Many, many, many local offices are up for election this year—the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the Fairfax County School Board, the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney, the Fairfax County Sheriff, the Clerk of the Fairfax County Circuit Court, and the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Directors. While they lack the glamor of federal (or even state) offices, many of these elections are generally very important and have a large impact on local quality of life.
Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (At-Large)
Incumbent Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Gerald “Gerry” Connolly (D) is being challenged by Gary Baise (R) and Glenda “Gail” Parker (IG). Supervisors, including the Chairman, serve four-year terms and the Chairman is elected at-large by all citizens of Fairfax County. Connolly has been a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for three terms and is seeking his second term as Chairman.
Parker’s long-shot campaign under the Independent Green banner, much like her long-shot campaign for U.S. Senate in 2006, can be dismissed outright. Her web site is still all-but unreadable in most modern browsers, her stances still lack any detail, and her entire campaign can still be distilled to a ludicrous belief that building more rail will magically solve all of Northern Virginia’s problems and ultimately bring about world peace. I’m all for building rail, but let’s be reasonable here. Gail “for Rail” Parker captures the laughable goofiness of her campaign in a single sentence on her web site: “Light Rail on the beltway – one tenth the cost of deadly toll roads!” Huh?
Moving on to the real candidates, Connolly has presided over a relatively stable period in Fairfax County’s history—our crime rate is low, we’re finally getting some money (though not much) from Richmond to improve transportation, citizens don’t have to buy county decals for our cars anymore (which has saved Melissa and me roughly $50/year), the county still has a AAA bond rating (the best possible), and the county budget is balanced even though the Board has reduced local property tax rates by 27 percent. All the while, Fairfax County continues to grow and prosper. It’s hard to argue with success, but it’s also hard to tell just how much of this success is directly due to Connolly and the current Board and how much the local politicians are riding the wave of our strong local economy and slightly-improved leadership in Richmond.
Baise paints a different picture, pointing out that—despite the recent property tax reductions—most property owners are paying nearly twice as much in real dollars since Connolly became Chairman due to inflated local property values. Baise also points out that, despite a low overall crime rate, Connolly and the current Board of Supervisors have done little to blunt the non-crime affects of illegal immigration in our region. Baise’s stance is right on immigration: enforce our existing laws and deport those who entered the country illegally. Despite the major negative impact of illegal immigration in this region, Connolly mysteriously skirts the issue entirely.
Baise also points out that the current Board of Supervisors has repeatedly permitted development in places where the transportation infrastructure cannot yet handle it (and implies that the current Board, Connolly included, have done so in return for receiving campaign donations from development firms). But the fact of the matter is that property owners have a sacred right to build whatever they want on their property—heck, the right to security in your life, liberty, and property is the core value of this nation—and the Board cannot and should not overstep its authority. On this issue, Baise—the Republican candidate—almost sounds like a socialist. Furthermore, the ‘high density’ growth along major transportation corridors (particularly along Metro lines), while decried by the environmentalists and ‘smart growth’ advocates, actually encourages the use of mass transit, reduces the footprint of new developments (leaving more open space), and reduces the ‘sprawl’ we’ve grown to loathe. Aren’t those good things?
With all of these issues considered, Connolly has done a good job of leading Fairfax County in a positive direction. I endorse the re-election of Gerry Connolly for Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, however I do so with the following caveats: in the coming four years, the Board must do much more to fight illegal immigration (since the federal government steadfastly refuses to solve the problem), must further control the county budget and reduce property taxes, must continue to pressure Richmond for more transportation dollars, and must try to encourage controlled, rational growth without trampling the rights of property owners.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Hunter Mill District
Note: I have recently moved from the Providence District, currently served by Linda Smyth (D), to the Hunter Mill District, currently served by Cathy Hudgins (D).
In the race for the Hunter Mill seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, incumbent Cathy Hudgins (D) is up against Geraldine Butkus (IG), Marie Huhtala (I), and Mike “Spike” Williams (I). Supervisors serve four-year terms, and the Hunter Mill District covers areas of Fairfax County immediately south of Herndon and extends east until reaching Tyson’s Corner, including the Reston area and the town of Vienna. Hudgins is seeking her third term representing the Hunter Mill District on the Board.
It can be difficult to get a ‘lay of the land’ in a four-way race such as this one, especially so given that I am new to the Hunter Mill District. Two candidates made it nearly impossible for me to learn about their stances on the issues facing our District today. Butkus, running under the familiar Independent Green banner, follows the lead of her IG cohorts and gives me nothing more to go on than a fervent desire to build more rail. This gibberish can be dismissed quickly. More surprisingly, the incumbent Hudgins provides only her ‘transportation’ opinions and her basic, biographical information on her web site. Three other issues—affordable housing, human services, and accessibility—are helpfully labeled ‘Coming Soon!’ while many more, like education, don’t seem to get any mention at all. My opinion of Hudgins, sadly, must be based entirely on vague inferences and snippets of her voting record I dug up with a Google search.
That’s not the way to win my vote, Supervisor Hudgins.
The two independent candidates—Huhtala and Williams—have each put more time and effort into communicating their ideas and stances clearly to those of us who are appropriately researching their votes, though only Huhtala provides any real clarity.
With regard to transportation, the issue that remains the most important affecting our area, Hudgins speaks of her accomplishments on the Board—more busses in the Hunter Mill District, Metro to Dulles (which will have six stations in or directly-adjecent to the District when complete), and some minor, neighborhood-specific things like improved trails. Her plan for the future? Silence. Her stance on whether the MetroRail line through Tyson’s Corner should be above- or below-ground? Silence (though she did vote to approve the present contract, which stupidly places the rail line above-ground). Meanwhile, Williams wants to bring ‘fresh perspective’ to the transportation issue, but fails to tell me what his ‘fresh perspective’ is. Butkus wants to build more rail . . . yeah, we get it, you got anything else?
Only Huhtala actually provides anything really useful on the transportation front. She wants to build rail to Dulles, but she wants it done in a transparent way. She wants the MetroRail line built underground through Tyson’s Corner—you know, the logical, long-term thinking way—despite a higher up-front cost. She wants a ‘spider web’ of transportation improvements, to include roads, rail, traditional bus service, bus rapid transit, and more, throughout the county. She wants the Board to keep a better eye toward transit-oriented development. I don’t agree with everything she plans to offer, but many of her ideas make a lot of sense and—unlike her reticent opponents—at least she’s offering something.
Huhtala, however, like many others in our local elections this year, seems to have forgotten about individual property rights. The Board should do what it can to control and direct ‘smart’ growth in Fairfax County, but ultimately it should not be able to stop developers from building pretty much whatever they want on the land that they own. I am very concerned about the trend in this country to use zoning laws and eminent domain to trample property rights, and I’m not convinced that Huhtala respects my property rights any more than most other politicians seem to these days.
But Huhtala does intend to offer two things for the Hunter Mill District that are very important on issues beyond transportation and property rights. First, she is very concerned about the lack of transparency in our local government of-late and will work to improve the openness of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Second, she wants to bring a voter referendum to the people of Reston (currently an unincorporated area governed directly by the Board of Supervisors) on whether to become an incorporated town with a certain amount of self-government. The Board of Supervisors, wanting to retain their power, has consistently opposed any such referendum for fear that the people of Reston might actually want direct control of their destiny like their neighbors in Herndon and Vienna.
Despite some fundamental disagreements with Huhtala, particularly regarding property rights, she is the best of this humdrum bunch. I endorse the election of Marie Huhtala for the Hunter Mill District seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
Fairfax County School Board
Three of the twelve members of the Fairfax County School Board are elected at-large by all citizens of Fairfax County, while the remaining nine seats are filled by elections in the nine county districts. By law, school board elections are non-partisan and all candidates run as independents, however political parties usually make endorsements. School Board members serve four-year terms.
Voters will be presented with a bank of the eight candidates and will be voting for “no more than three.” The three candidates with the highest total number of votes will be elected. In the at-large race, incumbents Steve Hunt (R-endorsed) and Ilryong Moon (D-endorsed) are each seeking reelection, challenged by Chris Braunlich (R-endorsed); Ralph Cooper Jr.; Paul Costantino (R-endorsed); Tina Hone (D-endorsed); Jim Raney (D-endorsed); and Christopher Volkstorf (IG-endorsed).
Fairfax County Public Schools’ students have some of the highest test scores in the nation, but our system is merely among the best of a bad bunch. For the 2008 fiscal year, Fairfax County has budgeted our schools 52.3 percent of the county budget—a whopping $1,734,459,426. We don’t get half that value in return.
Education is paramount in a free country—without it, our entire system of government fails. But our schools teach basic grammar over and over and over again, maniacally enforce ridiculous dress codes, and oppose any efforts by the students to think independently and challenge the status quo. I’ve experienced this myself in one of the very schools these candidates seek to lead. And while our schools focus immense energy on these irrational wastes of time, students still graduate from the 12th grade without understanding of the importance of voting, without knowing that people have the right to express diverse ideas (no matter how offensive), and with a complete inability to apply independent, analytic thought. Precious few students graduate with even a basic understanding of civic duty, common courtesy, or law. But they know what a noun is twelve-times over and passed the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, so our schools must be great . . . right?
Meanwhile, elected school boards—a relatively new trend in public education—squabble over what math book to use next year, taking public comment from parents who are concerned that the book might be hard. Most of these parents, of course, have not performed any analysis of the math book’s effectiveness. Who cares if the book helps teach kids math, it might challenge them and they already have too many challenges (I hear it’s tough being a kid, these days). Simple decisions that should be made by educational professionals become a bureaucratic nightmare, complete with the inarticulate ramblings of the uneducated public. It’s a vicious cycle. Then, once every year, the board sends a ‘legislative package’ to the Virginia General Assembly in which they beg for independent tax authority, since the 1.7 billion dollars from the county just isn’t enough.
Our public schools are in shambles, and directly-elected boards are part of the problem and unlikely to ever be part of the solution. I endorse abstention (no vote) for Fairfax County School Board at-large. In the few places across this country where schools are starting to improve—Washington, DC, being a recent, surprising example—the first step in the turnaround was to dissolve the elected school board and begin anew with a leadership team of appointed educational professionals. We don’t trust directly-elected boards to run our public safety or transportation systems, and we should not trust them to run our schools either.
Hunter Mill District
Note: I have recently moved from the Providence District, currently served by Phillip A. Niedzielski-Eichner, to the Hunter Mill District, currently served by Stu Gibson.
In the race to represent the Hunter Mill District on the Fairfax County School Board, incumbent Stu Gibson (D-endorsed) is challenged by Christine Arakelian (R-endorsed). The Hunter Mill District covers areas of Fairfax County immediately south of Herndon and extends east until reaching Tyson’s Corner, including the Reston area and the town of Vienna. Students from the Hunter Mill District attend the following high schools (and many of the middle & elementary schools that feed them): Herndon, Langley, Madison, Marshall, Oakton, South Lakes, Thomas Jefferson, and Westfield.
For the same reasons enumerated in my endorsement for the at-large seats on the Board, I endorse abstention (no vote) for the Hunter Mill District seat on the Fairfax County School Board.
(Note: Christine Arakelian was not endorsed by the Republican Party until after I made my endorsements. Thus, her party affiliation did not appear originally. This does not change my endorsement of abstention [no vote].)
Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney
For Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney, acting Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh (D)—endorsed by his just-retired predecessor Robert Horan Jr. (D)—faces challenger Patrick McDade (R). The Commonwealth’s Attorney is the highest law enforcement officer in a jurisdiction and has responsibility for felony prosecutions (other states often call this same position District Attorney or State’s Attorney). Commonwealth’s Attorneys serve four-year terms.
While Fairfax County has been blessed with a very low crime rate—much lower than most urban and suburban counties in the Washington, DC, metro area—we also have a surprisingly low prosecution rate: a dismal 28 percent. That means that during Horan’s tenure as Commonwealth’s Attorney and Morrogh’s tenure as his Chief Deputy, 72 percent of felony charges filed by police in Fairfax County were dropped to misdemeanors or dismissed. This is the worst prosecution rate in the state. For comparison, second-place loser Hampton Roads has a 51 percent prosecution rate, and our neighbors in Arlington County and Alexandria City have prosecution rates of 74 percent and 78 percent, respectively.
I’m not making these numbers up. They come from the Supreme Court of Virginia’s 2005 Crime in Virginia Report and the Supreme Court of Virginia’s 2005 State of the Judiciary Report, both of which figure heavily (rightfully so) in McDade’s campaign. McDade believes that this is largely due to gross understaffing in the Commonwealth’s Attorney office, pointing out that Norfolk, Virginia, has 41 prosecutors compared to Fairfax’s 21, even though Norfolk has 2/3 the crime and less than 1/4 the population.
It is not clear that Morrogh will change the course set by his predecessor, and after Horan’s lengthy tenure—an amazing 40 years as Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney—it is definitely time for a change of direction. For this reason, I endorse Patrick McDade for Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Fairfax County Sheriff
Incumbent Fairfax County Sheriff Stan Barry (D) is running unopposed for reelection. Like many urban and suburban Virginia counties, Fairfax County has a separate Police Department headed by an appointed Police Chief with primary law enforcement responsibility in the county (while, in most rural counties, the Sheriff’s Office is the primary law enforcement agency).
The Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office still manages the adult detention center, provides courthouse security, and serves in the civil law process (serving court orders, etc.). While no longer Fairfax County’s primary police force, the Fairfax County’s Sheriff’s Office continues to have civil and concurrent criminal jurisdiction over Fairfax County (including incorporated towns) and the City of Fairfax. Sheriffs serve four-year terms.
I endorse the reelection of Stan Barry for Fairfax County Sheriff.
Clerk of the Fairfax County Circuit Court
Incumbent Clerk John Frey (R) is up against challengers Dale Evans (D) and Joseph Oddo (IG) for Clerk of the Fairfax County Circuit Court, which serves Fairfax County and Fairfax City. The Clerk of the Circuit Court has responsibility for maintaining all court records and documents, and serves eight-year terms. Frey is seeking his third term as Clerk.
The Fairfax County Circuit Court is the largest trial court in Virginia and has fifteen full-time judges on staff. The court hears most civil and felony cases, plus appeals of misdemeanor and traffic cases from the General District Court and Juvenile Courts. The Clerk’s office is responsible for handling the records of over 22,000 court cases per year—plus marriage licenses, notary public applications, land records, and more. In fact, Fairfax County land records go back before 1742, and over 275,000 new land transaction records were added in 2006 alone.
Curiously, the Democratic Party in Fairfax County selected Evans—a real estate agent with no court records experience—to oppose Frey’s reelection bid to manage records in one of the busiest courts in America. I suppose this is a better choice than the Democrats’ original nominee, David Miller, who withdrew in July after court documents (much like those he would have been responsible for managing) showed that he owed the IRS over $38,000 in back taxes.
Meanwhile, long-shot candidate Joseph Oddo has been strangely quiet. Perhaps he is conferencing with his Independent Green Party brethren trying to figure out how to make “Build rail!” into a relevant talking point for the management of millions of court records.
Needless to say, in a race between somebody who’s been doing this job for sixteen years, somebody who’s never done it before, and somebody who probably wants to build rail through the court records room . . . well, I’ll vote for experience. I endorse the reelection of John Frey for Clerk of the Fairfax County Circuit Court.
Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Directors
The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District (NVSWCD) is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia with boundaries identical to those of Fairfax County and a stated goal to promote clean streams and protect natural resources. The NVSWCD is not a regulatory agency and primarily operates through educational programs and materials. The NVSWCD is governed by a five-member board of directors, three of whom are elected by citizens within the NVSWCD while the remaining two are appointed by the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board. By law, NVSWCD elections are non-partisan and all candidates run as independents, however political parties usually make endorsements. NVSWCD Board members serve four-year terms.
Voters will be presented with a bank of the four candidates and will be voting for “no more than three.” The three candidates with the highest total number of votes will be elected. Incumbent board members Sally Ormsby (D-endorsed) and John Peterson are joined in the race by Johna Good Gagnon (D-endorsed) and Daphne Sahlin (IG-endorsed).
Frankly, there is no reason for the NVSWCD to exist. We have plenty of agencies—at the federal, state, and local levels—charged with protecting the environment and regulating environmental issues, and I see no reason to have a board whose job is apparently to write pamphlets about soil and water conservation. Even if the NVSWCD is worth having, it should not be run by an elected board but should be appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. I endorse abstention (no vote) for the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Directors.