The five candidates running to succeed Delegate Al Eisenberg in Arlington's 47th District debated for the first time before a group of about 80 Barcroft residents last night. In overwhelmingly liberal Arlington, finding contrasts between the five is a difficult affair.
The only candidate displaying any gray hair was Andres Tobar, who sat in the middle. The only minority, Tobar, a Latino, ran for what is now Adam Ebbin's seat prior to the 2001 redistricting. Unfortunately for him, Arlington's Latino population is mostly in the 49th, and Tobar himself noted ruefully that there are only 2,000 registered Latinos in the 47th. Surrounding him were, by comparison, four fresh-faced youngsters.
The most interesting question of the night was the only one that really drew contrasts between the five--they were asked first what committee they wanted to be assigned on, and what their first piece of legislation would be. None of the candidates were under any delusion that they would be assigned to Appropriations, or that they'd pass landmark legislation in their first term, but each of them cited a different committee. It also provided some insight on how intricately familiar the candidates were with the legislative process. Each candidate chose the committee that linked closest with their experience.
Alan Howze, citing his experience in the home weatherization business, called for a bill that would "create jobs", presumably through tax incentives or subsidies. Howze confessed he didn't quite know which committee the idea would be assigned to, and he's probably right. A tax credit would likely pass through Finance, a bill with subsidies would pass through Appropriations, and it's likely the bill would pass through Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources (ACNR).
Miles Grant unsurprisingly wished to be assigned to ACNR, and promised to carry a bill bringing farmers on board towards Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Farming nutrient runoff is one of the biggest sources of pollution decimating industries dependent on Bay fisheries.
Adam Parkhomenko might be the only Democrat who wants on Militia & Police, citing his advocacy for fully funding the Line of Duty Act.
Patrick Hope chose Health, Welfare, and Institutions, hoping to create a statewide insurance pool to insure every Virginian. Hope made no comment on the possibility that the Obama Administration might pass universal health care.
Andres Tobar was last to go, and he chose Education, hoping to fully fund universal Pre-K. Governor Tim Kaine was elected on a promise to fund universal Pre-K, until intransigent General Assembly Republicans and the economy stalled his plans.
REDISTRICTING REFORM. The debate opened with a question on redistricting reform, a nearly universally popular concept in Arlington. All five candidates espoused support for some form of redistricting reform, although none advocated a specific plan. Interestingly, Patrick Hope complained that the 2001 redistricting was designed to increase the power of Southwestern Virginia, which isn't entirely accurate. Each district, after all, had the same number of voters. What the 2001 redistricting did was reduce the power of Democrats statewide by packing them into overwhelmingly Democratic districts and slicing them apart when that couldn't be done. With the ironclad principle of one man, one vote in play, each region gets their fair share of representatives, even if their representatives don't actually represent the partisan balance of a region.
CLIMATE CHANGE. Dominion Power is everyone's favorite punching bag. Adam Howze called for decoupling Dominion's profits from consumption, Miles Grant (who is basing his campaign on green issues) blasted Dominion for building new coal-fired power plants, and Adam Parkhomenko, who was given the last opportunity to answer the question, was merely left with calling for Virginia to "stand up to Dominion".
HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUTS: Front-page news about the high-school dropout rate in Virginia caused a great amount of consternation, despite the fact that Arlington's was far below average. Tobar, as the race's only Latino, highlighted the nearly 20% dropout rate among Latinos. Grant tied the issue back to affordable housing, citing cases where students had to work instead of go to school for their family's sake. Like we pointed out here at NDP, there were yawning gaps between affluent localities and poorer localities in Virginia when it came to dropout rates. Grant seized upon these differences, decrying the "two Virginias."
MINORITY STATUS: An obviously partisan crowd was concerned about how an Arlington Democrat would fare if Democrats didn't pick up the six seats they needed to take a majority. None of the candidates dared express anything but optimism that the rest of the state would come through for them. Grant called up a football metaphor, promising to be the defense and citing the examples of Rep. Henry Waxman and the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. Parkhomenko went so far as encourage Arlingtonians after the primary to venture to nearby battlegrounds such as the 42nd District, where Greg Werkheiser is running against Dave Albo. As a Fairfax resident, I'm encouraged by the prospect of Arlingtonians heading down 395 en masse to help get Dave Albo out of office.
JOBS: The last question asked each candidate how they would balance their day jobs with their office. Miles Grant seemed to advocate studying the idea of a full-time legislature, calling the part-time legislature a "broken system" which doesn't allow enough time to properly consider legislation. Paying homage to the "citizen legislature", like Alan Howze did, is a time-honored tradition in Virginia, and whether Grant's proposal will catch fire remains to be seen.