The Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce hosted one of its speed-dating style forums for House of Delegates candidates Tuesday morning, giving members of its business community a chance to meet the people running for state house up close.
The chamber’s format skips having candidates lined up on a stage, instead dispersing the candidates through the audience and having them rotate from one table to the next for a series of brief, small group, face-to-face conversations. At one table, they faced questions on workforce, transportation, and attainable housing.
With businesses faced with difficulty finding workers, Republican Scott Pio, who challenging Del. David A. Reid (D-32), mentioned the end of expanded unemployment benefits and said his priority is to make sure Virginia is a non-union state.
“I would want to make sure that Virginia remains a right-to-work state—or a right-to-fire, even, state—because employers shouldn’t have to keep bad employees around,” he said.
And asked about the lagging return of women and minorities to the workplace, Pio said “you have to ask yourself—do women want to return to work?”
He said with more people homeschooling, women are more likely to be the ones to stay at home while their husbands go to work.
Del. David A. Reid (D-32) said ,as the chairman of the Virginia Manufacturing Development Commission, he has visited manufacturing businesses and heard about the workforce shortage–pointing particular to a shortage of teachers who can train people for jobs such as nursing or trades.
“So we have 14 nursing programs around the state, but we don’t have enough faculty. So we may need to look at actually providing some type of incentive to get more people to teach,” Reid said.
He also said that part of the commission’s work has been on keeping businesses in the state—”from a business perspective, you always recognize that it’s easier to keep the customers you have than to actually get new customers”—as well as looking toward a package of incentives to recruit workers from other states to come to Virginia.
Republican Nick Clemente, who is challenging Del. Wendy W. Gooditis (D-10), said his top issues are education for special needs children such as those like him with dyslexia, encouraging affordable housing and keeping unions out of Virginia.
“The most expensive part of building a new school is the land and building, that’s the expensive part, and so Loudoun County, I think, provides us an opportunity to think outside the box in education,” Clemente said. He said he would like to bring more money back from Richmond for projects like building a specialized school for dyslexic children.
He also pointed to Fairfax County ordinances that require developers to build a certain amount of affordable housing when building homes, which he said should be emulated. And he said the region needs to have a regional approach to transportation.
“Ronald Reagan said the only thing he’s an expert at is listening to experts, and that’s the kind of expert I am,” Clemente said.
Gooditis pointed to the state’s successes in the business climate.
“Probably the best news with the majority as it stands now in Richmond is that for two years in a row, we have been ranked first out of 50 states for business, and while we have done that, we have raised ourselves from 50th for workforce to 23rd—we’re more than halfway up the scale,” Gooditis said. “I think we’re demonstrating that we can do both. We can be the best for business, and we can be best for workforce.”
On housing, she pointed to the legislature passing a bill that mirrors federal tax credits for developing affordable housing. And on workforce and hiring, she pointed to work such as raising the minimum wage, assistance of woman- and minority-owned small businesses.
“Our essential workers bore such a burden in the last year and a half,” Gooditis said. “… I want to keep raising that minimum wage, because we need those workers.”
And she pointed to a proposal to offer free community college for qualifying students in fields facing difficulty hiring qualified applicants.
“We’ve done a lot to make ways available either for people to switch a job, earn a little more in a job they’ve already had, or get certified in a trade,” Gooditis said.
Robert Frizzelle, a self-described Libertarian who is challenging Del. Karrie K. Delaney (D-67), said “the oppressive government we have in Richmond has gone too far on some issues, and I’d like to bring it back.”
He said he supports a mixture of publicly funded roads and private toll roads, and also stepped into the debate over the school district’s efforts to teach about historic and structural racism, branded inaccurately by some conservatives as Critical Race Theory.
“I just wish that they’d spend more of the discretionary money on fixing a crisis than creating a new society,” Frizzelle said. He said that work is “creating a new infrastructure of racism.”
“I think we all want to get rid of racism, but the way they implement it turns us into a society of subdivided equity groups,” he said.
And on workforce, he said the government needs to ween people off of enhanced unemployment benefits.
Delaney said she seeks to bring an open mind and problem-solved mentality to Richmond, and is a supporter of multimodal transportation solutions. She also pointed to a past General Assembly decision to take money from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to fund Metrorail, and the work to get that funding restored.
“We’ve gotten back about $100 million of that, we need another $36 million to be returned, I think that’s a priority,” Delaney said. “How we allocate our funds, though, I think it’s important that we’re not just widening our roads, but we’re looking for ways to make Metro more appealing to people, buses more appealing to people.”
And, she said, the schools need to be aggressive in identifying vulnerable student populations and students who fell behind during the COVID-19 pandemic to help them out.
Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D-87), said, thanks to the growth in his district, he now represents more people than anyone else in the General Assembly. He said one of his top legislative priorities is paid family leave, pointing to his own family’s experience have a child at the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t necessarily think it need to be required of smaller businesses or startup business, but certainly bigger companies that already do it in other states for their employees, they should have some sort of policy in place,” Subramanyam said.
He also pointed to transportation issues in his district, especially Rt. 50, which he said he would like to see made more like Rt. 7. And he also pointed to Fairfax County’s programs for affordable housing, saying local government is best suited to figure out the needs for affordable housing, but the state can support that work.
“In the end, I think to address affordable housing you have to put money behind a program. It’s just talking until you do that,” he said. “There has to be the incentive for people to build affordable housing.”
Greg Moulthrop, Subramanyam’s challenger, did not attend.
Paul Siker, who is challenging Del. Dave A. LaRock (R-33), said he was motivated to run by the insurrection on Jan. 6, and by LaRock’s support for those protests as well as for throwing out the results of the 2020 election. And he said the state will need to invest in education and transportation, pointing to Interstate 81 which forms much of the district’s western boundary. He said it’s one of the largest truck corridors in the eastern seaboard, “and yet if you’ve driven on it recently—it’s always exciting.”
And he also pointed toward a rapidly retiring baby boomer generation, which he said has exacerbated hiring difficulties.
“We need to be creating investment in workforce development, vocational training that ultimately allows people to get good paying jobs … and we’re also going to attract other employers to come to our area,” Siker said.
He also echoed the sentiment that local government will know best for its area what to do about affordablee housing, but the state can enact tools and programs to support that work.
LaRock did not appear at Tuesday’s event.
The candidate forum was a followup to the Chamber’s annual BizVotes candidate questionnaire, which polled all 14 candidates across the seven House of Delegates races that touch Loudoun. Of those, 13 candidates—all but Gary Pan, who is running against Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34)—responded. All candidates who completed the questionnaire were invited to attend Tuesday’s forum.
Invited but not attending were Murphy as well as both candidates in the 86th District, Irene Shin (D) and Julie Perry (R).
Candidates’ responses to the BizVotes questionnaire are online at LoudounChamber.org/BizVotes.