Arlington Democrats say they’re pushing for an open debate down in Richmond on a redrawing of some of the state’s electoral lines, but hope seems to be fading among state lawmakers that a special session convened on the issue will yield many results.
Gov. Ralph Northam reconvened the General Assembly today (Thursday) for its second gathering outside of normal business this year, with the avowed purpose of approving a new map governing district lines for 11 districts in the House of Delegates.
A three-judge panel on a federal court ruled last month that those districts, concentrated in the Richmond and Norfolk areas, were improperly drawn to pack African American voters into safely Democratic districts. The court gave lawmakers an Oct. 30 deadline to correct the problems it identified, or else it will appoint an independent arbiter to do so.
House Democrats introduced their own attempt at crafting a new map yesterday (Wednesday), but Republicans have so far declined to do the same. They’re appealing the federal court’s ruling on the districts all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, with the GOP’s slim, 51-49 majority in the House potentially hanging in the balance ahead of next November’s elections.
“We just feel Republicans are delaying, delaying on this,” Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) told ARLnow. “The fact is, we’ve gone through four cycles with racially unconstitutional maps, and that’s eight years too long. It’s high time that we changed these maps.”
Republicans have charged, however, that Democrats haven’t engaged in the process in good faith. They argue that the map lawmakers presented is simply gerrymandering the map in the direction of Democrats, claiming that it would imperil five Republican-held districts while further shoring up margins of four Democratic districts.
“It’s clear that this is hypocritical partisan power grab that would fail to pass legal muster,” House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-15th District) wrote in a statement. “For almost a decade Democrats have pushed for so-called independent redistricting commissions. Yet when they had the chance to do so, they drew a partisan plan in secret without any input from the public or Republicans.”
Yet local Democrats like Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District) point out that Republicans controlled the General Assembly by wide margins when these lines were first drawn back in 2011, creating these “constitutional infirmities” in the first place.
Lopez, who doubles as House minority whip, believes there are a whole host of reasons why the Democratic proposal is worth considering — arguing it creates districts that are “compact, contiguous and protects community interests” — but he also notes that Republicans have so far declined to offer their own alternative.
“They’ve shown indication they’ll propose their own map,” Lopez said. “Even the court is calling them out for stalling, so we are in an interesting place right now. Hopefully, it’ll all work out.”
House Republicans agreed to debate the Democratic map in committee this afternoon, and Lopez and Sullivan would both like to see them bring it to the floor for debate in the coming days.
Yet Lopez’s hope is flagging on that count. The Supreme Court has already sent back a previous appeal of a ruling on the district lines to a lower court, but that was before then-Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. With President Donald Trump’s nomination for a replacement, Brett Kavanaugh, expected to receive Congressional consideration next month, the GOP could hold out for a hearing from a court with a newly replenished conservative majority — and Lopez added that Democrats proposed setting a firm date to return and debate the maps, but Republicans defeated that measure.
“It’s up to the call of [Speaker Kirk Cox] for when we come back for next steps,” Lopez said. “We just don’t know right now.”
Sullivan, however, is a bit more hopeful. While he’d greatly prefer to see an independent commission of some kind draw district lines instead, he claims that Democrats are committed to “address the court’s concerns until the process changes.”
“I’m sort of a cockeyed optimist,” Sullivan said. “I would hope that the Republicans would engage on this issue, would debate the map we put in or put in one of their own. The court has asked them to do that, I think the citizens of Virginia want them to do that, and hopefully that’s what they’ll do.”
Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49) says anonymous threats prompted him to request that police monitor a Indivisible Arlington town hall last weekend, and now he’s offering to meet with the pro-immigrant activists who confronted him at that gathering.
The question of who requested the involvement of Arlington County Police at the event, after some LaColectiVA activists asked some tough questions of Lopez on his ties to a contractor for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has been on the minds of several meeting attendees and even other Democratic lawmakers in the days following the meeting.
The police who manage protection for state lawmakers — the Virginia Division of Capitol Police — told ARLnow last week that Lopez had indeed requested a police presence at the event, and Arlington County Police confirmed that they’d agreed to check in on the meeting, though they’re adamant that they were not actively monitoring it.
Now, in his first public comments since the May 12 meeting at Arlington Central Library, Lopez told ARLnow in a prepared statement that he’s been notifying the Capitol Police about any public event he’s attended since last December. He chalks that up to “unwanted anonymous threats,” echoing claims he made at the meeting that some members of LaColectiVA had crossed a line when protesting his consulting work for the ICE contractor.
“Since the Indivisible Legislators’ Forum was widely publicized on social media my office followed protocol and alerted Colonel Pike’s [the chief of the Capitol Police] office,” Lopez wrote. “I have subsequently learned that an Arlington police officer came to the event before it began. The officer was alerted that his presence was not necessary and he left. In the middle of the Indivisible meeting a second officer arrived. He stated that he was there because he had been contacted by library security because of the noise. He spoke to the crowd briefly. The officer was told this presence was not needed and he also left.”
The arrival of that second officer prompted consternation among the crowd of activists, and a new round of shouting after the meeting had initially quieted down after a tense beginning. Indivisible Arlington has even since apologized for the presence of law enforcement at the event, and LaColectiVA’s leaders wrote in a statement this weekend that the police presence at the event amounts to “the criminalization of people of color.”
Nelson Lopez, a LaColectiVA organizer who attended the meeting, has been adamant that his group has never threatened Lopez in any way, and the group reiterated in its Saturday (May 19) statement that the delegate’s claims are “outright lies.”
LaColectiVA’s activists have been particularly frustrated that they feel like Lopez has ignored their requests to engage with them on the issue — Lopez reported on disclosure forms that the Immigration Centers of America, which runs an ICE detention center in Central Virginia, paid him $5,000 in 2014 and $10,000 in 2015 and 2016. He’s repeatedly stressed that he is barred from discussing that consulting work by a nondisclosure agreement.
However, in a letter to LaColectiVA’s leadership that Lopez provided to ARLnow, he points out that he’s met repeatedly with the group to discuss their concerns. He also offered to do so once again, “to discuss your concerns and ways that we can move forward on our areas of mutual interest.”
Yet Nelson Lopez noted that the delegate wants the meeting to be private and only with members of LaColectiVA’s leadership, which he feels would not satisfy the group’s efforts to encourage more public engagement on the issue.
“We have told him that the meeting needs to be public so that he can speak to the whole community, not just us,” he said.
(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Activists and lawmakers have been demanding to know who called police on protesters at a legislative town hall that descended into chaos last weekend, and now there is at least a partial answer.
ARLnow.com has learned that Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49), the target of the pro-immigrant organizers’ ire, requested a police presence prior to the event.
Lopez and several other state lawmakers were attending a forum hosted by Indivisible Arlington at Central Library last Saturday (May 12), when activists with the group LaColectiVA used the gathering as a chance to press Lopez on his past consulting work for a contractor for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Though the activists asked some heated questions of Lopez, the event remained on track until Arlington County police officers made their presence known, setting off a shouting match. Attendees accused Lopez of asking for officers to intervene in the event, given LaColectiVA’s previous protests of Lopez’s connections with the Immigration Centers of America, which runs an ICE detention center in Central Virginia.
Now, the police who manage protection for state lawmakers — the Virginia Division of Capitol Police — tell ARLnow that Lopez’s office contacted them days in advance of the May 12 meeting to make sure police were on site.
“When a member of the General Assembly raises an issue of possible security concerns in their district, we can and do reach out to the local authorities on their behalf,” Joe Macenka, spokesman for the Capitol Police, wrote in an email. “In this case, Del. Lopez’s office did that. It is up to local law enforcement to respond accordingly.”
Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage confirmed that her department heard from the Capitol Police on May 10, two days before the forum was planned, and she said “extra checks were requested for the event.” Savage says library security then called police, though they’d previously been made aware of the forum at Lopez’s request.
Lopez has yet to address the weekend’s events publicly, and an aide to the delegate has not responded to requests for comment.
This news comes as Del. Patrick Hope (D-47) and Arlington Commissioner of the Revenue Ingrid Morroy, and even organizers with Indivisible Arlington itself, have pressed for answers on how law enforcement officers became involved in the event. Indivisible leaders offered a public apology on Wednesday (May 16) that police were present, lamenting “the negative impact of their presence on meeting participants, especially people of color,” as many of the LaColectiVA activists are Latino.
“These kids were just trying to ask some tough questions, and there is nothing wrong with that,” said Ben Tribbett, a veteran Democratic strategist who attended the meeting. “It is not an acceptable reason to call the police on your constituents.”
Nelson Lopez, an organizer with LaColectiVA, says he suspected that police were alerted about the event ahead of time, given how “instantaneously” police arrived.
His group had spent the last few weeks leading up to the event trying to convince Lopez to attend a public meeting about his past work with the ICE contractor scheduled immediately ahead of the Indivisible forum. Nelson Lopez says his fellow activists only decided to head to the Indivisible event the day of, but he also believes the delegate was well aware that LaColectiVA would be organizing around the issue that day.
“We contacted him so many different ways about meeting on this,” Nelson Lopez said. “But he will not address it.”
The delegate reported on state disclosure forms that the ICE contractor paid him $5,000 in 2014 and $10,000 in 2015 and 2016, but he’s said repeatedly that a nondisclosure agreement bars him from discussing what exactly his work for the group entailed.
Organizers with the group Indivisible Arlington are apologizing for how they handled a town hall meeting that devolved into a shouting match after pro-immigrant activists asked some tough questions of Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49).
The grassroots group convened a public forum at Arlington’s Central Library last Saturday (May 13) featuring several state lawmakers, but Indivisible organizers felt compelled to call it off earlier than expected, as activists with the group LaColectiVa aggressively pressed Lopez on his past consulting work for a private company that contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In a new statement today (Wednesday), Indivisible leaders defended the decision to end the meeting, as they felt participants were “unable to maintain a constructive dialogue.” However, they expressed regret about the presence of both library security and county police at the meeting, particularly after an Arlington police officer arrived at the meeting and set off a new round of protests from the LaColectiVA activists.
“We recognize the negative impact of their presence on meeting participants, especially people of color,” Indivisible organizers wrote. “We did not request the presence of Arlington law enforcement.”
The group is now urging meeting attendees to reach out to Indivisible to discuss “how we can best move forward together.”
Our #Indivisible Arlington statement about the May 12th State Issues Forum at the #ArlingtonVA Central Library. We want to listen to concerns from anyone about what happened and hear how we can best move forward together. Please contact us at [email protected] pic.twitter.com/aHTsq29dI7
— IndivisibleArlington (@IndivisibleArl) May 16, 2018
Some people who attended the meeting believe Lopez is the one who needs to take the lead on smoothing things over, given the way he handled the situation.
“It’s very disheartening, because he’s not apologizing or discussing what happened there,” Nelson Lopez, an organizer with LaColectiVA, told ARLnow. “We just want to have a dialogue about this issue, and he’s consistently refused to do so.”
An aide to the delegate did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nelson Lopez and other meeting attendees say they want to know whether or not Del. Lopez had anything to do with police officers heading to the meeting.
People at the gathering say LaColectiVA’s activists weren’t being overly disruptive when they first arrived, with one member of the group asking Lopez about his past work for the Immigration Centers of America, which runs an ICE detention center in Central Virginia. Lopez reported on state disclosure forms that the group paid him $5,000 in 2014 and $10,000 in 2015 and 2016, and LaColectiVA has spent the last few months organizing protests around the issue.
A video of the forum posted on Facebook shows that Lopez and some activists briefly argued — Lopez insisted that a nondisclosure agreement bars him from discussing his past consulting work, and he insisted that work is not part of his “public life” in the General Assembly — but the meeting soon returned to normalcy.
Roughly 15 minutes later, a county police officer entered the room, setting off loud protests from members of LaColectiVA.
“The police were preemptively called, and that was what caused the disturbance in the first place,” said Ben Tribbett, a veteran Democratic strategist who attended the meeting. “The kids were petrified when the cops got there.”
Arlington police spokeswoman Ashley Savage says it was library staff who called the department about the arrival of the LaColectiVA protesters. But Tribbett and Nelson Lopez say they are interested in finding out if anyone asked the library staff to contact authorities, a call echoed by Del. Patrick Hope (D-47) and Arlington Commissioner of the Revenue Ingrid Morroy on Twitter Wednesday.
I greatly appreciate @IndivisibleArl strong statement. I’d like to better understand the sequence of events that led to the calling of law enforcement, which was completely unwarranted and unnecessary. https://t.co/IsLLZu9JCs
— Patrick Hope (@HopeforVirginia) May 16, 2018
As your constituent, I would like to know @Lopez4VA what actually happened, who called the police on whom and why.
— Ingrid Morroy (@imorroy) May 16, 2018
Attendees are also urging Del. Alfonso Lopez to address an allegation made by another LaColectiVA organizer, Irma Corrado, who says Lopez threatened her as the meeting broke up.
She says Lopez told her “I know where you work, and my friend is a board member,” which she took as a threat that he’d get her fired. She declined to publicly reveal where she works.
Most of all, Nelson Lopez hopes the delegate takes this whole episode as an example of just how frustrated people are over his refusals to answer questions about his past ties to the ICE contractor.
“We just want to have a town hall, a public forum about this, so he can understand it’s not just some fringe group that has these feelings,” Lopez said. “We’re not trying to get rid of him, we’re trying to have a dialogue.”
Photo via Facebook
‘Indivisible Arlington’ Event Wracked By Division — “A town hall with local Virginia lawmakers dissolved into chaos Saturday and police were called after Latino activists confronted Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington) about his previous consulting work for a private company that operates detention facilities for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” [Washington Post, Twitter]
No County Board Candidate for Arlington GOP — No one filed by the May 9 deadline to run as a Republican against incumbent County Board member John Vihstadt, the Arlington GOP announced over the weekend. Vihstadt, an independent, was endorsed by the local GOP when he first ran in 2014.
ACPD Sergeant Tapped as School Police Chief — Sean Bryson, a 20-year veteran of the Arlington County Police Department, has been named the chief of police for the Upper St. Clair School District, outside of Pittsburgh. It’s a homecoming for Bryson, who graduated from Upper St. Clair High School. In addition to his police work, Byson co-founded and has served as race director for the annual Arlington Police, Fire & Sheriff 9/11 Memorial 5K. [Trib Live]
I-66 Toll Tweaks Coming — The Virginia Department of Transportation will tweak the algorithm it uses to calculate tolls in the I-66 express lanes, which possibly could lead to lower tolls, although VDOT doesn’t guarantee lower tolls in the long run. The high tolls caused outrage among drivers when they were first instated in December and drew national attention, although transportation officials contend they work as intended with deterring single-passenger vehicle trips. [WTOP]
Three Questions with Del. Lopez — Del. Alfonso Lopez offers some short responses to questions about his accomplishments and challenges facing Arlington. [Arlington Magazine]
Substance Use Town Hall — Arlington County will hold a town hall on substance use tonight at Kenmore Middle School (200 S. Carlin Springs Road) from 7-9 p.m. Panelists including police, school and human services officials, and the discussion will be moderated by Kimberly Suiters from ABC 7. A resource fair will immediately precede and follow the town hall. [Arlington County]
New Monument for the Old Guard — “A special ceremony [took] place in Arlington, Virginia Tuesday to honor more than 230 years of service by the Third U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard. Soldiers, veterans and leaders from across the Army will gather for the unveiling of The Old Guard Monument at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.” [Fox 5]
Streetlight Demonstration Tonight — County staff will hold an LED streetlight field demonstration bus tour tonight for residents to see and learn more about the products under consideration in the Streetlight Management Plan. The bus leaves at 8 p.m. from the Arlington Career Center (816 S. Walter Reed Drive). Registration is required. [Arlington County]
Traffic Enforcement Time Adjusted — According to an updated press release sent this morning, the all modal traffic enforcement scheduled for tomorrow at the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Oakland Street will now be from 1-2:30 p.m.
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
Fund Bets on Amazon HQ2 Coming to Crystal City — A New York-based asset manager is making a $10 million bet that Crystal City will be the location chosen for Amazon’s HQ2. The company cited a high concentration of millennials and housing in the area, as well as proximity to Metro stations, commuter rail and Reagan National Airport. [Bloomberg, ZeroHedge]
Chamber Wants Extended Parking Meter Hours Paused — “Leadership of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce wants the county government to hit the brakes on a proposal to increase parking-meter fees and extend the hours meters must be fed. In a letter to County Board Chairman Katie Cristol, Arlington Chamber president Kate Bates said the government failed to do proper outreach before proposing the alterations to existing policy.” [InsideNova]
Grumbles About Ballston Construction — “Like many who venture to the kingdom of Ballston, I am impatient for the never-ending renovations to be over. Tina Leone, CEO of the Ballston Business Improvement District, was happy to promise me that the rewards for us patrons of Arlington’s most central community will unfold in September–with staggered openings continuing through May 2019.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Average Single-Family Home Sale: $1 Million — The average sale price of a single-family home in Arlington in March was $1,066,368, up 6.9 percent from a year prior. [InsideNova]
Ribbon Cutting for Abingdon Renovations — A ribbon cutting ceremony is being held at 9:30 this morning to celebrate the recently-completed addition and renovations at Abingdon Elementary School in Fairlington. [Twitter]
Photo by Anna Merod
(Updated at 6 p.m.) A new bill is raising the statewide cap on towing charges to $150 but won’t require Northern Virginia localities to raise their towing rates as was initially proposed, according to Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D-49).
HB800 initially required towing rate increases to $150 for standard-size vehicles, $250 for medium-size vehicles, and $500 for large vehicles, but only in Northern Virginia.
Lopez says he reached an agreement with the Republican patron of the bill, Del. David Yancey (R-94), to amend it to remove the large towing fee hike. It will instead raise the cap to $150 statewide, while also letting Northern Virginia localities set their own towing rates by removing a requirement — currently in law — that the rate be set at $135, according to Lopez’s office.
“Rather than dramatically increasing the amount that tow truck companies can charge unsuspecting Virginians, we should be working to address the practice of predatory towing in Northern Virginia,” the delegate’s office said in a press release.
Lopez, who represents the 49th District in the Virginia House of Delegates, a district that includes swathes of south Arlington, said the bipartisan caucus will initially include Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) and first-term Dels. Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala (both D-Prince William).
“Latinos make up 9 percent of Virginia’s total population,” Lopez said in a statement. “It’s long past time that we have more representation in the General Assembly to reflect that reality. I’m honored to welcome Delegates Guzman and Ayala to the House of Delegates and look forward to working with them to represent Virginia’s Latino community.”
Lopez announced the caucus’ formation on the House floor on Friday, January 12. The caucus is open to all members, regardless of ethnicity.
Local Dels. Rip Sullivan and Alfonso Lopez (D) were at the forefront of last November’s wave of Democratic victories, from the governor’s race to the Virginia House of Delegates, where the party is near parity with the Republicans.
Sullivan served as House Democratic Caucus Campaign Chair, while Lopez is Chief Democratic Whip, and both represent sections of Arlington County in the House of Delegates.
On this week’s 26 Square Miles podcast, Sullivan and Lopez reflected on a momentous 2017 for Virginia Democrats, and looked ahead to the new year.
They discussed the role of outside progressive groups in helping shape 2017’s results, and the Democratic gains in the House of Delegates that have brought near-parity with Republicans and the promise of more bipartisan legislating.
And the pair looked ahead to policy they would like to work on, like a reliable funding source for Metro, Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, environmental issues, gun control and more.
Planning for Transportation Changes in Rosslyn — “Local officials are now partnering with developers to make more improvements to help convince the next big corporate tenant to pick Rosslyn.” [Bisnow]
Teavana to Remain Open — Set to close next year, the Teavana store at Pentagon City mall is now expected to remain open thanks to a judge’s ruling against parent company Starbucks. [Washington Business Journal]
Lopez’s Detention Center Work Criticized — “Del. Alfonso H. Lopez, a Democrat who has represented a Hispanic-heavy South Arlington district since 2012, was paid more than $5,000 a year in 2014 and more than $10,000 a year in 2015 and 2016 by Immigration Centers of America (ICA), which operates a detention center in Farmville, Va. , according to his state financial disclosure reports.” [Washington Post]
Holiday Events for Incarcerated Parents — Today and tomorrow, the Arlington County jail will be hosting a pair of “special events to allow incarcerated mothers and fathers to visit with their children during the winter holidays.” [Arlington County]
ACPD Show Goes On Despite Snow — The Arlington County Police Department’s “Operation Santa” performance, featuring cops donning costumes and dancing for children in the community, went on Saturday despite the snowy weather. [Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
(Updated at 9:55 a.m.) Arlington’s representatives will push hard in the Virginia General Assembly on Metro funding, the authority to rename Jefferson Davis Highway and absentee voting, among other issues.
At a work session Thursday, Arlington County Board members discussed their legislative agenda — bills they would like to see passed and issues they would like to see emphasized — for the 2018 session with local Delegates and state Senators.
The General Assembly will convene in Richmond on January 10 and sit through March 10, with Gov.-Elect Ralph Northam (D) to be inaugurated on January 13.
High on Board members’ list of priorities is securing a dedicated funding source for Metro, and ensuring that state funding allows it to keep up with its rebuilding needs.
Outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has committed to adding a dedicated funding source in his budget proposal later this month, and local representatives said they must do more to show their colleagues from outside Northern Virginia how valuable Metro is to the whole Commonwealth’s economy.
“A lot of work has been done to show this is not just a Northern Virginia giveaway, that this gives a lot of money and benefits to the rest of the commonwealth,” said County Board member Christian Dorsey.
Later, Dorsey noted that a study by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission made a “conservative estimate” that Metro brings in $600 million to state coffers every year through income and sales taxes.
All agreed on a plan to bring legislators into Northern Virginia and have them take a tour of the region’s various transit options, as well as experience rush-hour traffic congestion, something that state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) said has been effective in the past.
State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31) urged cooperation between business and governmental groups in lobbying Richmond.
“We really need a united voice on this,” Favola said. “We can’t afford to have the Northern Virginia Chamber in opposition to a strategy you may like.”
Favola said she will file a bill to give localities the power to rename their primary highways, of which Jefferson Davis Highway is one in Arlington.
The question of whether to change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway has swirled for several years, and Board chair Jay Fisette said the county is “exploring all options” on renaming.
Del. Mark Levine (D-45) disagreed with Favola, and said that in his opinion localities already have the right to rename primary highways. Fisette emphasized that no stone shall be left unturned.
“At this point, we believe we have multiple options, we’re just going to work them sequentially to do that,” he said.
The question of renaming Jefferson Davis Highway remains controversial. At the Board’s public hearing on its legislative agenda on Tuesday, local resident Bernard Berne derided a name-change as a “bad idea” that will stoke racial tensions and create division.
“It divides the community, and these historical things are part of our heritage. You don’t mess with it,” he said.
Another item on Arlington’s legislative agenda is a desire to enact “no excuse” absentee voting, meaning that any voter can request an absentee ballot without having to give a reason for voting absentee.
Dorsey said with a young and transient population in the county, “no excuse” absentee voting would be helpful. Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48) agreed, and said that after significant Democratic gains in the House of Delegates, this year might be right to get it done.
“I think this is the year for absentee no-excuse voting. I absolutely think we can get there,” he said, adding that it could make elections less vulnerable to hacking. “There are other arguments that frankly we haven’t tried yet, that can carry the day.”
Ebbin expressed cautious support for the plan, but said that funding must be found to reimburse local registrars to cope with extra demand.
And on environmental issues, there appeared to be broad consensus that the General Assembly can pass measures limiting greenhouse gases, encouraging solar power and preserving trees, among others.
Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49), co-chair of the bipartisan Virginia Environment & Renewable Energy Caucus alongside Sullivan, said “everything is on the table” on energy and the environment. He added that Arlington’s agenda on those issues is one of the best he has seen.
“You guys have hit a lot of very strong things,” he said.
Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act remains a hot topic for Democrats in Richmond, albeit a controversial one that has been unsuccessful both through the General Assembly and executive action.
But this year, Levine said Democrats “are cautiously optimistic for the first time in a long time,” on Medicaid expansion, which he called their “single greatest priority.” Northam said later that day he is hopeful of passing the expansion.
“It’s incredibly important that we get this done, finally,” Lopez said.
(Updated 9:50 p.m.) Arlington Democrats celebrated a triumphant election night for its candidates for Arlington County Board and School Board, as well as all members of the state-level Democratic ticket.
With all precincts reporting, Democratic nominee Erik Gutshall won the race for County Board with 62.82 percent of the vote. Monique O’Grady, the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s endorsee for School Board, took 70.56 percent.
Gutshall took 46,319 votes, ahead of independent Audrey Clement with 17,415 and fellow independent Charles McCullough‘s 8,753. O’Grady won 50,677 votes, ahead of Mike Webb with 12,642 and Alison Dough with 7,271 to succeed James Lander.
In the races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, the Democratic candidates all won Arlington County’s 55 precincts by big margins to help deliver what looked set to be a clean sweep for the party in Virginia.
Governor-Elect Ralph Northam (D) took 68,315 votes in Arlington, ahead of Republican Ed Gillespie with 16,160. Justin Fairfax (D) garnered 66,687 votes in Arlington in the race for lieutenant governor ahead of state Sen. Jill Vogel’s 17,594, and Attorney General Mark Herring (D) won re-election with 67,111 votes ahead of John Adams’ 17,366 votes.
At the ACDC’s watch party at The Salsa Room on Columbia Pike, great cheers went up when the television networks projected Northam as the winner, as more than 100 attendees celebrated Democrats’ triumph across Virginia.
Gutshall said he was “very grateful” to win, and said he enjoyed hearing from residents as he vied for retiring Board chair Jay Fisette’s seat.
“It was a lot of hard work, a lot of great chances to have some really good conversations with folks in Arlington,” Gutshall said. “Even though it might appear from election results that we are a very blue community, there’s a lot of diversity of opinion within that blueness. It was a good experience for me to hear that diversity of viewpoints on all the different issues that are facing us.”
O’Grady said the campaign was a “humbling” experience, and said she intends to put the work in now to hit the ground running in January when she is officially sworn in.
“It’s what I’ve been trying to do, which is keep up with all the issues, continue to go to the meetings, continue to keep up with the community reactions to so many things on the table,” she said. “In January, there’s a lot of work to do, and so I want to ensure that I’m ready to go. Even though I won’t be sworn in until January, I’m already hard at work making sure I stay engaged.”
ACDC chair Kip Malinosky said it was rewarding to see so many people step up to volunteer in Arlington to help get out the vote. The county’s Elections Office said final turnout was 55 percent, the highest for a gubernatorial race since 1993.
“What feels so good is that so many people stepped up in a big way,” Malinosky said. “We helped out. It was really depressing after last year, but we came back so strong and people bounced back. They got involved, they made calls, knocked on doors, posted on social media. We went to every festival, every event and we got people engaged and said, ‘Look, we’ve got to compete.'”
With three of the county’s four members of the Virginia House of Delegates running unopposed, it was a relatively sedate affair for Dels. Patrick Hope, Mark Levine and Rip Sullivan in Districts 47, 45 and 48, respectively, as all won more than 90 percent of the vote in their districts.
Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49) was the only one to face a re-election challenge, from Republican Adam Roosevelt. But with all precincts reporting, Lopez won 18,536 votes to Roosevelt’s 4,202 in a district that includes neighborhoods along Columbia Pike, around Pentagon City and west to Bailey’s Crossroads and Seven Corners in Fairfax County.
Elsewhere, Democrats were on track to make significant gains in the House of Delegates, and Lopez said it will mean progress on a variety of issues the party’s followers hold dear.
“Everything we care about, every value we care about, every issue we cherish, it can start to happen: Sensible gun violence prevention legislation, passing Medicaid reform, dealing with how we fund our schools, actually protecting the environment in Virginia,” Lopez said in a speech.
Clement, who has run for office in Arlington unsuccessfully seven times, said she is open to running for election again. But in an interview after results were counted, she said she is reluctant to challenge County Board member John Vihstadt (I), who faces re-election next year.
“In my opinion, there are two key components to county government: one is the budget, two is how it deals with development,” Clement said. “Vihstadt and I diverge on the development issue, but we agree on the budget component. We’re both fiscal conservatives, so I would find it difficult to run against him on that account.”
In a statement on Twitter, McCullough congratulated Gutshall on his win and urged him to do more to “put people first.”
“The board can expect that I’ll be there to remind them of that often because I am committed to staying involved and engaging with this wonderful community as it tackles the big issues ahead,” McCullough wrote.
Del. Alfonso Lopez (D) and Republican challenger Adam Roosevelt clashed on whether Virginia should expand Medicaid, but found agreement on immigration, during a candidate forum on Tuesday night (September 5).
Lopez, who has represented the 49th District for three terms in the Virginia House of Delegates and serves as the Minority Whip, said expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act should be done for moral and economic reasons. That plan has been unsuccessful both through the General Assembly and executive action.
“There are working families without health insurance in Virginia,” Lopez said. “It’s immoral not to expand Medicaid.”
But Roosevelt, who is challenging Lopez in the district that includes neighborhoods along Columbia Pike, around Pentagon City and west to Bailey’s Crossroads and Seven Corners in Fairfax County, said it is unaffordable and will cost Virginians more in tax dollars.
“That is what they will not tell you: your taxes will increase, and we have enough taxes as it is,” Roosevelt said. The debate, at Virginia Hospital Center, was attended by about 100 people.
The rivals appeared to be in broad agreement on immigration and the status of illegal immigrants, the same day as President Donald Trump announced he would rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. To start, they agreed that illegal immigrants who commit crimes in this country should be deported.
Both also pledged to protect legal migrants and undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children and have otherwise not committed crimes. Lopez said decisions about immigration must come from the federal level, not the state.
“What we have is a fundamentally broken immigration system at the federal level,” he said.
At times, there were frosty moments between the two as they sparred over issues like climate change, a woman’s right to choose and redistricting reform. After Lopez outlined his record on the environment, including co-founding the Virginia Environment & Renewable Energy caucus to advocate for issues in Richmond and across the state, Roosevelt cut in.
“I’ll remind my opponent we’re talking about the 49th District here,” Roosevelt said, arguing that the discussion should be focused more on local issues than statewide topics.
Later, the two disagreed on how boundaries should be redrawn for Virginia’s Congressional and General Assembly. Boundaries will be redrawn after the next census in 2020, but that could come sooner depending on a case making its way through the courts.
Lopez called for a non-partisan commission to draw new boundaries separate from General Assembly leadership, but Roosevelt said he had not done enough in Richmond to bring about such changes.
“My opponent has quite a voice tonight and quite a position to stand in to effect these changes,” he said.
And the pair differed on their belief in a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion. Roosevelt said the life of both the woman and a fetus must be protected and said the issue should not be politicized, but Lopez did not equivocate in his view and criticized others in the General Assembly who have tried to take the right to choose away.
“How many times do we have to get up on the floor of the House of Delegates and fight people who want to take away a woman’s right to choose?” he asked.
Lopez and Roosevelt are on the ballot on November 7, while Arlington’s three other delegates are all unopposed.
In a position he describes as the “greatest honor of my life,” three-term Del. Alfonso Lopez (D) said he finds it most rewarding to help his constituents with issues they may be having.
Lopez said he likes to help his constituents in the 49th District with issues like wanting a new stop sign, or help with filing their taxes. And he and his staff run events such as health insurance enrollment fairs and stream cleanups.
“I do it because I love it,” Lopez said. “I love giving back, I love the opportunity to help people that I’ve never met before. To literally help change people’s lives that I don’t even know but who need help. I’m proud of the fact that with things I’ve accomplished I think I’ve done that. And I want to keep doing that.”
But the three-term delegate, whose district includes neighborhoods along Columbia Pike, around Pentagon City and west to Bailey’s Crossroads and Seven Corners in Fairfax County, said he has plenty to be proud of.
He said that desire to protect those people is rooted in his family history. Lopez’s father came to the United States in the 1950s from Venezuela and overstayed his tourist visa. He then worked, learned English, became a citizen and graduated from Northern Virginia Community College. His mother was a guidance counselor at Washington-Lee High School and helped more than 1,000 students get to college.
Lopez said them and a shared desire to live the American Dream are a reminder each day of the importance of helping immigrants.
“[E]very time I see a DREAMer kid, I see my father,” Lopez said. “Every time I look in the eyes of some young student trying to make a better life for themselves here, I see my dad.”
Locally, Lopez pointed to his involvement in the negotiations to keep the Virginia Dept. of Motor Vehicles office on Four Mile Run Drive open as a major way he has been able to help the community.
And he spoke of his pride at helping create the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, which helps create and preserve affordable housing and has provided loans to the likes of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.
“The reason I’m proud of it is it’s helping touch people’s lives that I’ve never met before,” Lopez said. “One of the most important moments for me was when I met a family that actually benefitted from it…[The] fact that this family was helped to have a roof over their head for themselves and their little boy meant a great deal to me.”
And as the Chief Whip of the House Democratic Caucus, Lopez has played a leading role in upholding all of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) vetoes of legislation, the most in the history of the Commonwealth.
If re-elected, Lopez said he wants to continue protecting the environment, having started that work as co-founder of the bipartisan Virginia Environment & Renewable Energy Caucus that advocates for environmental issues in Richmond.
He also said he wants to keep adding jobs and growing the economy by making it easier for small businesses to open and operate, and by pushing for education reform that includes less standardized tests and less reliance on local tax revenues to fund public school districts.
Lopez echoed McAuliffe’s desire to expand Medicaid in Virginia under the Affordable Care Act, something that he said would help reduce poverty and help boost the economy and create jobs. That plan has been unsuccessful both through the General Assembly and executive action.
“I believe in a Commonwealth where we lift everyone up, and we leave no one behind,” Lopez said. “The fact is, my family was able to achieve the American Dream with the help of government, with the help of the social safety net. Everyone should have that same chance. And that’s what I fight for every day, that’s what I care about.”