STUARTS DRAFT — Supervisor Carolyn Bragg officially kicked off her campaign for the Augusta County clerk of court in front of about three dozen enthusiastic supporters Tuesday night.
Bragg, who announced her intention to run for the seat in March, told the crowd assembled at the Shenandoah Acres Family Campground in Stuarts Draft that she had gathered the required number of signatures of registered voters to become a candidate in the November election.
“It is official,” she said. “All the signatures are verified and I am on the ballot for Nov. 5.”
She is seeking to replace Carol Brydge, who announced in February her early retirement from the post. Bragg, who is running as an independent, is one of three hopefuls who have announced their candidacy for the seat.
Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, is the Republican nominee, having thrown his hat in the ring in March, when he announced that we would step down from the 25th House District seat he has held since 1996 to run for the clerk’s job.
Landes, 59, was the only Republican who met the party’s April 1 deadline to declare for the GOP nomination.
A third candidate, Miles Bobbitt, 47, a Greenville-area resident and executive director of the Valley Alcohol Safety Action Program, also has qualified to be on the ballot as an independent candidate.
Because the clerk’s race is a special election, independent candidates still have until Aug. 16 to secure the signatures of 125 registered voters to gain a spot on the ballot, according to the Augusta County Voter Registrar’s Office.
The winner of the special election will fill out the remainder of Brydge’s eight-year term, which will run through 2023.
Last month, Brydge confirmed that she was endorsing Bragg to succeed her as clerk, and, during Monday’s rally, introduced the candidate to the crowd.
Brydge said she was “honored and excited” to make the endorsement, saying that Bragg’s “public servant” attitude, knowledge of the office, its budget and the needs of the judicial system, as well as her management experience, will make her a well-rounded clerk of court.
“I met Carolyn when she was running for election for the Board of Supervisors,” Brydge said. “Soon after she was elected, Carolyn took the time to get to know me as clerk, asking lots of questions to better understand how the office operated and listening to my concerns regarding the lack of state funding for unfilled staff positions.”
The clerk’s office, which has an operating budget of about $7 million, is responsible for maintaining records kept by Augusta County Circuit Court. In addition, it is charged with preserving thousands of historical court records that date as far back as the mid-18th century, when Virginia was still a colony and Augusta County included territory that one day would become parts of seven states.
“The clerk’s office budget is complex,” Brydge said. “When presenting my budget each year [to the Board of Supervisors], I would provide a very detailed financial operation of the office. Carolyn often called me at all hours of the day and evening to ask a question about my budget so that she had a clear understanding before sitting down with the other board members.”
Bragg, 56, has represented the South River District on the Board of Supervisors for five years, including a stint as chairman in 2016.
In her comments to the crowd, Bragg said the best way to describe the clerk’s job “is to say it is the keeper of the stories of the citizens of Augusta County.”
Bragg, who grew up on a Rockingham County farm, moved to Stuarts Draft with her husband in 1992 and has been active in the community through her involvement in civic clubs, Scouts and school organizations. She has been involved in Valley hotel operations, and later worked as convenience store regional manager and operated her own small business for 17 years before selling it last year.
She told the rally that the experience she gained as a supervisor in the planning and construction of a new facility to serve the Augusta County court system in Staunton is a “must have” for the clerk’s position.
“The courts need someone who understands the process, who can communicate the needs and oversee the transition from the old facilities to the new ones,” Bragg said.
Bragg, speaking after her formal remarks, said although there are more than five months until the election, she said “it really isn’t that long of a time” for the campaign. During that time, she said, she will be “knocking on a lot of doors.”
“It’s about meeting with the community, talking to people,” she said, adding that much of that dialogue will be “educational,” explaining the clerk’s duties to voters.
To date, the most public issue in the race has been the clerk’s salary and the state pension that comes with the office.
The budgeted salary for the court clerk is $137,992, according to the Virginia Compensation Board. Members of the part-time House of Delegates receive an annual salary of $17,640.
Landes election to the seat would boost his pension calculation because it would add onto his years of state government employment as a lawmaker in the formula used by the Virginia Retirement System for state employees.
Previously, Bragg said she wouldn’t speculate on Landes’ motivation for seeking the clerk’s job, but said the pension it brings had nothing to do with her decision to run.
Landes’ campaign announced last month that the retiring delegate had received the endorsements of five current and former lawmakers representing Augusta County, including Del. Richard “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton. He also has earned the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge.