Arlington’s representatives in the Virginia House of Delegates have made good on promises to eschew Dominion Energy money, according to recent campaign finance reports.
Arlington’s six candidates for the House of Delegates shared financial reports indicating their campaigns took in no money from the utility company this year. However, most candidates are still relying on contributions from advocacy and labor groups, political action committees, and businesses, as opposed to running campaigns based only around individual contributions.
Copies of the campaign finance reports filed in April and shared by the Virginia Public Access Project indicate longtime donors, like the Virginia Trials Lawyers Political Action Committee (PAC), continue to chip in big chunks of cash to campaigns. The PAC contributed a combined $3,500 to the four incumbent delegates between January and March this year.
So far Democrats in the House of Delegates have out-raised their Republican colleagues, as all 100 seats are up for grabs this election and the possibility of a Democratic majority in the legislature remains on the horizon.
The two candidates currently challenging Arlington’s Delegates reported fewer funds raised than the incumbents. Candidate J.D. Spain, Sr., who is challenging Alfonso Lopez, raised the most of all newcomers on the block with $18,556, largely from his own coffers.
All candidates are scheduled to file another round of finance reports on June 3, days before the June 11 primary election.
The primary will decide which of each party’s candidates for office progresses to the general election on November 5. Virginia residents must register to vote at least 30 days before the primary to be eligible to cast their vote, and can check the location of their polls here.
Below are more details from each Delegates’ April campaign finance filings.
Del. Alfonso Lopez (D)
Lopez has raised by far the most money and also holds the largest war chest of any Delegate candidate in the running. He is currently being challenged by Democratic candidate J.D. Spain, Sr.
Lopez raised $50,924 between January 1 and March 31, according to reports, and spent $12,037. This leaves his campaign with $102,280 on hand after starting with $63,394 back in January.
Lopez’s biggest donor this cycle was Charlottesville investor Michael D. Bills who pledged to counter Dominion Energy with his campaign contributions this year and gave $10,000 to the sitting Delegate’s campaign.
“I believe that swearing off Dominion donations over a year ago just helped cement to my supporters that no money will ever influence me on a single piece of legislation, vote, decision, or opinion,” said Lopez today (Monday). “I have consistently voted against every Dominion Energy bill, and plan to do so as long as they continue to refuse to make renewable energy a major focus for Virginia.”
He added that he believed he had raised the most because he had “delivered real progressive results and the people of northern Virginia.”
Other notable investments to Lopez’s campaign came from the Virginia House Democrats Caucus ($5,000), and the Clean Virginia Fund ($5,000).
Lopez also accepted money from three alcohol groups: Virginia Wine Wholesalers PAC ($3,000), Virginia Beverage Association PAC ($2,000), and the Virginia Imports Ltd. ($500).
The delegate’s campaign for re-election has been endorsed by several unions, the Virginia Education Association Fund for Children and Public Education, and the Arlington Professional Firefighters & Paramedics Association — the latter of which donated $1,000 to his campaign.
Candidate J.D. Spain, Jr. (D)
Lopez’s Democratic challenger in the primary elections is J.D. Spain, Jr., a former Marine and head of the local NAACP chapter who faced him in debate last Wednesday night.
In last week’s filings, Spain reported contributing tens of thousands of his own money into the campaign: $8,200 in loans, $12,259 in cash, and $4,134 in “in-kind” contributions, which usually refers to value of things like equipment and services donated to a campaign.
“I understand that monetary support is really important for a campaign,” Spain told ARLnow. “But being a first-time candidate it’s really tough to raise money. It’s especially hard for a military veteran because we don’t have large networks with donors.”
He added that he loaned himself money to pay staff, and is “proud” of the small donations he received from individuals. His biggest was $500 from James Younger, his neighbor and Arlington’s former Deputy Police Chief.
In total, Spain reported fundraising $18,556 since January when he kicked off his campaign with zero dollars. After spending $12,192, the candidate for Delegate reportedly has $6,364 left on hand.
Spain’s campaign does not yet have any endorsements.
Arlington’s representatives in the Virginia House of Delegates say they tackled a host of important issues, from criminal justice reform to LGBT parental rights to public health, during this year’s legislative session.
The county is represented in the state House by four elected officials — Democrats Mark Levine, Patrick Hope, Richard “Rip” Sullivan, and Alfonso H. Lopez — all of whom are up for re-election this year.
This year’s session began on January 9 and ended February 23. Here are what the delegates told ARLnow were their biggest legislative accomplishments in that time.
Del. Patrick Hope
Hope has represented Arlington in the House since 2010 and currently faces no Democratic challengers in his campaign for reelection. He says he introduced 12 bills during this year’s session, nine of which passed.
He told ARLnow that it’s difficult to choose his favorite because “I treat all my bills like my children,” but narrowed down his three biggest accomplishments in an email:
1) HB 2384 — making all Virginia schools 100 percent tobacco/nicotine free. This is significant because Big Tobacco has opposed such efforts in the past. It also is a sign that the tide is turning to recognize the dangers of cigarettes and vaping on children.
2) HB 1642 — requiring the Dept. of Corrections (DOC) to collect/report data on inmates in solitary confinement. I’ve been working with DOC for years to get the number of inmates in solitary down. We’ve decreased the number by more than 70 percent. This data collection effort will help us figure out who remains, why they are there, and if we can provide additional mental health resources to get them out.
3) HB 1933 — allow jails to treat people with serious mental illness who are unable to give consent. Current law requires that these individuals be sent to an inpatient hospital setting (mental health institution). This is part of a series of laws I’ve passed to allow treatment to occur in an outpatient or other appropriate setting in order to free up more inpatient psychiatric beds.
Del. Alfonso Lopez
Lopez is Democratic co-whip in the House of Delegates. He has served as a delegate since 2012, but now faces a challenger in J.D. Spain for his campaign for re-election this year.
Spain is a Marine Corps veteran who leads the local NAACP chapter and has said he wanted to “sharply draw a contrast” between his and Lopez’s stances on housing affordability and the achievement gap.
Lopez told ARLnow about his biggest wins this year in Richmond in an email:
- Successfully Increased Funding for Affordable Housing. In 2013, my legislation created the Virginia Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Over the years the Trust Fund has become one of the major vehicles for addressing housing instability and homelessness prevention in the Commonwealth […] This year, working with the Governor’s office, we were able to secure an additional $7 million in total revenue for the Trust Fund — increasing the biennial budget amount to $18 million (far above typical appropriations)! This is a great step forward in our efforts to help Virginia families. That being said, I believe that we must do a great deal more to address affordable housing in every corner of the Commonwealth […]
- Driver’s License Suspensions. After working on this issue for several years, I was very proud that the General Assembly finally ended drivers license suspensions for individuals who have served their time, but are unable to pay court fines and/or fees (over 600,000 Virginians are hurt by this outdated policy). […] When a person’s driver’s license is suspended, they may face a difficult dilemma: obey the suspension and potentially lose their ability to provide for their families, or drive anyway and face further punishment — or even imprisonment — for driving under a suspended license. I am very happy that this misguided policy has finally been overturned with bipartisan support. This ends what I’ve often referred to as a modern day debtor’s prison […]
- Military ID & Passport Security. Before this session, there was no provision in state law that mandated immediate notification to people whose passport or military ID numbers were stolen in an online security breach. This left the information of many Virginians (especially in our area) at significant risk. I’m proud to have introduced and passed a bill, HB 2396, that fixes this glaring hole in the law. Virginia will now require that Passport and military ID information have the same protections as bank information and social security numbers.
Family of Detained Arlington Man Seeks Answers — “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met privately with the families of Americans detained abroad Tuesday and urged them not to abandon hope. The State Department declined to share the names of those present but they included… the daughter of Majd Kamalmaz, a 61-year-old psychotherapist from Arlington, Virginia, who has been missing in Syria since 2017.” [NBC News]
Jury Duty Changes — “The verdict is in, and at least from the standpoint of Arlington officials, a two-year-long revamp of how local jurors are selected appears to be a success. ‘We have received positive feedback,’ said Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson.” [InsideNova]
Arlington is Near Top for Dog Owners — Arlington has ranked No. 14 among the most dog-friendly places in the U.S. in 2019, according to pet website Rover. The most popular breed in Arlington: mutts. [Zebra]
Va. to Implement Conversion Therapy Ban — Virginia’s Board of Psychology is a month away from potentially implementing a ban on conversion therapy on minors by licensed psychologists. “This has been a long, arduous process but make no mistake, Virginia is going to ban this ineffective, harmful practice on children,” Arlington’s Del. Patrick Hope (D) said via Twitter. “This is the first of many steps toward protecting Virginia’s children.” [Virginia Mercury, Twitter]
Nearby: Woman Runs All of Alexandria’s Streets — “For the last 19 weeks, Stephanie Lasure has been running every street in the City of Alexandria. She is weaving her way through every nook and cranny — down every block in Old Town, around every cul-de-sac in Seminary Hill and up every ascent in Rosemont.” [RunWashington]
Arlington Diocese Releases List of Accused Priests — “Virginia’s two Catholic dioceses on Wednesday released lists of clergy who officials say were deemed ‘credibly accused’ of sexually abusing youth… The Diocese of Arlington, which covers the northeastern corner of Virginia, released a list of 16 names.” [Washington Post, Diocese of Arlington]
ACPD Restaurant Initiative Deemed a Success — “Arlington County, Virginia, is trying to fight drunken driving, and its method may prove to be a model for the nation.” [WTOP]
Cristol Quoted in the New Yorker — “‘We have an agenda that is about equity and anti-racist goals, and I don’t think he can effectively lead on it,’ [Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol] said, referring to the governor. As for Fairfax, she said, she had thought, after the first allegation, that ‘there might be a way forward for him to recognize harm done’ and stay in office. After the second, it seemed clear to her that there was an indefensible pattern of behavior.” [The New Yorker]
Arlington Man Arrested for 2016 Rape — “Alexandria Police have arrested a man who they say abducted and raped a lifeguard in broad daylight from a pool on South Pickett Street in 2016.” [Fox 5]
Hope’s Assisted-Living Bill Passes — “The derecho that came through Arlington several years ago inspired me to bring this bill and work to make sure, at a minimum, prospective residents knew whether their assisted living facility had a generator in case of loss of power.” [InsideNova, Twitter]
Sheriff’s Office Helping With Scholarships — “The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office is helping the Virginia Sheriffs’ Institute raise college scholarship funds for Virginia residents majoring in criminal justice.” [Arlington County]
Jill Caiazzo, the chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, penned an email to the party’s mailing list Sunday (Feb. 10), in the hopes of buoying spirits dampened by recent revelations about Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring.
While any one of the state’s top three elected Democrats could yet resign — Northam and Herring for admitting to wearing blackface as young people, Fairfax over allegations that he sexually assaulted two women — Caiazzo sought to remind party faithful that “the 2017 election was never about one or two individuals.”
She joined the growing calls for Fairfax to step down late last week, after a second woman accused him of rape, and has already demanded that Northam step aside. But, with all 140 state lawmakers and a variety of local offices on the ballot this fall, Caiazzo is urging her committee to work to “have an impact in our own community.”
Her full email to the committee is as follows:
We are all struggling to deal with the disturbing news from Richmond. I have sat down to pen this email to you multiple times over the past week, only to have my sentiments overtaken by the latest news cycle. I do not know how these controversies will end.
ARLINGTON DEMOCRATS’ ROLE IN NAVIGATING THIS CHALLENGE
But as I said at our monthly meeting on Wednesday, I do know that Arlington Democrats have a role to play in moving our community forward through these difficult times. We may not be able to affect the outcomes of the dramas happening in Richmond, but we can have an impact in our own community. We can reject hate and support sexual assault survivors. We can channel our collective anger that issues of racism and sexual assault still plague us into finding positive solutions for the manifestations of these issues in our own community.
We also can remember that the 2017 election was never about one or two individuals. It was about a movement of grassroots activists of all backgrounds and ages rising up to provide a badly needed course correction for our country. The rise of progressive activism was the central victory of the 2017 election. No subsequent controversy, however hurtful, can take that victory away from us. Only we have the power to do that — only we can decide whether we will allow this heartbreak also to break our activist spirit.
TOO MUCH TO ACCOMPLISH TO GIVE UP
To that question, Arlington Democrats, I say NO. I will not allow the failings of individual leaders to dampen my activist spirit. I cannot — there is simply too much work to be done to achieve a fairer, safer and more prosperous Commonwealth. The stakes are too high. As in early 2017, I am once again picking myself up and dusting myself off. Two steps forward, one step back: it’s time for the heart of the Democratic Party — its local activists — to keep moving forward again.
In that spirit, and mindful that Democrats must re-earn the trust of voters and volunteers that has been lost over the past few days, I respectfully invite you to join me at several upcoming events, detailed below. Some are organized by Arlington Democrats; others are community events. Now more than ever, we need both: to lead in our own right, and to meet our neighbors where they are. I hope that you will join me in the struggle to lead our Party, our community, and our Commonwealth forward.
Caiazzo is referring both to previous listening sessions held by activists on both race and sexual assault, and to some upcoming community discussions on the county’s history with Nazism and school desegregation.
Meanwhile, the situation in Richmond remains unsettled.
Arlington Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) made headlines this weekend for threatening to introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax if he refused to resign, and circulated a potential resolution to start the process among his Democratic colleagues. But he backed off that threat this morning (Monday), writing in a statement that he is “open to discussions on other avenues” that would allow for a full investigation of the accusations against Fairfax.
My statement this morning – I remain committed to the victims first. pic.twitter.com/01xynHwOdj
— Patrick Hope (@HopeforVirginia) February 11, 2019
Some reports have suggested that Hope faced resistance from within his own party for the move, particularly from members of the Legislative Black Caucus.
NEWS: A House Dem conf call grew heated last night when members of the legislative black caucus demanded @HopeforVirginia step back from trying to impeach @LGJustinFairfax, per 2 Dems familiar w the call.
Hence the Hope climbdown this am…
— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) February 11, 2019
A third Va Dem, this one briefed on the call said none of @HopeforVirginia's allies spoke up. Members of @VaBlackCaucus, which has been steering much of the reax among Va Dems since last Fri, spoke first and that was that.
"It was a pre-set massacre," says this Dem.
— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) February 11, 2019
The lieutenant governor is still telling reporters that he does not plan to resign, and is currently looking for an FBI investigation into the claims against him — one incident is alleged to have happened in Boston in 2004, the other in North Carolina in 2000.
Northam also gave some of his first interviews since the scandal broke with the news that a racist photo appeared on his medical school yearbook, saying that he is “not going anywhere” and pledging a renewed focus to racial justice in the remainder of his term.
Herring has been silent, and criticism has been markedly more muted of his conduct, after he voluntarily admitted to wearing blackface once while in college, and apologized.
“I should additionally note that I have not called for the resignation of Attorney General Mark Herring, despite my strong disapproval of his conduct at age 19,” Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) wrote in a Sunday email to constituents. “Herring’s voluntary admission of his blackface representation of a rapper, his lack of racist intent and his profound apology all seem sincere to me.”
However, Levine did note that he is one of just a few voices calling on Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-3rd District) to step down, after reports that he edited a college yearbook that was filled with photos of students in blackface and racial slurs. Norment has denied any knowledge of the photos.
Photo via Facebook
Hope: No Impeachment Filing Yet — Updated at 9:50 a.m. — Del. Patrick Hope (D) says he’s delaying filing articles of impeachment against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), who is facing two accusations of past sexual assaults. “An enormous amount of sincere and thoughtful feedback… has led to additional conversations that need to take place,” Hope said. [Twitter, Twitter, Twitter]
More Trailers for Arlington Tech — “Students coming into the Arlington Tech program at the Arlington Career Center for the next two years may find themselves spending more time in trailers than they had thought, and more time than School Board members are happy about.” [InsideNova]
State Split on Northam’s Fate — “Virginians are deadlocked over whether Gov. Ralph Northam (D) should step down after the emergence of a photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page depicting people in blackface and Ku Klux Klan garb, with African Americans saying by a wide margin that he should remain in office despite the offensive image, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.” [Washington Post]
Beyer on Face the Nation — “Democratic Virginia Reps. Don Beyer and Jennifer Wexton renewed their calls for Gov. Ralph Northam and Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax to step down over their respective controversies” on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning. [CBS News]
Local Chef on CBS This Morning — Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery in Courthouse made an extended appearance on CBS This Morning Saturday, talking about his food, his restaurants and how his aunt inspired his love of cooking. [CBS News]
Flickr pool photo by TheBeltWalk
(Updated at 9:30 p.m.) Arlington Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) now says he’ll introduce articles of impeachment to remove Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax from office on Monday if he doesn’t step down, now that another woman has come forward to accuse the second-most powerful Democrat in the state of sexual assault.
Hope announced the move tonight just a few hours after Meredith Watson accused Fairfax of raping her when the pair attended school together at Duke University in 2000. She wrote in a statement that the details of her assault mirrored those laid out by Vanessa Tyson, who previously said that Fairfax assaulted her in a Boston hotel room in 2004.
On Monday, I will be introducing articles of impeachment for Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax if he has not resigned before then.
— Patrick Hope (@HopeforVirginia) February 8, 2019
Democrats had been hesitant to call for Fairfax to step down since Tyson’s statement, but pressure is now mounting for the lieutenant governor to step aside. Friday night, the state House and Senate Democratic caucuses released a joint statement, urging Fairfax to resign.
Joint House & Senate Democratic statement:
"Due to the serious nature of these allegations, we believe Lieutenant Governor Fairfax can no longer fulfill his duties to the Commonwealth. He needs to address this as a private citizen. The time has come for him to step down."
— VA Senate Democrats (@VASenateDems) February 9, 2019
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus issued a similar statement.
Virginia Legislative Black Caucus Statement on Most Recent Sexual Allegations Against Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax pic.twitter.com/Bbj8sn4gF5
— VLBC (@VaBlackCaucus) February 9, 2019
The bulk of Virginia’s congressional delegation has also demanded Fairfax’s resignation, including Arlington Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District).
“Lt. Governor Fairfax has also shown exceptionally poor judgment in his handling of these allegations,” Beyer and Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-11th District), Elaine Luria (D-2nd District), Abigail Spanberger (D-7th District) and Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District) wrote in a statement. “He repeatedly attacked his accuser, he reportedly used vile and degrading language to describe her, he mischaracterized an investigation into the encounter, and he sought to blame others for events in his own past. These actions do not meet the standard to which we hold Virginia’s highest elected officers.”
For now, it would seem Fairfax is resisting pressure to step aside.
Statement from VA Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax denying second sexual assault allegation, ends with “I will not resign.” pic.twitter.com/Tuj81iPRP7
— Sarah McCammon (@sarahmccammon) February 8, 2019
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has been similarly steadfast in the face of calls to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page, writing an email to state employees today saying he does not plan to step down. The fate of Attorney General Mark Herring (D) is also unclear, after he revealed he wore blackface while in college.
Earlier today, Hope posted a video on Twitter urging Northam and Herring to learn from their experiences, but stopped short of demanding their resignations. He’d previously supported calls for Northam to step down, but was silent on Herring, who he previously endorsed in Herring’s early stages of mounting a campaign for governor in 2021.
Hope said in the video that he believed Fairfax’s first accuser and thought an investigation was necessary.
Around 9 p.m. Friday, Hope held a press conference in front of Arlington Central Library in Virginia Square, laying out his case for the impeachment of Fairfax, should he refuse to resign. The press conference was attended by CNN, CBS, NBC and local D.C. stations.
Del. Patrick Hope (D) holding a press conference in front of Arlington Central Library https://t.co/1UWsA2DLdX
— Arlington Now (@ARLnowDOTcom) February 9, 2019
Photo via Facebook
The state legislature is now in session and among those representing Arlington in Richmond is Del. Patrick Hope (D).
In an interview over the phone from his office at the state capital, Hope discussed his decision to refuse donations from Dominion, the state incentives offered to Amazon, his bill to limit solitary confinement in state prisons, why the effort to rename Jefferson Davis Highway in Arlington is stalled, and more.
At the end, Hope surprised us with a very candid answer to the question of whether he’s running for reelection this year.
After years facing powerful Republican majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, Arlington lawmakers are accustomed to harboring only modest ambitions for each legislative session.
But as legislators return to Richmond today (Wednesday), members of the county’s all-Democratic delegation say they’re ready to flex their muscles a bit over the new, 45-day session.
With all 140 lawmakers on the ballot this fall and Democrats just one seat away from seizing power in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, Arlington legislators sense an opening. Republicans have taken a beating in all manner of elections across the state over the last two years, and Democrats expect that will inform how GOP leaders manage their slim majorities in this session.
Arlington lawmakers hope that will result in some of the party’s more moderate members finally embracing their efforts around everything from redistricting reform to gun violence prevention, in a bid to appear more attractive to swing voters. What it all comes down to for state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th District) is a simple motto for his colleagues across the aisle: “lead, follow or get out of the way.”
“They can can decide to lead on some of the most important issues facing Virginia, which they have failed to do, they can choose to follow Democrats, or they can have voters get them out of the way,” Ebbin told ARLnow. “If they come to the table on a variety of issues, I think their chances are enhanced… But will [House Speaker Kirk Cox] want to allow bills to come to the floor so that a handful of members who want to appear to be moderates vote for them, or even sponsor them? Time will tell.”
Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) says he’s “hopeful” that Republicans will pursue such a strategy over the next weeks — not only does he see it as wise political strategy, he jokes that “with my last name, I don’t have a choice” but to be optimistic.
But Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) takes a gloomier view of the GOP, arguing that Richmond Republicans have done nothing but “march in lockstep” with their leadership for years, and could soon face an electoral price for doing so.
“If moderate Republicans continue to fall in line and do what’s against their constituents’ wishes, we will absolutely run against them for it and they will lose in November,” Levine said. “I see it as a win-win: either we get the policies we want, with majority support, or we get these people out.”
Should Republicans choose to sign onto some Democratic priorities, Arlington legislators see two key areas for agreement: a constitutional amendment establishing a nonpartisan commission to draw district lines, and the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
In both cases, the Democrats expect they’ll have enough votes to pass the bills on the floor — Republicans have either introduced or co-sponsored bills on both subjects — the question is whether the legislation will make it out of committee, where a handful of lawmakers have the power to quickly kill the bills.
Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District), a key backer of redistricting reforms, sees a real “sense of urgency” to the aforementioned issue this year, simply due to timing. Democrats hope to pass a constitutional amendment before the next round of redistricting in 2021, and that requires a complex process.
Lawmakers need to pass the amendment twice: once before a legislative election, and once afterward. Then, the matter will head to a statewide ballot referendum, which Sullivan is hoping to line up with the 2020 elections. Should it pass all those hurdles, stripping power from lawmakers to draw their own districts, the new commission would be in place by the time the Census mandates a change in boundary lines.
Considering that Democrats may well take control of the General Assembly this fall, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) expects it would be in the best interest of Republicans to agree on a nonpartisan process now while they still can. Levine notes that it doesn’t help the GOP’s chances either that federal courts have ordered a redrawing of some House district lines over claims they were racially gerrymandered, a process that will likely weaken Republican chances in several important seats.
“Not passing something will essentially hand the reins of gerrymandering back to Democrats, and I don’t think that’s what they want,” Lopez said.
Even with this newfound pressure, however, Sullivan says it’s “not clear to me that leadership will even allow a vote” on redistricting or the ERA ratification, which could revive the long-dormant effort to mandate equal rights for women in the U.S. Constitution.
“There’s a lot of momentum behind the ERA, so it will be interesting to see if Republicans, in an election year, will let it come forward for a vote,” Hope said. “And I’m absolutely convinced it will pass if gets to the floor.”
Instead, it seems clear to lawmakers that a debate over tax revenues will prove to be the dominant issue of this legislative session.
The Republican tax reform bill shepherded through Congress in 2017 will result in an extra $1.2 billion in state revenues, and battles lines are already being drawn about how to spend that money. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is proposing a mix of tax relief for low- and middle-income families and new investments in everything from education to broadband access; Republicans would rather see all of the money invested in tax breaks for slightly wealthier earners.
“If you think we argue or fight when times are tight, wait until you see the kind of arguing we can do when there’s extra money,” Sullivan said.
Cox and his fellow Republicans claim that Northam’s proposal amounts to a “middle-class tax hike” because it doesn’t send all of the savings generated by the federal tax cut back to middle-income families. But Democrats charge that the GOP’s plan, which centers on households making between $125,000 and $150,000 a year, targets only richer families and leaves the poor behind.
“We really need to encourage those folks working hard in the toughest economic circumstances to make it easier for them to have childcare, to have healthcare,” Ebbin said. “For people working hard, we should help them get ahead. That’s what this country is about.”
Democrats point out that Northam’s proposed investments, which could raise teacher pay across the state and expand select healthcare programs, would provide their own benefits for Virginians across the income spectrum. But Lopez also concedes that the most likely scenario is that the two sides strike a a compromise with “a little bit of both” tax relief and new spending.
With all this uncertainty, however, one thing is for sure — the short session will move awful quickly, especially with elections on the horizon.
“It’s going to go fast, and it’s going to be furious,” Lopez said. “And there are a lot of issues affecting Arlington families that we’re going to try to keep folks updated on.”
Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) is swearing off campaign contributions from Dominion Energy and calling on his fellow Democrats to do the same, becoming the latest in a line of state lawmakers to reject money from one of Virginia’s only regulated monopolies.
Hope announced at his annual pancake breakfast Saturday (Jan. 5) that he’ll now stop accepting campaign cash from the electric utility, according to a video posted by the Democratic blog Blue Virginia. Hope has accepted $9,500 from Dominion since he was first elected back in 2009, but decided to stop doing so as he gears up to run for a sixth term in office this fall.
“I’ve heard from a lot of my constituents that the perception that you’re taking money is influencing your vote, whether it’s true or not,” Hope told attendees. “I can’t give enough speeches to convince my constituents that I’m voting not because they gave me a check, but because it’s the right thing to do. And I’m tired of making that speech over and over.”
Hope added that “every single Democrat that’s running for office should make that commitment” to refuse Dominion dollars, and many around the state already have.
Dominion has long been one of the top political donors in the whole state, yet politicians of both parties have increasingly argued that members of the General Assembly shouldn’t accept money from a company they’re charged with regulating — just last year, lawmakers oversaw an extensive rewrite of the state’s regulatory authority over electric utilities like Dominion.
The activist group Activate Virginia brought a focus to the issue during the last round of state elections in 2017, eliciting a pledge from dozens of Democrats running for the House of Delegates to refuse the company’s money.
Some of Arlington’s legislative delegation also followed suit, including Dels. Mark Levine (D-45th District), Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) and Rip Sullivan (D-48th District). Lopez, like Hope, did previously accept Dominion contributions in the past, taking in about $4,500 since he was first elected in 2012.
The county’s three state senators, however, all still take thousands from Dominion. Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) has accepted $50,000 from the company over the course of her long career, while Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) has taken in $9,500 and Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th District) has pulled in $12,500. Local Democratic activist Nicole Merlene even recently launched a primary challenge against Favola, calling for a ban on contributions from state-regulated utilities as part of her campaign.
But Hope sees a sea change coming in Virginia politics on the issue. Attorney General Mark Herring became one of the most senior Democrats in the state to refuse Dominion cash when he announced he wouldn’t accept any of the company’s money as he ramps up a campaign for governor for the 2021 cycle, and Hope “wholeheartedly” endorsed the former Loudoun state senator’s nascent bid to succeed Gov. Ralph Northam.
“I’m going to take the same commitment he made because I don’t want him to be the only one there making it,” Hope said, with Herring in attendance.
PREDICTION: there will never be another statewide Democratic candidate for office that accepts money from Dominion. https://t.co/kjjgYfJoAL
— Patrick Hope (@HopeforVirginia) January 5, 2019
Northam himself rolled out a series of campaign finance reform proposals today (Monday), officially announcing his support for a ban on all corporate campaign contributions. Unlike 2017 primary rival Tom Perriello, Northam accepted nearly $73,000 in contributions from Dominion over the course of the gubernatorial campaign, but he pledged to push a ban on corporate cash once he was elected.
However, unless Democrats win an uphill battle in convincing the Republicans controlling both chambers of the General Assembly to embrace such a change, Northam plans to continue accepting such donations for his political action committee.
“Until we’re able to do that, I will continue to operate in the existing landscape,” Northam told reporters.
A new year brings a renewed focus on gun violence prevention, criminal justice reform and some local issues for Arlington’s state lawmakers.
The county’s legislative delegation is gearing up to head back to Richmond next month, as the General Assembly kicks off a new session on Jan. 9.
That means that many of three state senators and four delegates representing the county have been busy crafting legislation for the 46-day “short session” of the state legislature, and they’ve readied dozens of bills for lawmakers to mull in the coming weeks.
Legislators of both parties expect that sparring over the budget will dominate the proceedings — Gov. Ralph Northam and Republicans are already at odds over how to spend an extra $1.2 billion in revenue generated by changes to the federal tax code. The looming state elections (where all 140 lawmakers will be on the ballot) will also provide a bit of a distraction, particularly as Republicans defend narrow, one-seat majorities in both the Senate and House of Delegates.
Yet a review of the General Assembly’s online database shows that Arlington’s delegation has a raft of smaller bills already written, including a variety of efforts lawmakers have tried before and even some new creations.
Some bills look designed to address some Arlington-specific issues, while others have much wider impacts.
For instance, state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) is introducing new legislation that would specifically give Arlington officials control over the “regulation and licensing” of all childcare facilities and providers in the county. The County Board currently has the ability to issue use permits to facilities of certain sizes, but has spent months now studying potential policy changes to make all childcare more accessible and affordable in the county.
Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) is also backing a bill that would give Northern Virginia localities, like Arlington, full power to set their own school calendars. The legislation seems to be similar to a bill Favola previously contemplated carrying that would end the infamous “King’s Dominion Rule” barring most school systems from starting class before Labor Day.
Favola expressed optimism that the Republican chair of the Senate’s Education and Health committee could agree to pass such a bill, ending Arlington’s long fight over the issue. Howell, the longest serving member of the county’s legislative delegation, also sits on that committee.
Notably, none of the county’s representatives in Richmond have put forward a bill to give Arlington the power to change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway, just yet. Lawmakers previously warned the Board that they’d be hesitant to back such an effort this year without more support from the business community, or perhaps Amazon’s intervention, given Route 1’s proximity to the tech giant’s future headquarters.
Instead, most of the lawmakers representing sections of Arlington have put a clear focus on one issue, perhaps above all others: gun control.
Republicans in Richmond have steadfastly refused to advance most firearms-related legislation over the years, but county lawmakers seem ready to renew many of their legislative pushes on the issue this year.
Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District) is re-introducing a bill that would allow police or prosecutors secure a two-week ban on buying or owning a gun if they believe they present a “substantial risk of injury to himself or others.” A judge would ultimately get to decide if the ban stands, and if it should be extended for a period up to six months.
Sullivan has twice seen similar legislation left to die in committees: one bill failed in 2018, another in 2017.
Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th District) is also bringing back legislation to ban devices that increase the rate of fire of semi-automatic rifles, commonly known as “bump stocks.” Lawmakers across the country worked to ban the devices after one was used in the mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert last year; Ebbin’s bill on the subject died on a party-line vote in committee last session.
Howell is also re-upping legislation that would make it a felony for anyone to leave a “loaded, unsecured” firearm in the presence of anyone under the age of 18. It’s only a misdemeanor under current state law, and Howell’s effort to make the change died on a party line vote in committee earlier this year.
She’s also reintroducing a bill to make it a felony for anyone who is subject to a “permanent protective order” over fears that they may be violent to own a gun. Howell previously succeeded in establishing a misdemeanor penalty for the practice in 2016; her push to upgrade it a felony passed one committee last year before failing on a party-line vote in another.
Other bills backed by Arlington legislators would address inequities in the criminal justice system more broadly.
For example, Ebbin is trying once more to decriminalize the possession of marijuana, imposing fines on people who are caught with small quantities of the drug in lieu of jail time. He’s seen similar efforts fail, often on party-line votes, in the last four legislative sessions.
Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) is also backing what appears to be new legislation to require state corrections officials to produce an annual report on how many people are held in solitary confinement in Virginia prisons, and what steps workers take to address their mental health needs. Virginia has begun moving away from the practice, as it’s increasingly been criticized nationwide, but some reports indicate that the state still holds large numbers of inmates in solitary confinement at some of its most secure facilities.
Dels. Mark Levine (D-45th District) and Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) are the lone Arlington representatives that have yet to pre-file any of their own legislation ahead of the new session, but have signed on as cosponsors of many other bills. Those include everything from the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the formal legalization of same-sex marriage.
And, on a lighter note, both Ebbin and Hope have signed on to ceremonial resolutions commending the Washington Capitals on their long-awaited Stanley Cup victory.