by Kari Kilgore
It is obvious when talking to Southwest Virginia’s newest delegate, Israel O’Quinn, that he loves Southwest Virginia. He says there’s no place like it. Born in Hayter’s Gap in western Washington County, O’Quinn grew up playing baseball in the backyard with his brother, Morgan. But the O’Quinn boys knew they wouldn’t get to play until after their work was done.
Israel’s parents, Roger and Doris, instilled strong values in both of their children, teaching them about life and faith and hard work. This firm foundation, Israel says, is what has helped him achieve many of his goals in life thus far. Anyone familiar with Israel knows he’s no stranger to hard work or to politics. He has broad campaign and governmental experience ranging from the local level to statewide, as well as learning what it takes to run a successful enterprise in the private sector that creates jobs.
A self-described history buff, Israel often recounts stories and interesting facts about Virginia history and politics. At Emory & Henry College, he graduated with degrees in both History and Political Science. Israel watched with concern as Southwest Virginia lost a House of Delegates seat through the redistricting process. The seat went to Northern Virginia, where population growth far outshadows that of our region.
After learning that then-Delegate Bill Carrico would be vacating his House seat to run for the Senate, Israel acted quickly to file for the newly-redrawn Fifth District seat. The district includes the City of Bristol, Grayson County, parts of Washington and Smyth counties, and the City of Galax.
Israel and his wife, Emily, traveled across the Fifth District meeting thousands of people, explaining why he was interested in serving, and pledging to work hard for his mountain region. After winning in a landslide, he was sworn into the House of Delegates in January of 2012.
On the day he was sworn in, Israel recounts that as he walked into the Capitol in Richmond, he thought about the great Virginians who had gone before him – Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry among them. It was humbling. Israel likes to point out that he and Delegate Joe Johnson both grew up in Hayter’s Gap, giving that small community 2% of House representation, a per capita advantage over densely populated Northern Virginia!
Things got off to a quick start as committee assignments were made and bills began cascading onto the House floor. Delegate O’Quinn worked hard to learn the ropes, get established, and make valuable connections to better serve the folks back home. He introduced legislation to extend the Coalfield Employment Enhancement Tax Credit as well as a bill to increase safety of mining operations.
While on the campaign trail, a veteran mentioned that specialty license plates were not available to Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm soldiers. The new delegate promptly introduced and passed a bill that would provide recognition to these patriots. Overall, he had five bills that passed, which is an impressive track record for a freshman legislator.
As part of his responsibilities, Delegate O’Quinn was assigned to serve on three House committees: Finance, Privileges and Elections, and Militia, Police, and Public Safety. Finance is the most challenging, he says, since the committee is tasked with allocating funding to all the operations of the Commonwealth, which is a tall order.
This committee also hears bills that request tax increases, a tough sell in a state that is just coming out of a recession, albeit in better shape than most in the nation. In addition to committee assignments, Delegate O’Quinn says he is honored to be serving on the Coal and Energy Commission as well as the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Board of Trustees.
Back home, in addition to his day job as director of community affairs at K-VA-T Food Stores, Israel works daily with constituents to help address their state-related concerns. Here, among familiar faces, he is still called Israel. He is the same young man from Hayter’s Gap they have always known, just in a much better position to make things happen in the land that he loves.