricting, some voters have noted that you moved your primary residence from Bath. What do you say to voters who think you moved closer to Charlottesville only because you want to remain in a position of power?
I’ve represented Charlottesville and Albemarle County for 22 years. I’ve spent as probably as much or more time here than I have in Bath County.
There’s no question that redistricting put me in a bad spot. I’ve lived in Bath County all my life, but the way the maps were cut, the only way I had a chance to continue to serve was to deliver in Charlottesville. In all honesty, I should have moved here right after my son died. Living in that house has not been easy. Lots of good memories but lots of bad memories too. My father lived in Charlottesville from 1967 until he died in 2012. So it’s not like I woke up last year and said, “I’m going to be in Charlottesville for the first time in my life.” I’ve had a longtime relationship with Charlottesville.
If you lose this race will you stay in Charlottesville?
That’s my plan, yes.
You’ve been in the legislature for so long. It’s a very real possibility that you lose this race. Have you considered what you would do if that happens?
Serving in the legislature is a privilege, but it’s not a full-time job. It’s a full-time responsibility. I’m a lawyer. I’ve got clients. I’ll be a lawyer.
Would you miss it?
I’m sure I’d miss the people. I’d miss the work. Yeah.