Law of the land series: the Page County sheriff
This year, the top criminal justice positions of every county in Virginia are on the ballot – prosecutors and sheriffs. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reviewed several of those races in our broadcast region, and spoke with incumbents and challengers. This is the third report in a five-part series.
The sheriff's seat in Page County has been one of the more hotly contested races in our area for the last 20 years, with some elections seeing three or four candidates. Now, two Cubbages are facing off.
Sheriff Chad Cubbage first won the seat in 2015, after serving as a Page County deputy for 10 years and a Shenandoah Police officer for another decade. He beat fellow challenger Page Campbell and the incumbent, a conservative pastor named John Thomas, with 48% of the vote. The sheriff declined to do an interview for this story, so we'll just be hearing from his opponent and first cousin, Aaron Cubbage.
Aaron worked under his cousin and the two preceding sheriffs during his 17 years at the department, before becoming a Stanley Police captain.
AARON CUBBAGE: Once I left the sheriff's office, I started to see a large amount of deficiencies. … In fact, since 2019, over 56 people have left full-time positions at the sheriff's office.
He said one of his concerns is how the sheriff's office is spending taxpayer money.
According to meeting minutes, the Page County Board of Supervisors allocated an extra $400,000 over budget to the sheriff's office for jail operations last year, and nearly $200,000 for officers' pay raises. That was all out of the county's general fund balance – other appropriations into the sheriff's budget came from external sources, including state grants and American Rescue Plan Act funds.
AARON CUBBAGE: There are a lot of ways we can save money. And a part of that, what I want to really focus on is being efficient with the resources we have in Page County. … There's some managerial issues there, to be quite honest. A lot of it has to do with the amount of inmates we're keeping in our jail right now.
The sheriff's office website says that the average daily population at the jail is 68. Of the 200 people currently incarcerated by the county, 132 of them are being held in jails elsewhere, and it costs money to rent those beds.
AARON CUBBAGE: If you go back to 2002, 2003, all the way up to this administration, there were typically 100 inmates kept in our jail. … So that's a large issue there. I don't believe in running a jail where we just have people packed in there, but we can be a lot more efficient with how our money is spent on that.
While the sheriff hasn't participated in a debate against his cousin, he has exchanged virtual jabs with his employer. In a campaign video, Chad Cubbage criticized the Stanley Police Department's lack of collaboration with his office in active shooter trainings, and their small number of drug arrests. The police chief responded on Facebook, saying they were only invited to one training, and on short notice.
He added, [quote] "the Stanley Police Department is not running for sheriff."
Aaron Cubbage agrees, though, that drugs are one of the foremost problems the county faces.
AARON CUBBAGE: We've got a major methamphetamine issue here in our county. And I think, traditionally, we've spent a lot of time focused on people with minor possessions or possessions that just kinda go above the range of a possession with intent to distribute. … Where I would like to really focus on are our drug houses. There's nuisance codes in the code of Virginia that allow us to take a little bit more stringent enforcement on those, and I really want to do that, because we have guys and people going back to the same houses again and again, and we need to really shut those down. And then you start to tie off the distribution that's coming into the county.
He said enforcing the nuisance code could pressure landlords to get rid of tenants who are dealing large amounts of meth
AARON CUBBAGE: The other side of it is rehabilitation. … There's been two things that have been told to me over the years I've been in law enforcement. One is, "I can't get away from the people that I'm around," and, two, "I can't find anything for me in Page County."
He envisions an initiative called the "Dove Project" that would connect people struggling with substance use with community resources. His other priorities include bringing body cameras to the department and establishing a substation in the town of Shenandoah.
As I was driving out to interview Aaron, I noticed some houses with both his and Chad's signs in the front yard. I asked him how their family had reacted to the two cousins running against each other.
AARON CUBBAGE: [chuckles] Well, so far, I mean, of course there's the naysayers, but it's been positive. … It's nothing against him personally. We just have different ideas. I'm a conservative, and I look at our county as a conservative location in Virginia, and we have a lot of traditions that are important here, but we also need to make sure we're progressing as a law enforcement agency.
If campaign finances are any indicator, this is shaping up to be a close race. Since the start of 2022, the sheriff has raised over $67,000, and the police captain, $72,000. Both men have a wide local donor base that includes residents and businesses. In three weeks' time, we'll see which Cubbage comes out on top.