Its a sunny Sunday afternoon in Blacksburg, Virgina. A group of 40 people are crammed into Paula Wilder’s living room. The crowd forms in a horseshoe formation facing the man who is standing at the base of the fireplace. The man’s name is Chris Hurst, and he stands ready to answer the questions from the group that has gather to meet him. Chris is running for the 12 district in the Virginia House of Delegates and for half an hour he address the room. Members in the audience describe him as "professional to a T" and " extremely articulate." He answers questions about Medicaid expansion and education reform. It's not until the last question of the evening that someone brings up the issue that propelled Chris into the spotlight a year and a half ago: gun regulation. "I'm not against guns, I'm against guns killing people," Chris says.
Until this past February Chris Hurst was the anchor at station WDBJ-7 in Roanoke, Virginia. He arrived at the station as a 22-year-anchor aspiring to be a respectable journalist. When he first arrived to the station the news director asked him a pointed question, “Are you ready to guide the people of southwest Virginia through the tragedy that has plagued this area?” “Yes,” answered Chris not fully understanding the gravity of the question. The news director was referring to the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting when 32 students were shot and killed on campus. The event was one of the worst massacres in American history, but it would not be the last time southwest Virginia would have to mourn the loss of loved ones. It would come full circle for Chris when on the morning of August 26, 2015 tragedy struck the station. Chris’s girlfriend, Alison Parker, was shot and killed during a live broadcast at Smith Mountain Lake. Chris and Alison had been dating for nine months and had just moved into together prior to the shooting. From that day Chris’s name became synonymous in Southwest Virginia not just for being the local newsman but because of the tragic death of his former girlfriend, Alison.
Chris Hurst (far left), Alison Parker (second from left) and Shanye Dwyer (far right) enjoyed spending time together outside of the news station. (Photo Credit Shayne Dwyer)
Chris's life would be forever altered that day. The women that he loved was suddenly gone and his station went from reporting the news to being the center story of the most recent American shooting tragedy. One of Chris’s closer friends at the station, Shayne Dwyer, remembers talking with Chris the night after the event. Alison, Chris and Shayne were friends and had enjoyed each others company outside of work. Now Chris sat at Alison's desk, adjacent to Shayne's.
Alison and Shayne's desk were right next to each other at the station. (Photo credit Shayne Dwyer)
“We talked for half an hour about life and our future and how we were going to get through this,” recalls Shayne. In this moment of crisis Shayne was impressed by Chris's ability to maintain his composure. “I knew at that moment that this negative event was not going to define Chris,” remembers Shayne. “I could tell that Chris was going to move on from this.”
“I knew at that moment that this negative event was not going to define Chris,” remembers Shayne.
Chris Chris would go on to anchor the station for the next 17 months. Yet, something was toiling at him. “You could tell something was off,” says Shayne, “there was something off about all of us.” Weeks turned to months and Chris delivered the news to southwest Virginia. But internally there was a call do to more for the area. The death of Alison was the catalyst for Chris to do more to solve the issues he cared about rather than report on them. The irony Chris felt was even with the platform of being a newsman, his personal opinion was muted about issues. He couldn’t say what he really felt and he couldn’t fix what he saw wrong. “I got tired of asking the questions and not trying to find the answers,” says Chris.
“I got tired of asking the questions and not trying to find the answers,” says Chris.
In early February he announced that he would be leaving the station to pursue running for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 12th district. After informing the station of his intentions, he walked out the backdoor of the studio and ventured onto the next path in his life: the campaign trail.
Cut back to Blacksburg where the house party meet and greet is winding down. Chris thanks everyone for coming and heads back to his campaign office. Right off the campus of Virginia Tech Chris and his staff have occupied the office space for only a few weeks. The newly leased office is barren. A few folded chairs are stacked along the wall. Balloons on one end of the room hover at eye level, left over from a birthday celebration for one of Chris’s three staff members.
You won't find cubicles or leather backed officer chairs here. In an exterior room are three hard plastic tables, one for each staff member. At one table a dark green camping chair sits unfolded where his finance director typically works. "It's very scrappy, that's the way we want it to be," says Chris.
“It’s very scrappy, that’s the way we want it to be...
So far scrappy has defined Chris’s odyssey of a campaign. He is running as a democrat in a predominately conservative district. The incumbent, Joseph Yost, is a republican who has held the district since 2012. His journey started by himself in the basement of his apartment complex just trying to figure out where and what to do next. Now, he sits at his desk, papers scattered across the table. He fills out paperwork with the sleeves of his salmon pink collared shirt rolled up his arm like a true working man. He's a man on a mission.
Chris Hurst pulls many long nights as he campaigns for the 12th district.
What drives Chris more than anything is the desire to be a leader for southwest Virginia. He believes it takes more than just doing your job well. “Leading by example is not really leading, that’s just being,” says Chris. Vocal leadership needs to accompany your work ethic. Holding people accountable and setting standards is what he wants to bring to Virginia politics. He stands for education reform and wants Virginia to expand state expenditures for education. He wants to see universal preschool provided through out the state. Much of preschool funding is drawn from state lottery money. He thinks Virginia needs to allocate more money to education including state institutions so the burden isn't put upon students and families with higher tuition. He's also frustrated by the fact that Virginia ranks 48 out of 50 on amount of state funding going to Medicaid coverage. He believes if Virginia increases the access to coverage then premium cost will go down with more users.In general he believes Virginia has the money, its just a matter of how they format the budget and make a priority.
On a shelf in his office rests a dark brown name plate with a simple three word phrase etched in white letters “No Bullshit Allowed.” Chris found the sign in a book store in Roanoke and liked the straight and to the point emphasis. “I tried to call out bullshit when I saw it in the newsroom,” says Chris. Now we wants to bring that mentality to the floor of the house of delegates. "A lot of times its a good-ole-boys club in the general assembly who help out their friends and the special interests who give them money," he says. Accountability is want he wants to see.