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Fines, crime are campaign talk in Beach's 21st District
By JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE, The Virginian-Pilot
October 18, 2007
Last updated: 11:33 PM

VIRGINIA BEACH

Del. John Welch, a Republican hoping to keep the 21st House District seat he has held since 2001, faces Democrat Bobby Mathieson in the Nov. 6 election.

Mathieson, who was the deputy director of the state Department of Criminal Justice Services until January, has touted his law enforcement background and campaigned on an issue familiar to other races this year - the hefty fines applied to bad drivers.

Welch, running on his experience and issues such as immigration reform, voted for the driving fines. He has noted that Gov. Timothy M.

Kaine added language that made the fees apply to Virginians only, a sticking point for those angry about the penalties.

Mathieson said he wants the fees to apply to all bad drivers, not just Virginians. He also said the General Assembly should revisit some of the fees.

"It's going to create problems on the roadways with more suspended drivers, and possibly more people going without insurance," he said.

Welch has said he also would revisit the issue, but pointed out that the fees apply to crimes.

"We will fix it when we go back," Welch said during a forum earlier this month.

The district the men compete to represent covers portions of the Beach, including areas such as Thalia, Mount Trashmore and Salem.

Welch, 46, hails from Fall River, Mass. He served in the Army, then earned his doctor of chiropractic degree in 1995 and came to the Beach to practice. Welch sits on the transportation and finance committees, and the Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee.

Mathieson, 51, originally from Long Island, N.Y., came to Virginia Beach in 1975 and became a police officer. He was president of the Virginia Beach Police Benevolent Association for 12 years.

In 2002, he left the Police Department to accept an appointment as deputy director for the state Department of Criminal Justice Services, a post he held until this year. He now works as director of business development services for a security technology company.

Welch has criticized Mathieson's tenure at the Criminal Justice department and faulted him for problems in a Richmond community corrections program that was largely funded by the state.

An ad approved by Welch said that Peter Lee Boone, who'd been convicted on a weapons charge, was given a "Get Out of Jail" card while under the responsibility of that program, the Richmond Office of Community Corrections.

After his release, Boone murdered Douglas Wendel, a Richmond police officer, in 2003.

According to sources cited in a Richmond Times-Dispatch report, Boone had missed appointments with Richmond's Community Corrections officials after his release, and they didn't follow up. Allegations of misconduct were made against the Richmond office. A prosecutor in a case against one Community Corrections employee said Boone would have been released well before the killing even if officials had followed up, according to a Times-Dispatch report.

Mathieson said he had no oversight of the program in Richmond. He said he's outraged that the ad links him to a police officer's death, even though it doesn't make clear that the victim was a police officer.

"I think he absolutely crossed the line," Mathieson said.

Welch said the ad dealt with Mathieson's responsibilities.

Welch has said immigration issues are big in his district. This became prominent at the Beach this year when two teenage girls were killed during a traffic accident by an illegal immigrant said to be drunk.

"We need to identify people who are not here legally and deport them," Welch said.

Mathieson said he advocates cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants. Welch has said he would do the same. Mathieson said he agrees with local law enforcement contacting Immigration and Customs Enforcement and referring to the federal agency illegal immigrants accused of crimes.

Mathieson's advertising criticized Welch for accepting a trip to the Bahamas paid for by the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association "after" he filed for personal bankruptcy. That trip was a few months before he declared bankruptcy, but he later took another trip the group sponsored.

Welch said he traveled to learn from experts about issues his transportation committee deals with.

"They're not sitting on the beach drinking cocktails all day," he said.

Mathieson said he would not have accepted such a trip.

Before he was reelected in 2005, Welch filed for bankruptcy. The filing was not reported by the media until months after that election, in which Welch ran unopposed.

"You're in a position of trust sitting on the state finance committee," Mathieson said. "Should you be on that committee?"

Welch said the experience gave him greater compassion about the problems people face.

John Doucette, (757) 222-5122, john.doucette@pilotonline.com