Virginia General Assembly, 2011

The entire Virginia General Assembly stands for election this year, including all 40 seats in the Virginia Senate and all 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates. The General Assembly was established by British colonists at Jamestown in 1619 as the House of Burgesses, which moved to Williamsburg in 1699. It became the General Assembly along with American independence in 1776 and then moved to Richmond in 1780, where it remains today. The Virginia General Assembly is the oldest extant legislative body in the western hemisphere. House members serve two-year terms and Senate members serve four-year terms, offset by two years with the gubernatorial elections.

Virginia Senate, 13th District

Note: since the 2007 Virginia Senate elections, I have moved from the 33rd Senate District to the 13th Senate District.

In the race to represent the 13th District in the Virginia Senate, Dick Black (R) and Shawn Mitchell (D) are vying for an open seat. The 13th District encompasses the bulk of Loudoun County (excluding Leesburg, Dulles Airport, and the south-western quadrant) as well as an area of northern Prince William County. This area includes Manassas Battlefield, South Riding, Gilbert’s Corner, Broadlands, Purcellville, Hamilton, Lovettsville, and part of Ashburn.

Black, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing the 32nd District for four terms (eight years), is campaigning primarily on his legislative record—and with good reason. As a member of the House, Black was consistently pro-business (good for the economy) and pro-liberty (good for the citizens). During his time there he never voted for any of the unnecessary tax increases proposed by our government, consistently supported economically beneficial ‘right to work’ laws, and was an ardent supporter of citizens’ basic civil liberties—including our right to life (the foundation all other rights are based on) and the right to keep and bear arms (the guarantor of all other rights). These two cornerstones of human liberty are often ignored by those who call themselves civil libertarians. Finally, Black fought hard to bring desperately-needed transportation funding to northern Virginia.

Mitchell, on the other hand, has built a classy web site (reminiscent of President Barack Obama’s [D] 2008 campaign site) but is incredibly quiet about what he actually intends to do if elected. He has posted brief statements about three key issues in this election—education, jobs & economy, and transportation. Since these are, indeed, three of the most important issues facing the 13th District, let’s review them one-by-one.

On jobs and economy, Black wants to keep business taxes low (by reining-in government spending), reduce red tape and restriction on business activity, and vigorously support the Commonwealth’s efforts to overturn costly, unconstitutional mandates (like Obama’s health care law) that have introduced uncertainty and severely dampened corporate hiring. Mitchell simply calls for government incentives to encourage business growth, but does not specify what those incentives might be (or how they might be funded). He is, however, opposed to raising taxes on “existing businesses” . . . but the curious wording of the statement leads me to wonder if he intends to make up for that by taxing new businesses. Black presents the more sound approach to economic recovery and growth in the 13th District.

On transportation, Black intends to introduce legislation to reform how transportation funding is allocated in the Commonwealth and to introduce a Virginia Constitutional Amendment to prohibit the General Assembly from raiding the transportation trust fund for other purposes. These are laudable goals. He also intends to “make route 7 a priority again,” which seems unnecessary since 7 is built up sufficiently and route 50 is the thoroughfare that is in most desperate need of improvement today. The best way to fix the congestion on route 7 would be to significantly lower or eliminate the abusive tolls on the Dulles Greenway. Mitchell, on the other hand, calls for practical, low-cost improvements like better synchronizing our traffic lights and encouraging telecommuting though, again, he is extremely vague in his proposals. He covers his entire approach to transportation in three sentences. Black presents the more-sound, fleshed-out approach . . . even though it has very serious gaps.

On education, Mitchell spouts the standard inane platitudes about how great our schools are and how we need to continue supporting them. He does not seem willing to actually address the catastrophic failure of American public education, where we spend more than almost all of our national peers (per-student) but get an objectively worse education in return. Black, on the other hand, makes no education proposals whatsoever. If I were grading them, Black would get 0/100 and Mitchell would get 5/100. They both fail with F-minuses.

All-in-all, it is clear which candidate is the best choice to represent our district in Richmond. I endorse the election of Dick Black (R) for Virginia Senate, 13th District, but I do with with some caveats. Black must reevaluate his local transportation priorities by focusing on upgrading route 50, completing the Loudoun County Parkway, and purchasing the Dulles Greenway back from its corporate operators so that it can be the public infrastructure asset it ought to be. Opening the Greenway to all traffic, toll-free, would alleviate congestion in the routes 28 and 7 corridors and improve the quality of life for the citizens of the 13th and neighboring districts. Black must also demand accountability from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is roundly botching the construction of MetroRail to Dulles and beyond into Loudoun County and threatening tolls on the Dulles Toll Road that would make the abusive tolls on the Greenway look positively tame. Finally, Black must address the patent failure of our public schools with wholesale top-to-bottom reform. While I am disappointed that Black is not addressing these areas in his campaign, it is clear—based on his legislative record—that he is still the better choice.

Virginia House of Delegates, 87th District

Note: Since the 2009 House of Delegates elections, I have moved from the 86th House District to the 87th House District.

In the race to represent the 87th District in the Virginia House of Delegates, Mike Kondratick (D) and David Ramadan (R) are vying for an open seat. The 87th District encompasses much of south-eastern Loudoun County along the Fairfax County border as well as an area of north-western Prince William County. This area includes Antioch, Stone Ridge, Arcola, Dulles Airport, Dulles Town Center, and parts of South Riding, Brambleton, and Ashburn.

Ramadan—like Loudoun County Sheriff candidate Ron Speakman (I)—has been accused of residency irregularities. He has lived with his wife at a single-family home in South Riding, just outside of the district boundaries, since 2003. In April of this year, Ramadan changed his official residence-of-record to a townhouse inside the 87th District, but he has kept the other home (according to him, because he stands to lose money on it if he sells in the down market). Ramadan is apparently inexplicably downgrading to a smaller home, and he admits that his wife still lives at the old home. He claims that this unique situation is required by the Hatch Act because his wife is a federal employee, but that simply isn’t true. Ramadan’s neighbors at both homes report that he has not been seen moving any furniture or belongings. When legitimate questions about his residency have come up, Ramadan has claimed that this is some witch-hunt orchestrated by his political opponents—the tried-and-true line we have heard more than once from politicians with something to hide.

The courts have reviewed the accusations against Ramadan and cleared his candidacy, but I find the situation troubling. The Constitution of Virginia states in Article IV, Section 4 that candidates for the House of Delegates must be “a resident of the house district which he is seeking to represent,” which is admittedly vague. In practice, this means that a candidate must have declared a particular home in a particular district as being his primary residence before filing to be a candidate in that district. Ramadan changed his residence in April and filed as a candidate one month later in May—following the letter of the law, but not its spirit. In his defense, I have to concede that Ramadan has legitimate ties to the 87th District. At different times, his close family members have lived in his new townhouse and in another nearby. Furthermore, Ramadan’s single family home is less than 100 yards outside of the district, and his street is an ‘enclave’—meaning that the only way to get to it is to pass through the 87th District, even though the street itself is across the border in the 67th. Of course, that explains the ‘move’—the 67th has an incumbent Republican, Jim LeMunyon, so Ramadan would have been unlikely to get the party nomination there.

All-in-all, the whole thing smells fishy. I understand that this was a great political opportunity for Ramadan, who is well known and respected in local Republican circles but has never held elective office himself. The Commonwealth’s recent redistricting gave him a rare opportunity to run for an open seat in a relatively Republican-friendly district (by northern Virginia standards). Having said that, playing fast-and-loose with residency has always been one of my biggest political pet-peeves. It strikes me as dishonest. That is why I have advocated amending the U.S. Constitution to require that U.S. Senators be a resident of their state at least four years, and members of the U.S. House of Representatives be a resident of their districts at least two years, before being permitted to run for office there. At the state legislature level I might reduce this to two years for Virginia Senators and one for Delegates, but even by this generous standard Ramadan would have fallen short. By his own admission, Ramadan will have only lived in the 87th District for about seven months when the November election rolls around. This may not disqualify him with the State Board of Election, but it does disqualify him with me. Try again in two years, Mr. Ramadan.

There is no lack of clarity over Kondratick’s residency; he and his young family have lived in the same community in Ashburn since 2002. Like his Democratic Party brethren running for local offices this year, he focuses his campaign on a very small handful of issues: transportation, education, and economic development. These are, indeed, the key issues this year, but I would like to see more information about his positions on other subjects. For good measure, Kondratick does go a step further than many of his party-mates and adds a statement on “protecting our environment.”

On transportation, he largely sticks to the vague statements offered by other candidates this year, but does flesh them out a bit more with some unique ideas. He calls for ensuring that the project to bring MetroRail to Dulles Airport and beyond is completed in a timely, affordable way, for managing toll increases on the Dulles Greenway, exploring bus rapid transit, allowing car-sharing service customers (e.g., Zipcar) to use HOV lanes, expanding the existing telework tax credits, and investing in broadband infrastructure to facilitate more telework. These positions have a lot of potential, but are flawed. MetroRail won’t get to Dulles and beyond in a timely, affordable way as long as the accountability-free Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is in charge of it. The Dulles Greenway shouldn’t have its toll increases ‘managed,’ it should be purchased outright by the state and have the tolls eliminated. Zipcar customers should be able to use the HOV lanes, yes, but so should everybody else. I have long stated that HOV lanes are counterproductive because any reduction in emissions due to carpooling is offset by the increased idling and stop-and-go caused by the obstruction of flow on the remainder of the highway. Eliminating HOV lanes entirely will improve flow, reduce commute times (on average), and likely reduce environment-harming emissions. Lastly, while I have little objection to telework tax credits, I question why it is government’s job to invest in broadband infrastructure. That is why we have broadband companies.

Kondratick offers nothing with regard to education . . . though, in his defense, neither does hardly any other candidate for any other office. Our schools are better-funded than almost any other schools in the world on a per-student basis, and yet they chronically under-perform our international competition. Kondratick states on his web site that, “The state needs to stop putting our kids’ futures on layaway by not helping to fund a well-rounded education.” He appears to be ignorant of the obvious fact that funding is not the problem with our schools (this is addressed more in-depth in this year’s bond referendum endorsements).

Lastly, on matters of economic development, Kondratick offers little more than the standard claim that we need to increase our local corporate tax base. This is true, of course, but I’d like to know exactly how he intends to accomplish this in the House of Delegates. There is little substance to go on here. “We must navigate between the extremes of unlimited sprawl and zero growth approaches,” he says. Okay. What on earth does that really mean?

In the end, I can make no endorsement in the race for Virginia House of Delegates, 87th District. Ramadan’s residency shenanigans disqualify him from receiving the Off on a Tangent endorsement in this election cycle. If he had been a clear, indisputable resident of the 87th District for at least one year preceding the election, he likely would have received my endorsement for his sound (though still insufficient) transportation policy proposals, strong pro-business platform, support for civil liberties and personal property rights, and desire to reassert the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the face of a burgeoning, expansionist, near-unlimited federal government.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.