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Justice Reform Advocate to Challenge Del. Bourne

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Richard Walker, who aims to unseat Del. Jeff Bourne in the Democratic primary, is running on a platform of criminal justice reform and solving the housing crisis. He recently spoke at a rally calling on state government to expand healthcare and housing access. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Long-time criminal justice reform advocate Richard Walker is launching a primary challenge against Richmond Del. Jeff Bourne.

Walker is currently the president of Bridging the Gap Virginia, a nonprofit that works with formerly incarcerated individuals to find employment, housing and overcome other barriers to re-entry. This General Assembly session, he’s also been an outspoken advocate for a constitutional amendment that would let people with past felony convictions vote in Virginia.

Walker said he plans to campaign on increasing access to affordable housing, equitable educational opportunities and voting.

“I see it every day in what I do,” he said. “It’s sad to see people are suffering based on the limitations that are placed on them from the policies and legislation in the Commonwealth of Virginia.” 

Walker’s work stems from his own experience with the criminal justice system. He served time for a felony cocaine possession and was released in 2004. He created Bridging the Gap Virginia in 2009 and has his voting rights restored under Governor Bob McDonnell’s administration in 2012. 

Since then, Walker says he’s assisted more than 10,000 individuals in getting their rights restored. He was an advocate for the 2018 “ban the box” bill, which removed questions about prior arrests and convictions from state employment applications. He’s also traveled across the state, helping more than 20 local governments create similar fair chance hiring policies.

“I help individuals get around various barriers when it comes to employment, housing and being successful back in society,” he said.

Walker’s announcement sets up what is likely to be the most serious primary challenge Bourne has faced since being elected to represent the 71st District in a 2017 special election. 

Bourne, a former Richmond School Board member, went without a primary challenger in 2019 and won re-election against Libertarian Gary Wells with 88% of the vote.

Bourne has advanced a number of reforms over the past three years, including bills banning discrimination against people with housing vouchers, mandating reporting of lost or stolen firearms, banning hand-held cellphone use behind the wheel

He has come under fire from progressives in Richmond for his attempt to divert state tax revenue to the Dominion-linked Coliseum project and backing bill language that would allow the mayor to raise taxes.