At Forum, Delegates Coalesce Around Transit, Justice Reform, Campaign Financing

Arlington County Civic Federation candidates forum, Sept 14, 2021 (Photo via Facebook/ Arlington County Civic Federation)

Local Virginia House of Delegates candidates had similar things to say on hot topics facing the Commonwealth, during a forum hosted by the Arlington County Civic Federation.

While not all candidates were present, those who were in attendance, regardless of political affiliation, voiced support for rail transit and criminal justice reform while decrying the influence of corporate money in state politics.

Arlington County encompasses parts of four Virginia House districts. Democrats currently occupy all of those seats and have a majority in the General Assembly. That could change this year, since every one of the 100 seats is up for grabs. Early voting starts on Friday (Sept. 17) and voting culminates with Election Day, Nov. 2.

Incumbents are running in three of the districts and are being challenged by Republicans in all of them, as well as an independent in the 49th District.

On Gov. Ralph Northam’s plans for rail transit, incumbent Delegate Rip Sullivan (D) of the 48th District said he “wholeheartedly” agrees it should be prioritized.

“I think future plans and, frankly, what’s already underway with respect to rail transit, is important to both quality of life, for our environment, and the economy,” he said.

His challenger, Edward Monroe (R), echoed that support.

“Everybody knows there are too many cars on the road,” he said. “So, any measures we can take that are effective in reducing the amount of traffic, I think, is a great idea.”

Over in the 45th district, Justin “J.D.” Maddox (R) even complimented opponent Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D) for her work to improve transit. Bennett-Parker, the Vice Mayor of Alexandria, defeated incumbent Mark Levine (D) in the June primary for the district, which covers Alexandria and parts of Arlington.

Bennett-Parker, who had a conflicting Alexandria City Council Legislation meeting, submitted a video. Maddox went after her on Alexandria’s crime rates, connecting them to an incident last year in which one of her aides was charged with a misdemeanor for allegedly assaulting a police officer while at a protest.

“I’ve also seen my opponent actually defund the police in the Alexandria City Public Schools,” Maddox said. “And that’s happening at a moment [when] Alexandria is experiencing a 20% increase in violent crime.”

That statistic isn’t completely accurate. So-called “part 1 crimes,” which include violent crimes but also burglary, larceny and auto theft, were up nearly 20% last year. Overall, violent crimes in Alexandria were up 3.3% in 2020.

On criminal justice, incumbents Patrick Hope (D-47) and Alfonso Lopez (D-49) said if elected again they both plan on addressing mandatory minimum criminal sentencing.

Hope emphasized speeding up legal marijuana sales, which remain illegal until 2024 even though the state legalized marijuana possession earlier this summer.

“There are some people that are incarcerated because of marijuana,” said Hope, whose district spans from East Falls Church to Courthouse, to Barcroft and part of Columbia Pike. “I want to look at some of the sentencing for those types of crimes that people are sitting in jail for.”

Hope and Lopez’s Republican opponents, Laura Hall and Timothy Kilcullen, respectively, were absent, as was independent candidate Terry Modglin, also running for the 49th District.

Both incumbents highlighted the need for reforms to campaign financing laws, such as imposing campaign contribution limits.

Lopez, who defeated a primary challenge in June, is vying for his sixth term as delegate for the 49th District, which runs from Seven Corners to Pentagon City. He said he hasn’t taken money during this election from at least two big corporations known for contributing in Virginia elections.

“I, personally, haven’t taken money from Dominion [Energy] since 2017, before it was cool,” said Lopez. “And I’ve never taken a dime from Amazon because they are building HQ in the heart of the 49th District.”

The 48th District race was the only one that had all candidates present, though Sullivan and Monroe didn’t differ much on the questions presented. On criminal justice reform, both expressed interest in keeping people out of jail, though Monroe said certain reforms may go “overboard.”

Monroe admitted he partly joined the race to encourage others, particularly young people, to get involved and challenge incumbents.

“I’m glad [Sullivan] is a delegate for the district, but respectfully, he’s been unchallenged in the last two election cycles,” said Monroe. “We’ve got such a wonderful political system. We need to make sure we realize it.”

The Arlington County Civic Federation also hosted forums for the Arlington School Board and County Board candidates. For the most part, County Board candidates reiterated priorities and issues that they made at a virtual forum last week, including an emphasis on the topic of affordable housing.