(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) A dispute between two private country clubs and Arlington County that resulted in some wrangling in Richmond seems to have come to an end.
The Army Navy Country Club (1700 Army Navy Drive) and Washington Golf and Country Club (3017 N. Glebe Road) were both pushing for property tax changes that could have cost the county roughly $1.4 million in tax revenue each year, even backing legislation at the state level this year to force those alterations. That miffed county leaders, who bristled at attempts by the state General Assembly to change Arlington’s tax policy to save money for the golf courses.
Now, the county has agreed to reduce the tax burden on each club by tweaking how it values their land, according to an April 27 email sent out by the Washington Golf and Country Club’s president and obtained by ARLnow. County attorney Steve MacIsaac confirmed that the parties have signed off on a settlement agreement, putting to bed a 2014 lawsuit brought by the clubs over the tax question.
“Like any settlement, both sides give a little bit to get to a mutually acceptable outcome,” MacIsaac told ARLnow.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) had vetoed the bill addressing the issue in the hopes that the county and the clubs would come to some sort of compromise, and his spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel said his office is “still evaluating the details but support[s] a locally negotiated solution here.”
The country clubs had backed the legislation, sponsored by Del. Tim Hugo, R-40th District, which would have forced the county to change how it assesses the value of the roughly 630 acres held by the two clubs.
Currently, the courses are valued as “large acreage parcels” at $12 per square foot, while residential land near each course is valued as high $100 per square foot. Hugo’s legislation would have slashed the rate to about 50 cents per square foot, in a bid to meet persistent concerns from the courses that they were overtaxed.
Washington Golf and Country Club President Stephen Fedorchak wrote a letter to members explaining that the county now has agreed to reduce the club’s valuation from “approximately $93 million to approximately $47 million” in 2018, which reduces the club’s property tax bill this year to about $460,000. Arlington also plans to credit $815,000 toward the club’s current tax bill to make up for the last three tax bills the club has paid at the previous, higher valuation, MacIsaac added.
“We are gratified by this reasonable, sustainable resolution,” Fedorchak wrote to members. “It will benefit the club’s general fiscal health for years to come.”
Raighne Delaney, the Army Navy Country Club’s secretary, did not respond to a call seeking details on the structure of his course’s deal with Arlington. But MacIsaac estimated that the club will receive about $1.25 million in credits toward its tax bill, and the valuation of the property will shrink by 25 to 35 percent under the terms of the settlement.
The Army Navy Country Club was assessed at just over $149 million for 2018, and was set to owe about $842,000 in taxes this year before any credits.
Starting in 2019, the clubs’ assessments will “increase or decrease based on the average annual change in the county’s residential real estate assessments,” Fedorchak wrote. Should the assessment change “outside those parameters” the clubs reserve the right to challenge that valuation, Fedorchak noted.
Arlington officials have previously argued that land is at a premium in the 26-square-mile county, necessitating the higher taxes.
“Our community is already grappling with reductions to services in order to address budget gaps for the upcoming fiscal year and larger projected budget gaps in future years,” the county board wrote in a March 21 letter to Northam urging him to veto Hugo’s bill.
A state bill targeted at helping country clubs in Arlington would cost the county more than $2 million in tax revenue, an internal county report says.
HB 1204, patroned by Fairfax and Prince William County Del. Tim Hugo (R), passed the House of Delegates last week by a vote of 65-33-1. The bill would “reserve to the Commonwealth the power to classify golf courses as land dedicated to open space for assessment and tax purposes,” according to an internal Arlington County fact sheet.
More from the bill’s summary:
Requires the assessing official in any county that experienced at least a 14% increase in population from 2010 to 2016 to specially and separately assess real property that is devoted to open space and contains at least five acres based on the actual physical use of the property, if requested to do so by the owner. The measure is effective for taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2018.
The bill only would apply to Arlington and Loudoun counties, we’re told, and it would primarily affect the tax assessments of two entities: Army Navy Country Club and Washington Golf and Country Club, both in Arlington.
The country clubs are currently suing the county, challenging their respective assessments. Arlington assesses each based in part on their potential value as developable land, meaning that the assessments — and yearly tax bills — are much higher than if the clubs were assessed only on the basis of their current use.
Army Navy Country Club, near Pentagon City, was assessed at $149 million this year, and paid $1.5 million in taxes last year, according to county records. Washington Golf and Country Club, located along N. Glebe Road near Marymount University, is assessed at $79 million and paid about $839,000 in taxes last year.
The internal county report says that the country clubs are both currently assessed as “large acreage parcels,” valued at about $12 per square foot. By comparison, some residential property near WGCC is assessed at nearly $100 per square foot. Should the legislation pass, the assessed value of the clubs is expected to drop to around $0.50 per square foot, costing the county nearly $2.4 million.
“This is a bad bill for Arlington County government and for Arlington County property owners,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol, adding that it would set a “damaging precedent.”
The Virginia Municipal League is opposing Hugo’s bill, which is currently being considered by the state Senate. In an email, the organization urged localities to take action.
“Notwithstanding the arguments posed by the bill’s proponents, the measure shatters existing state policy,” the email said. “If approved, nothing will prevent future General Assemblies from giving away local tax dollars and disregarding land use and tax policy decisions that belong to local governments. And, for the record, HB 1204 does not obligate the Commonwealth to reimburse local governments for the resulting lost revenues.”
The state Senate’s Finance Committee is expected to discuss the legislation at a hearing Tuesday morning.
At its meeting Saturday, two County Board members supported advertising a higher property tax rate, based on the risk of lost tax revenue from the bill. A majority of the Board, however, voted against raising the rate.
Several absentee voting measures have been sent to the House of Delegates’ Privileges and Elections study committee for review in 2019, meaning the legislation is effectively dead for 2018.
The bills, introduced by state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), included a measure which would have allowed for senior citizens to vote with an absentee ballot up to and including the day of an election. Another, SB602, would have allowed for “no-excuse” absentee ballot voting beginning 21 days prior to an election, meaning that anyone could have voted with an absentee ballot without needing a qualifying reason for not being able to wait in line at the polls.
“We want to make it easier for people to vote and participate in democracy rather than harder,” said Ebbin. “In Arlington in particular, there are a lot of busy people who work a lot of unpredictable hours. Right now, working late is not a valid excuse for absentee voting.”
“It should be easier to vote, and we don’t want anyone to be disenfranchised.”
Though the bills will not have a chance to be passed until after the 2018 midterm elections, Ebbin told ARLnow.com that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to wait, saying it “can be a good thing” as the bill will “get a more full hearing and more education and more consideration and more chance to educate legislators on these issues.”
Levine is chief co-patron on H.B. 1251, introduced by Del. Ben Cline (R-24), which advanced from a subcommittee of the Virginia House of Delegates’ Courts of Justice committee.
It would make medical marijuana, made from cannabidiol oils that can be used for medical purposes after being derived from the flowers of cannabis plants, legal as of July 1, 2018.
The bill would allow physicians to recommend the use of medical cannabidiol oils, going further than a bill introduced by Levine — H.B. 137 — that would have allowed its use only for cancer patients.
He introduced the same legislation in 2017, but it failed in subcommittee. Since then, Levine said he has worked to show lawmakers on both sides of the aisle the benefits of legalization, including Cline, who said he was “pleased with what I’m hearing. I’m hearing developments that I haven’t heard before,” in a hearing last year.
“I’ve long advocated for reform of our outdated and unnecessarily punitive marijuana laws,” Levine wrote in an email to supporters. “Those of you who know me personally know I’ve never even tried cannabis… But just because something physically disgusts me does not make me blind to the scientific fact that non-psychoactive cannabidiol oils from cannabis — oils that don’t get you “high” — have proven scientific effects that reduce pain and nausea and even kill cancer cells.”
The legislation still needs to pass both the House of Delegates and the Virginia State Senate, but Levine said he is hopeful of full passage.
“Having counted the votes on full committee and talked to members in both the House of Delegates and the Senate, I am extremely optimistic about the fate of this legislation,” Levine wrote. “I expect this law to pass. I predict cannabidiol oils will be legally prescribed in Virginia for diagnosis or treatment of illnesses beginning in July 2018.”
In a similar vein, bills by state Sens. Adam Ebbin (D-30) and Barbara Favola (D-31) that would have decriminalized the possession of marijuana and reduce penalties for its distribution both failed in committee today (Monday).
(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) A bill by state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) banning so-called “bump stocks” in Virginia has made progress in the early days of the 2018 Virginia General Assembly legislative session.
Ebbin’s bill — S.B. 1 — passed the Senate’s Courts of Justice Committee on Monday, January 15 and then was referred to the Finance Committee.
The legislation was filed after investigators found that Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock had modified some of the semi-automatic rifles in his hotel room with “bump stocks,” an attachment that allows the guns to fire faster.
Companion legislation by in the House of Delegates by local Del. Mark Levine (D-45) is still awaiting a hearing at the committee level.
Ebbin was a co-patron on S.B. 252, a bill to “ban the box” that passed the state Senate on Friday by a 23-16 vote.
It would prevent state and local governments from asking about potential employees’ criminal histories during an initial application. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed an executive order banning the box for state government in 2015.
“This bill is important simply because it gives everyone a fair chance at employment,” Ebbin said in a statement. “Those people who have paid their debts to society should be given a second chance. Providing every Virginian the chance to work builds our workforce and puts us on a great path towards economic security. The only way to ensure that we build stronger communities is if we have a strong workforce and banning the box is a step in the right direction of achieving that goal.”
But other gun safety bills by state Sen. Barbara Favola were defeated in the state Senate’s Courts of Justice Committee earlier this week. A bill allowing local governments to prohibit the open carry of firearms in protests or demonstrations was among those killed.
Favola introduced it after the armed white supremacist protests in Charlottesville last year.
“Regarding [the bill], it was my hope that lawmakers would better understand the need for people to feel safe and be safe when they assemble,” Favola said in a statement.
And while other legislation introduced by Levine, including a bill allowing localities to set their own minimum wage and another to repeal “the crime of fornication, i.e., voluntary sexual intercourse by an unmarried person,” is still awaiting debate, he celebrated a win early in the session for his Virginia Transparency Caucus.
The caucus, co-created by Levine as a first-term Delegate alongside state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-11) in 2016, pushed for recorded votes in General Assembly committees and subcommittees and received them in the legislature’s new rules. All committee hearings will now also be live streamed and archived online for the first time.
“This is a big victory for transparency in Virginia,” Levine wrote in an email to supporters. “For four hundred years, Virginia legislators killed bills in secret behind closed doors. Not anymore. Now residents will be able to know exactly who deep-sixed a bill and who wanted to move it forward.”
But Del. Patrick Hope has run into opposition from the ACLU’s Virginia chapter for sponsoring a bill that would expand the use of “strip searches” to those under arrest for traffic crimes and suspected of carrying drugs. Currently, searches are only permitted for those carrying weapons. The bill was discussed by a subcommittee of the House of Delegates’ Courts of Justice committee on Friday.
“We really oppose any expansion of a strip search,” Charlie Schmidt, public policy counsel for ACLU Virginia, said in a video. “It’s invasive; it should only be used in situations where we’re dealing with serious crimes, not petty traffic stops.”
The ACLU of Virginia has offered support for another of Hope’s bills, which would end conversion therapy for children under 18.
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.
Del. Patrick Hope (D) proposed a bill in the Virginia House of Delegates to raise the minimum value of stolen money or goods that constitute a “grand larceny.”
Hope, who represents Arlington in the House of Delegates, filed HB 17 to raise the threshold from its current minimum of $200 to $500. Under current law, stealing goods or money worth less than $200 is a petit larceny.
Grand larceny, a felony, typically carries a sentence of at least a year in prison, while petit larceny is a misdemeanor so generally results in probation, fines or lesser prison sentences.
State Sen. David Suetterlein (R-Salem) has filed identical legislation — SB 105 — in the Virginia State Senate.
Earlier this year, research by the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts found that raising the threshold does not impact overall property crime or larceny rates, and that states that increased their thresholds reported “roughly” the same average decrease in crime as 20 states that did not.
Months after the mass shootings in Las Vegas, several legislators representing Arlington County have filed bills in the Virginia General Assembly to outlaw “bump stocks.”
After the October 1 shooting, which left 58 people dead and 546 injured, investigators found that gunman Stephen Paddock had modified some of the semi-automatic rifles in his hotel room with “bump stocks,” an attachment that allows the guns to fire faster.
And after Congress failed to act to ban them, local lawmakers will try to do so at the state level.
Del. Mark Levine and state Sens. Adam Ebbin and Barbara Favola (all D) each introduced legislation to ban any device “used to increase the rate of fire of any semi-automatic firearm beyond the capability of an unaided person to operate the trigger mechanism of that firearm.”
Anyone found to own, be making or selling such a device would be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. The City of Columbia, S.C., recently passed an ordinance banning them.
At a work session with the Arlington County Board earlier this month, Levine expressed cautious optimism at getting “bump stocks” banned in Virginia.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do at the federal level, but we certainly shouldn’t have them in Virginia,” he said. “That, I would hope would be an easy lift, although of course, nothing is an easy lift when it comes to guns.”
Beyer Blasts GOP Tax Bill — Rep. Don Beyer is, to say the least, not a fan of the Republican tax bill that is expected to pass the House and be sent to the president’s desk later today. “At its core, this bill is an immoral redistribution of wealth towards the richest among us at a cost of trillions of dollars, and I believe that those who voted for this monstrosity will be held accountable,” Beyer said in a statement. [Rep. Don Beyer, Twitter]
Single Vote Swings Va. House — Thanks to a Democratic candidate in Newport News winning her race by a single vote, as determined in a recount, the Virginia House of Delegates is now evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, ending a majority the GOP has maintained since 2000. [Washington Post]
‘Dominion Pint’ Coming to Arlington — The owner of Meridian Pint (also Brookland Pint and Smoke & Barrel) in D.C. is planning to open a new craft beer-centric outpost somewhere in North Arlington. The location has not yet been announced, but it will be called “Dominion Pint.” [PoPville]
DESIGNArlington Winners Announced — The Arlington County Board on Tuesday recognized the ten 2017 DESIGNArlington award winners for “outstanding architectural or landscape design in the County.” Among the winners are the new Marymount University building in Ballston, the Tellus apartment building in Courthouse, “The Quill” public art project in Rosslyn and two private North Arlington residences. [Arlington County, Arlington County]
Gutshall Sworn In — The newest Arlington County Board member, Erik Gutshall, was sworn in at yesterday’s Board meeting, while outgoing County Board Chair Jay Fisette received a standing ovation. [Twitter]
Changes to Historic Preservation Process — The Arlington County Board voted unanimously last night to revise and further codify the process for requesting historic preservation studies. Until now, any single individual could request a “historic preservation overlay district” study, which requires significant county staff time to complete. Before the vote, such a study could even be requested without consulting property owners in the proposed district. [Arlington County]
Arlington Man Dies in Plane Crash — Paul Schuda, a National Transportation Safety Board official and Arlington resident, was among three people killed in the crash of a small plane in Indiana. [NPR, Legacy]
Photo courtesy Peter Golkin
Del. Mark Levine (D) will re-introduce a bill to the Virginia House of Delegates designed to give jurisdictions the ability to set an alternative minimum wage.
It would mean that jurisdictions in higher cost-of-living areas like Arlington County could impose a higher alternative minimum wage if local lawmakers vote to do so. The bill would set a maximum minimum wage, which could change every year depending on the cost of goods and services in the federal Consumer Price Index.
When Levine introduced the measure for the first time in 2016 as a freshman legislator, he told the Alexandria Times that he hoped for bipartisan support as it pushes control back to local government, rather than the state.
“My hope is that my bill is local control, a conservative value, the idea that localities would be in charge,” Levine said at the time. “It allows each locality the ability to raise the minimum wage to what their representatives want. It’s complete local control.”
The 2016 iteration was tabled on a party-line vote by a Republican-controlled subcommittee of the House Commerce and Labor Committee.
Democrats made big gains in the House in the 2017 elections, which will mean committees will have a different balance between the two parties. It could also mean a power-sharing agreement between the two parties for this year’s session, depending on pending recounts.
Heartened by Democratic gains in the Virginia House of Delegates in last night’s election, local Democrats are hopeful for progress in Richmond on issues important to Arlington County.
Democrats had picked up 14 seats in the House on Tuesday, with the remaining four seats subject to re-counts and late results.
By early Wednesday, control was tied 50-50 after Democrats picked up another two seats overnight, a big change from the 66-34 advantage Republicans had enjoyed.
And with the Arlington County Board set to finalize its legislative agenda for the 2018 Virginia General Assembly session, which convenes in January, several elected officials said local issues can make some headway in Richmond.
One particularly important issue is Metro, which local leaders say needs a dedicated funding source to help ease its budget worries. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said he will propose a dedicated funding source in what would be a symbolic move at the end of his term.
But with Governor-Elect Ralph Northam (D) to be joined by fellow Democrats Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring as lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively, County Board member Christian Dorsey said that combined with more Democrats in the House could mean more advocates for Metro.
“It’s a game-changer for Arlington, because one of the things on our agenda that we’re trying to figure out, a dedicated funding source for Metro, we didn’t even feel we could bring it forward this year,” Dorsey, who represents Arlington on Metro’s Board of Directors, said. “Now we can, and now we will. It can be a potential game-changer for Arlington and the region.”
“It helps us in Arlington,” said Erik Gutshall, who won Tuesday’s election to the County Board to replace retiring chair Jay Fisette. “The biggest thing that was on my mind that helps me rest a little easier is Metro. I think that was not talked about much, but was hanging in the balance. The way it could have gone differently, it would have been crucial.”
And beyond Metro funding, County Board vice chair Katie Cristol said more Democrats in the House could mean greater investment and advocacy for other transit in Virginia, including the Virginia Railway Express.
Cristol said the election of Danica Roem in the 13th District could be a big help, as she has emphasized solving transportation issues in Prince William County and Manassas Park City.
“One of the things everybody is talking about, even nationally, is Danica Roem being a groundbreaker in terms of transgender equality,” Cristol said, referring to Roem’s election as the first openly transgender state lawmaker. “But I’ve been cheering for her because she’s such a champion for VRE. I think we’re excited about the opportunity to have partners in things we care about like transport funding.”
Beyond those region-specific issues, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D) said in a victory speech that House Democrats can start to look ahead and try and pass issues important to progressives. For Arlington, Dorsey pointed to the long-debated Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, as well as looking to the future of the environment.
“Medicaid expansion would be great to provide a bulwark for what’s going on with the federal government trying to destabilize the health insurance market places. That would be a great thing for Virginians,” he said. “We’ve been trying to do some things on the energy and environmental sustainability side with solar power. These don’t necessarily become real this year, but we can now see a path forward to work toward over the next couple of years.”
Dorsey added that with the new Democrats in the House means that Arlington can be less defensive in its legislative package, and start to advocate more vigorously for issues that matter to its elected officials and residents.
(Among the “wish list” items that were a long shot under GOP control but which may find traction: renaming Jefferson Davis Highway.)
“Our legislative agenda has always been, ‘How can we prevent them from doing the most harm to us, and then how can we build the groundwork to maybe move incrementally forward,'” Dorsey said. “Now we have a chance to say, ‘Hey, we can get some wins.’ So it’s terrific.”
The Arlington County Democratic Committee, meanwhile, attributed the record voter turnout in Arlington to grassroots organizing and opposition to President Donald Trump.
“The thousands of volunteer hours Arlington County Democratic Committee, the Virginia Democratic Party, and Arlington’s progressive grassroots organizations spent registering voters, knocking on doors, and making calls sends a strong message endorsing Democratic leadership,” ACDC said in a statement Tuesday night. “Arlingtonians voted in record numbers in person and via absentee voting, demonstrating that they have a clear idea of where Virginia should go – and it’s not the way of Donald Trump and current national policies.”
“Tonight is a tremendous victory for Arlington and Virginia,” said ACDC Chair Kip Malinosky. “However, as President Obama once said ‘This victory is not the change we seek, but the chance to make that change.’ We must now work to expand Medicaid, work for women’s reproductive health, invest in better schools, and train the workforce of the future – because yes, we still can.”
With one weekend left until Election Day, candidates and parties of all stripes are looking to get their messages out.
The statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general continue to draw a lot of attention, and Arlington’s local Democratic and Republican parties will use this weekend for last-minute political activities.
Both will be out canvassing voters this weekend, both door-to-door and at the county’s farmers’ markets. The Arlington Young Democrats promised a “special” canvassing in south Arlington this weekend to support Del. Alfonso Lopez in his re-election bid against Republican Adam Roosevelt.
The Arlington County Democratic Committee has also made use of a social media campaign entitled, “#TURNOUT2017” to encourage its supporters to vote through Facebook and social media ads for candidate for governor Ralph Northam, lieutenant governor nominee Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring, who is running for re-election.
And Arlington County Republican Committee communications director Matthew Hurtt promised an “unprecedented” get-out-the-vote operation in an email to supporters to help elect governor nominee Ed Gillespie, lieutenant governor candidate Jill Vogel and attorney general nominee John Adams.
Arlington Young Democrats will host a get-out-the-vote rally of their own on Saturday at 5:30 p.m., headlined by U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), while both parties will have poll watchers at voting stations across the county to monitor what happens on Election Day.
Earlier this week, the Arlington Democrats hosted a rally alongside Northam, Fairfax, Herring and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) as well as local elected officials.
And on October 29, Gillespie and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) dropped by for a rally to coincide with a viewing party for the Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys NFL game.
— Jim Presswood (@jjpresswood) October 30, 2017
And while the social media accounts and websites of the candidates for the local races of Arlington County Board and School Board, residents can expect to see them and their supporters out this weekend pushing for votes.
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.”