BRISTOL, Va. — Retiring state Sen. Bill Carrico was among the honorees Wednesday during a legislative luncheon at the Bristol Train Station.
Carrico, R-Galax, is stepping down after 18 years in the General Assembly, including the last eight representing the 40th District of Southwest Virginia. He received a number of awards during the annual Bristol Chamber of Commerce event, attended by about 125 people.
“It’s really humbling because even the ones who didn’t agree politically with me have been very kind, knowing I’ve spent a lot of time, I’ve worked hard, and [they] are going to miss me in some ways,” Carrico said after the event. “It’s really nice to know you’re appreciated and people realize the sacrifices you make.”
Carrico is now working for the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association. Del. Todd Pillion, R-Abingdon, and independent Ken Heath, Marion’s community and economic development director, will face off in November for the seat.
Also Wednesday, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce honored Del. Kilgore and Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon, for their pro-business voting record. The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce recognized state Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, Rep. John Crawford, R-Kingsport, and Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, for their pro-business efforts.
The chamber also honored retiring Virginia Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth McClanahan, who is leaving the bench Sept. 1 to become the dean of the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy.
A jovial Carrico poked fun at himself and members of the Southwest legislative delegation during his remarks.
“I started out in the House, and [Del.] Terry Kilgore was my mentor. That’s the reason why I screwed up so much,” Carrico began, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “I was able to navigate my way through the House and into the Senate. They told me [Sen.] Bill Stanley was going to be my mentor. I said, ‘I had one in the House, please don’t give me one in the Senate.’”
Afterward, Kilgore said there were “a lot of funny stories” during their time in the House.
“I had to take him under my wing. I’d tell him, ‘Bill, Bill, you don’t have to get up and speak on everything.’ But he was great to work with,” Kilgore said. “He’s been so tenacious on helping Southwest Virginia and helping us move forward. Bill is a fighter, and we’re going to miss him a lot.”
Kilgore said Carrico is respected on both sides of the political aisle.
Bristol Chamber President Beth Rhinehart, who formerly worked as a health care lobbyist for Wellmont Health System, told a story about how Carrico changed the subject to dogs and cats the first time she met with him to discuss Medicaid expansion — a contentious issue for several years.
Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol, said it will take time to fill the void of Carrico’s roles as chairman of Senate Transportation Committee and member of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.
“Bill’s a hard worker who’s always fought for our part of the state, and that will leave a huge void. I feel good that we’ll be able to fill that void, but there’s always a ramp-up period anytime you put someone new into a position like Sen. Carrico has held for so long,” O’Quinn said. “We’ll miss him, but we’ll miss the friendship and camaraderie just as much because you spend big chunks of your life with these people, so it’s a lot like family.”
O’Quinn estimated during the past legislative sessions he’s spent 68 days with his family and 352 with Carrico and other members of the General Assembly.
The day’s biggest laughs were reserved for Carrico — a self-professed lifetime Tennessee football fan — who related a moment at the 2016 Battle at Bristol football game at Bristol Motor Speedway between the Volunteers and Virginia Tech.
“I go to the game, and I’m sitting in a section with all these Virginia Tech fans — and I had all my UT garb on,” Carrico said. “These two guys in front of me were intoxicated, and the guy sitting next to me was from Indiana. We were talking about soon-to-be Vice President [Mike] Pence, and he said, ‘You know a lot about politics. Why is that?’ Without thinking I said, ‘I’m a Virginia state senator.’
“The guys in front of me wanted me to take my shirt off. They said, ‘You’re an embarrassment to this great state,’” Carrico said. “And I thought I was.”