When the seat for Virginia House of Delegates became available in 2011, Emory & Henry graduate Israel O’Quinn saw it as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people in Southwest Virginia.
O’Quinn ran for the Fifth House District of Virginia, and won the race four years ago.
During that time, O’Quinn has had the best interest of Southwest Virginia at heart, a place that feels like home for the 2002 graduate and where he and his wife Emily Gentry O’Quinn reside.
“It is important this region has strong representation in the General Assembly since we are more than 300 miles away from Richmond and closer to six other state capitols than our own. Therefore, I have worked diligently to represent Southwest Virginia and to put myself into a position to be of great influence on behalf of our people,” said O’Quinn.
The delegate represents 80,000 people in the Fifth House District of Virginia and serves on three committees: Militia, Police and Public Safety; Commerce and Labor; and Privileges and Elections. He also serves on four subcommittees that handle more specific issues in each of the committees. Additionally, he serves as Deputy Majority Whip.
O’Quinn said his greatest rewards as delegate are being able to represent the people and places of this area where he was raised.
“I like being in a position to positively influence our region. It’s also rewarding to be able to assist folks with matters that make a big difference in their everyday lives.”
O’Quinn has worked on several projects of regional importance. Most recently, he has begun work on two regional Centers of Excellence which will provide workforce training in advanced manufacturing. “Advanced manufacturing is one of the fastest growing job sectors and it’s imperative that we position ourselves to be on the leading edge in attracting those jobs,” he said.
The delegate also has been an active partner in trying to recruit businesses to Southwest Virginia. “It’s a job that requires constant attention and strong knowledge of the area,” O’Quinn said. “We are working on a couple large scale agricultural projects that are still in development. Their employment potential is incredible. I’ve also been dedicated to strengthening educational opportunities for students in our area, particularly in grade school public education. I’m a firm believer in the importance of education and I frequently spend time in our local schools talking to students about the importance of learning and, in particular, how government affects their everyday lives.”
While a student at Emory & Henry, O’Quinn majored in political science and history and also studied communications and business. “All of which I’ve managed to use during my career,” he said.
I particularly valued the small class sizes and the personal attention I received from professors. I never felt like a number at Emory & Henry. My education taught me to think critically and thoroughly. I use those skills every single day.Israel O'QuinnDelegate, Fifth House District of Virginia
O’Quinn said attending Emory & Henry taught him the importance of considering all sides of an argument and thinking through his positions before going to bat for them.
“Presenting a position on the fly without this level of consideration was likely to have innumerable holes poked in it, so I came to place more value on being prepared.”
The alumnus said he enjoyed learning from Dr. Samir Saliba and Dr. Joe Lane. “They both encouraged me to pursue politics. I don’t know that they ever thought I’d be elected to the House of Delegates, but I hope I’ve made them proud as a former student. I always had an interest in the political process and I enjoyed working on political campaigns.”
While his work as a delegate seldom leaves his thoughts, O’Quinn also is an employee of Food City where he is director of strategic initiatives. “I have a number of duties in this position, but I particularly enjoy the community involvement aspect. It’s great to get out in the communities where we do business and to be an active partner in their successes,” he said.
He enjoys being involved in strategic projects that not only help the company do business more efficiently and effectively, but also help to grow the regional economy of Southwest Virginia.
“One of the best examples of these efforts is our locally-grown produce initiative that not only provides our customers with high-quality, local produce, but also helps an entire group of local farmers to grow and expand their businesses,” O’Quinn said.
“Another part of my role has been to work on energy efficiency and savings programs that have been implemented in both our stores and our distribution center. These efforts have been rewarding as well.”