Candidates seeking to represent the Catoctin District in Leesburg and Richmond faced off during an Oct. 1 forum at the Lucketts Community Center.
The forum, moderated by Priscilla Godfrey and hosted by the Lucketts Ruritan Club, included candidates for the state Senate’s 13th District Del. John J. Bell (D-87) and Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin); candidate for the House of Delegates’ 33rd District Mavis Taintor; incumbent county Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and challengers John Whitbeck (R) and Bob Ohneiser (I); candidates for the Catoctin District on the Board of Supervisors Forest Hayes (D), Caleb Kershner (R) and Sam Kroiz (I); and Commissioner of the Revenue Bob Wertz (R) and his challenger Sri Amudhanar. The incumbent Taintor is challenging, Del. Dave A. LaRock (R-33), did not attend.
Senate hopeful Higgins stood out among all other candidates by calling on the General Assembly to challenge the scientific consensus around climate change.
“I think that it’s incumbent on the Senate and the House in Virginia to examine the science and look at the science. I would have to disagree with my opponent that the science is conclusive,” Higgins said, to jeering from the audience.
Higgins said, “we’ve had hurricanes as long as man has been alive. We’ve had rain events as long as man has been alive.”
No other candidate attending denied the prevailing scientific consensus around climate change, nor humans’ impact on it. Higgins’ opponent, Bell, said one of the questions he was asked before winning the Farm Bureau’s endorsement was about climate change.
“I was shocked, and I said, well I took my granddaughter to get her inoculations for school yesterday, so I believe in medical science. I flew in an airplane a couple days ago, so I certainly believe in physics, and I believe that we have to believe in science,” Bell said. “We have smart people and we know the climates are changing, and what are we going to do about it? I think we have to do something.”
Taintor said she has seen the impacts on her own farmland. Randall pointed to initiatives she has brought during her term on the board such as requiring electric vehicle charging stations at public facilities and revisiting a county energy policy from 2008.
“As a logical human being, I believe in global climate change, and that people are responsible. As a Christian, I believe that God gave us this earth to take care of, and we’re not doing a very good job. As the chair of the county, I’ve put a couple things forth right here in Loudoun County,” Randall said.
Randall’s Republican challenger, Whitbeck, said he lives with “three experts in protecting the environment.”
“My three little girls, it’s a big issue to them,” Whitbeck said. “Protecting our environment is more than just banning plastic straws—it’s about the right land use policies in Loudoun County. That’s what the Board of Supervisors does.” He pointed out that during this board’s term, for the first time, the boundary of the county’s Rural Policy Area changed to move more land into the Transition Policy Area.
The independent candidate, Ohneiser, said “after being in Alaska there’s no doubt whatsoever that we have something happening” and said improvements in efficiency would be important, such as improving efficiency in bus routes.
“Talking about it, yelling at the television with all the national crap we have to put up with, doesn’t solve the problem,” Ohneiser said. “The school system is an example where the lack of efficiency is making this worse.”
Candidates faced questions both from the moderator and submitted from the audience, starting with a question to each about what they believe was the biggest issue facing the office they seek.
Amudhanar said he wants to help people be aware of the opportunities through the office of the Commissioner of the Revenue and help them own a home in Loudoun’s expensive housing market. The incumbent, Wertz, said the most important issue facing the office is keeping up with Loudoun’s rapid growth and assessing all those new homes and businesses fairly for taxation.
In the Catoctin District, Independent Kroiz said “keeping rural Loudoun rural is the most important thing for our district.”
“Really, it’s the number one through five, or one through ten issues, because all of our biggest problems are driven by housing growth,” Kroiz said. “High taxes, traffic, overcrowded schools.”
Republican Kershner said the main job is to look out for residents’ quality of life—touching on taxes, preserving small schools, protecting rural spaces, and addressing traffic.
“As a former prosecutor, I’ve been to far too many fatalities, and if we can get individuals home safer and sooner, then we have improved their quality of life,” Kershner said.
Hayes said he is “running a campaign not about party ideology, but about hyper-local issues.”
“That’s why my first act upon being elected will be to fix Rt. 15 by expediting and starting improvements that have already been approved for phase one, and finally, finally break ground in 2020,” Hayes said. “I would favor roundabouts over traffic lights and leave the Village of Lucketts undisturbed.”
The county’s capital plans currently call for widening Rt. 15 to four lanes from Leesburg to Montresor Road south of Lucketts, with funding beginning July 2020, and widening to road and adding improvements such as roundabouts, turn lanes, and shoulders from Montresor Road to the Point of Rocks Bridge with funding for engineering beginning July 2021.
Ohneiser said the chairman’s office should be treated as full-time job focused on fairness and efficiency.
“I keep myself busy, I get into details, I prepare for meetings,” Ohneiser said. “The chairman of the Board of Supervisors needs to know how to analyze problems, define problems and work towards solutions.”
Whitbeck echoed that the job is to protect the quality of life in Loudoun. That means building more roads—“but we have to have policies that actually get cars off the road”—expanding broadband access, and buying more land into public parks.
“Less than 2 percent of our public land is parks,” Whitbeck said. “We ought to do a little bit better than that in Loudoun County so we can enjoy the open space that we have.”
Randall, meanwhile, agreed that the job is about quality of life, and pointed to the board’s records during her term, such as not approving any new housing development in western Loudoun, expanding full-day kindergarten to every Loudoun student, and allocating “over half a billion dollars into building roads” and a need to focus on other transportation options.
“We’re doing all these things, and will continue to do these things,” Randall said.
Taintor, the Democrat for state delegate, said expanding access to healthcare is her first priority, telling a personal story of her son dealing with addiction.
“I want to get to Richmond because I have a son who struggled with mental illness all his life, and ultimately died of heroin overdose,” Taintor said. “And I want to get to Richmond so that I can make sure that other families don’t have to walk down the same road.”
Higgins, the Republican candidate for state Senate, said he hopes to win more funding for transportation, schools, and public safety, while simultaneously lowering taxes.
“We’ve raised $1.5 billion, $1.2 billion for roads that was not in the [Capital Improvement Program] before, and we have funded public safety and brought a new park to Loudoun County, so these are the kinds of things that are important to people,” Higgins said.
Bell said the most pressing issue is gun violence, pointing to repeated instances of bullets leaving private property and striking other homes and, in one case, a woman. He also said he would work to address the high costs of medicine, including the costs of prescription medicine for senior citizens.
“I believe in the Second Amendment, but I also believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and if you want to have a cookout in your own backyard without worrying about getting shot, that’s something we can do,” Bell said.
The forum was the first of two for candidates for office in Lucketts. A second, moderated by Loudoun Now, will be held Tuesday, Oct. 15. Candidates for sheriff, county treasurer, commonwealth’s attorney and the School Board have been invited to participate.