Close to 50 Loudouners filed into the Northern Virginia Community College Loudoun Campus auditorium Wednesday night to learn more about the views of 10 candidates, eight Democrats and two Republicans, running for spots in the Virginia House of Delegates and Virginia Senate this November.
They were incumbent state Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-33) and her opponent, Leesburg Town Councilwoman and Republican Suzanne Fox; incumbentDel. Wendy Gooditis (D-10); Mavis Taintor, a Democrat running for Virginia’s 33rd House District seat; incumbent Del. Ibraheem Samirah (D-86); incumbent Del. John Bell (D-87), who is running for Virginia’s 13th Senate District seat; Bill Drennan, a Republican running to replace Bell in the 87th House District, and his opponent, Democrat Suhas Subramanyam; Ronnie Ross, a Democrat running for Virginia’s 27th Senate District seat; and incumbent Del. David Reid (D-32).
Co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Loudoun County and NOVA-Loudoun Campus, the forum saw NOVA Communications Professor Carolyn Hurley and Loudoun Republican Party Issues Chairman Joe Luppino-Esposito present the candidates with questions crafted by attendees and event sponsors, with topics ranging from partisanship to transportation, gun legislation and equal rights for women.
One of the more responsive questions posed to the candidates dealt with their views on whether or not they felt partisanship prevents work from getting done in Richmond and what they’d do to solve that. While they all agreed that it’s possible for Democrats and Republicans to work together in the General Assembly, they had different thoughts on how that’s possible, with Gooditis noting that partisanship issues initially got her running for office.
Fox and Rossagreed that politicians need to start from the ground up and express their core values to each other when working to pass laws. Fox said she supports the thought of “principles over partisanship.”
Boysko said the General Assembly finds common ground on 90 percent of the work it does, and Reid mentioned it was bi-partisan work that led to the addition of $2.3 million in the state budget for the initial planning of the Children’s Science Museum in Sterling.
Drennan said the General Assembly is a more collegiate and friendly place than what most people might think. Samirah said that while such collegiality exists, so do issues, which divide parties. Subramanyam added that the existing political system often gets in the way of progress.
Bell mentioned that some of his best friends in the assembly are Republicans, and that they were some of the first people to call him when his son died earlier this year.
Taintor said she would approach the House with a “very open mind” to prevent partisanship issues from hindering work.
Many of the candidates also pointed out that gerrymandering—when politicians attempt to modify district lines to favor their party—has picked up in recent years and needs to be fixed.
The candidates were also asked about the Equal Rights Amendment, which has drawn mixed opinions from politicians in regard to whether or not it actually exists.
In 1972, the U.S. Congress approved the amendment and gave the states until 1979 to ratify it. While 35 states did so in that time, no more took action by the 1982 extension.
Some politicians argue that because the amendment didn’t include a ratification deadline, it’s indefinitely eligible for ratification—and now, after Nevada and Illinois ratified the amendment in recent years, only one more state needs to ratify it before it’s officially passed. But other politicians argue that the amendment has been dead for 37 years.
Drennan and Fox were the only two candidates at the forum to voice that thought. “There is no ERA, there is nothing to vote for … there is nothing to support, it is a nullity … I do not support dead legislation,” Drennan said.
Fox added that the amendment might not be necessary, since Virginian women already have equal pay and opportunity.
On the topic of transportation in Northern Virginia, all candidates agreed that traffic is a major issue. Many added that transportation is the region’s most pressing economic issue.
Fox specified that the high cost of tolls are affecting residents. Subramanyam agreed, joking that he knew the region’s most pertinent issue was transportation early on because people started contributing to his campaign when he publicly stated that it was.
Drennan said he would fight to keep more Northern Virginia taxes at home to fight the “traffic trauma,” noting that the region acts involuntarily as the state’s “piggy bank.” Bell said he’d look for more state funding to expand roads, since Loudoun is growing at a rate of 33 people each day.
Boysko and Reid identified workforce development as the most crucial economic issue, specifically that there aren’t enough adequately-qualified residents to fill 21st-century jobs.
Meanwhile, Ross said rural broadband was more important, while Samirah said the minimum wage needs to be raised and Taintor said the government needs to help rural businesses get their starts.
Gooditis was the only one to highlight that the cost of and accessibility to health care should come first, since “if we don’t have healthy people, then we don’t have a workforce.”
The topic of gun legislation solicited the usual partisan responses, and a bit of passion from some.
Drennan said residents have a constitutional right to bear arms and that many common-sense gun restrictions violate the Second, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Fox said the state legislature needs to balance constitutional rights with public safety and that the Constitution wasn’t written to restrain citizens’ behavior, but to restrain the government’s behavior.
Bell said the Constitution provides for a well-regulated militia, not a free-for-all. He pointed to a bill he has introduced four years in a row that would require in-person training for concealed carry permits. Reid also mentioned a bill he introduced in 2018 that would allow residents to purchase one handgun each month.
Taintor said red flag laws, whichcould permit police to confiscate firearms from people who pose a danger to themselves or others, need to be passed to reduce suicide rates.
Gooditis agreed, and while choking up and raising her voice, said the police who took her brother’s gun away when he was threatening suicide were required to give it back to him. Her brother later killed himself with that gun.
The 10 candidates are up for election on Nov. 5, along with about 60 other candidates looking to represent Loudoun in local, state and federal capacities.