This year, all seats in both houses of the Virginia General Assembly—the Virginia Senate and the Virginia House of Delegates—are up for election. The Virginia Senate is made up of 40 Senators, and the Republican Party currently holds a 23/17 majority over the Democratic Party. The Virginia House of Delegates is made up of 100 Delegates, and the Republican Party currently holds a 57/40 majority over the Democratic Party with 3 seats held by independents. The General Assembly is the oldest legislative body in the western hemisphere and has been operating since 1619.
Virginia Senate, 33rd District
Note: I have recently moved from the 34th District, currently served by Senator Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R), to the 33rd District, currently served by Senator Mark Herring (D).
In the race to represent Virginia’s 33rd Senate District in the Virginia Senate, incumbent Senator Mark Herring (D) is being challenged by Patricia Phillips (R). Members serve four-year terms, and the 33rd District includes most of Leesburg and eastern Loudoun County, as well as the Oak Hill area of Fairfax County. Herring is seeking his second term representing the 33rd District.
Senator Herring knows what’s important. His campaign web site focuses primarily on the two issues that, indeed, deserve the most attention in our state and local elections this year: transportation (including growth management) and education. But his plans to address these issues, and his record in the Virginia Senate, do not impress me.
While Herring has worked to improve Northern Virginia’s ability to fix its transportation infrastructure, he is too apt to consider raising taxes (which he euphemistically calls ‘raising revenue’) and is too apt to trample individuals’ and businesses’ property rights with zoning limitations and ‘impact fees’ in the name of controlling growth. Phillips, however, sees the transportation issue for what it really is: Richmond has failed to build roads due to its misguided, rural-centric priorities, and the solution is to allocate 1 billion dollars annually (less than 3 percent of the Commonwealth’s budget) to improve Northern Virginia’s infrastructure out of the existing revenue. When our state is running a budget surplus, tax increases should be off the table; and when Northern Virginia is bringing in the bulk of the Commonwealth’s revenue, we are entitled to a little re-investment in our infrastructure from the state’s general fund.
With regard to education, Herring has some good ideas—locking education funds in a ‘double lock-box’ that can’t be raided for other purposes, making sure money is spent in the classroom not on administration, keeping class sizes small, and recruiting and retaining the best teachers. Phillips also presents good ideas—providing more control and discretion to the local schools and reducing the amount of pointless paperwork so teachers and administrators can focus on educating. But there is one fundamental difference (one that so often manifests itself between Republicans and Democrats): Herring would prefer that children be stuck in a failing public education system and that we keep throwing more money at it to fix it, while Phillips wants to give parents greater opportunity to choose their children’s schools and receive tax credits to use for superior private education or home schooling.
On other issues, Herring is strangely silent. Phillips points out that Virginia’s budget has doubled in the past decade while our population has only grown 12 percent, and thus wants to control spending and focus on the core government services of transportation, schools, and public safety. Phillips wants to better enforce existing immigration laws and reform Virginia’s immigration policies in an effort to blunt the negative effects of illegal immigration in the 33rd District and the rest of the Commonwealth. Phillips wants to protect our right to bear arms and prevent activist judges from redefining marriage, which they have no Constitutional authority to do. What does Herring think about these and other issues? I really wish he would have taken the time to tell me.
Ultimately, Herring’s approaches to improving our transportation infrastructure and education system are either grossly misguided or grossly insufficient. While Phillips’ solutions for education are also grossly insufficient to head-off the spectacular failure of our public schools, they are better than nothing and better than Herring’s plan. Phillips sees the transportation crisis for what it is and proposes a reasonable solution, while Herring’s plan seems to be to raise taxes and trample property rights. The choice is clear. I endorse Patricia Phillips for 33rd District Senator.
Virginia House of Delegates, 86th District
Note: I have recently moved from the 35th District, currently served by Del. Steve Shannon (D), to the 86th District, currently served by Del. Tom Rust (R).
Jay Donahue (D) challenges incumbent Del. Tom Rust (R) for the 86th District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. Members serve two-year terms, and the 86th District includes Herndon and Oak Hill in Fairfax County and the Sterling area of Loudoun County. Rust is seeking his fourth term representing the 86th District.
Rust has had some success as our delegate in bringing much-needed transportation funding to Northern Virginia, but it has not been enough and his legislation has contained too many quick-fixes and not enough long-term solutions. The recent ‘abuser fee’ controversy, which stemmed from legislation that Rust worked on and campaigned for, is a perfect example. Charging dangerous drivers exorbitant fees for their traffic crimes is not a bad idea, but it shouldn’t be one of the lynchpins of a transportation funding plan. Should our transportation dollars depend on people breaking the law? Even if we are going to pass legislation along these lines, our elected representatives should make sure said-legislation is constitutional. The abuser fees apply only to Virginia residents and not drivers from out-of-state, a clear violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. That amendment passed in 1868, so it isn’t exactly new. Maybe Del. Rust missed that day in his middle-school civics class.
Donahue’s transportation plan is a little bit vague, but at least it steers clear of quick fixes and unconstitutional provisions. His transportation thesis is that we need to start taking small steps where we can (making spot improvements at key intersections, for example) while pressuring Richmond to stop channeling our money to rural areas of the state and give us our fair share of transportation dollars. I disagree with Donahue’s assertion that developers ought to pay directly for a portion of road improvements (they already pay taxes), but I do firmly support his desire to build MetroRail to Dulles Airport underground through Tyson’s Corner instead of ruining that region and creating a roads-nightmare with an above-ground rail line just to save a few up-front dollars. Both Rust and Donahue want to improve our transportation infrastructure with money Richmond already has instead of jacking-up local taxes.
On education, Rust and Donahue each spout the same, tired catch-phrases about how to fix our public schools: increase teacher pay, reduce class sizes, more money, less bureaucracy, etc., etc. Neither provides any solutions for rebuilding our public schools into world-class educational institutions. Fixing our schools is the great challenge of the next century, yet no politician at any level seems to have any ideas for tackling it. Donahue, however, does bring an excellent idea for improving higher education—one I have proposed myself—’fixed tuition’ plans where tuition rates do not rise during a student’s academic career. This idea is long overdue in our public universities.
Both Rust and Donahue also propose taking action to fight illegal immigration by enforcing the law where the federal government has failed to do so. These plans include fines for businesses that hire illegal immigrants, denying bail to illegal immigrants (as they are an increased flight-risk), and more. Donahue, however, supports controversial programs like Herndon’s (now-defunct) day-labor center, which provided illegal immigrants a sanctioned place to congregate for finding work. The answer is not to move these illegal-immigrant gathering points into town/county/state facilities, the answer is to arrest and deport the illegal immigrants. They can come back legally later if they really want the opportunities this country has to offer, the same way millions of legal immigrants (including my and my wife’s ancestors) have before.
But, despite Donahue’s misguided desire to provide illegal immigrants a government-sanctioned gathering point, and his oh-so-common ‘throw money at it’ approach to fixing our schools, he offers a nominally-better approach to solving our transportation crisis and to improving the accessibility of higher education to the poor and middle-class. For these reasons I endorse Jay Donahue for 86th District Delegate.