Rob Bell, the Republican who has represented the 58th District in Virginia’s House of Delegates for more than 20 years, has announced he will not be running for reelection.
The Albemarle County resident, who practices law in Charlottesville, has represented the 58th District in the House since 2002. After redistricting in 2021, Bell would have had to compete this year in the new 55th District, home to a much bluer constituency.
Bell announced his retirement on the floor of the House on Saturday before the legislature adjourned.
“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve in the House of Delegates. I want to thank the voters who allowed me to represent them in Richmond for the last 22 years,” Bell said in a prepared statement.
He made no reference to the redistricting that has left him in a much more challenging position politically.
“I’m also profoundly grateful that my family has allowed me to serve over the last 22 years,” said Bell. “Things have been a lot more complicated as the kids have grown. Their support has been a crucial to my ability to serve over all of these years. I look forward to seeing everybody once I am home from Richmond.”
Bell’s 58th District covers parts of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Orange and Rockingham counties.
With his departure from the race, there are now no Republicans in the running to represent the new 55th District, which covers parts of Albemarle, Louisa, Nelson and Fluvanna counties.
The two Democrats in the race welcomed Saturday’s news.
“HAPPY RETIREMENT, ROB!” tweeted Kellen Squire, an emergency room nurse and Albemarle resident who is running for the 55th District seat after losing the 58th District race to Bell in 2017.
Squire said Bell’s decision was clearly the product of some political calculus after the new district was drawn to “take the loss early and move on.”
“I wish I could say I’m surprised. We’d heard that Delegate Bell was concerned about running for re-election in a district whose borders he didn’t personally draw,” Squire said in a statement.
Squire’s remarks refer to Bell’s role in Operation REDMAP, a 2010 Republican initiative to increase GOP control of seats in state and federal legislatures through redistricting. Bell served on the House Privileges and Elections Committee during the 2010-2011 session in Richmond and was responsible for helping redraw districts in the commonwealth.
In November 2020, Virginians voted by a 2-to-1 margin to amend the state constitution to establish a commission responsible for redistricting. After the Virginia Redistricting Commission failed to vote on a plan in 2021, the responsibility of drawing maps fell to the Supreme Court of Virginia. The court is responsible for the latest redistricting.
“The Virginia GOP calculated that they’d have to spend millions of dollars in our district – and waste it in the face of the campaign we’ve built,” Squire said in his statement.
Squire’s competition in the Democratic primary was more measured in her response.
Amy Laufer, a former teacher and Charlottesville School Board member, said Bell’s service to the commonwealth deserved respect.
“Despite our profound differences, anyone who puts themselves forward and serves their community is deserving our respect. However, as we’ve progressed, it’s clear Del. Bell no longer represents our values and that we need new leadership,” Laufer said in a statement.
Laufer was elected to the Charlottesville School Board in 2011 and served on the board until she resigned in 2019 after announcing her family was moving to Albemarle County. Laufer previously ran for the state Senate’s 17th District seat in 2019, losing to Republican Bryce Reeves. She also ran for Charlottesville City Council in 2017, coming in third in a tight race.
Both Squire and Laufer’s teams said Bell was out of touch with the residents of the new 55th District.
“‘Message’ and ‘messenger’ are not two distinct categories; who’s doing the talking matters just as much, if not more, then [sic] the words that come out of their mouth, and how they make voters feel,” Samantha Litchford with the Squire campaign said in a statement.
“We need a representative that will stand up for a woman’s right to choose, address the gun violence plaguing our community, and fight for forward-thinking legislation to halt the climate crisis,” Laufer said in her statement.
Albemarle County Chair Donna Price, also a Democrat, had said she planned to run for the 55th District seat but later withdrew from the race.
The Democratic primary will be held on June 20.
Voters in the 55th District will decide their next representative in the House on Nov. 7.
Bell was first elected to the General Assembly in 2001 after previously working as a prosecutor in Orange County. As a delegate, Bell served as chairman of the Courts of Justice Committee as well as the Virginia State Crime Commission.
In his statement announcing he would not to seek reelection, Bell cited what he considers his political victories. That list includes cracking down on repeat-offense drunk driving, keeping sex offenders off school property, making it illegal to distribute so-called revenge porn, establishing minimum standards for mental health care in Virginia jails and coordinating jail-provided mental health services with community services after inmate release.
“He has also passed laws to expand Virginia’s protective orders and to help crime victims recover restitution and require life in prison for those convicted of raping children,” his office said in a statement. “In 2015, he authored the law to address sexual assaults on college campuses, and in 2016, Bell led the effort to expand Virginia’s stalking laws and empower crime victims.”
Bell has received legislative awards from several groups including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Psychiatric Society of Virginia and the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.
His term will officially end on Jan. 10 of next year.
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