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Arlington Democrats Push for Redistricting Debate, But Special Session Hopes Fade

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.”

File photo

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Morning Notes

DES Wants to Reunite Stuffed Bunny With Owner — The Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services is searching for the owner of a stuffed animal believed to have been accidentally thrown away during Taste of Arlington on Sunday. “Let us know if someone is missing a good friend,” DES tweeted. [Twitter]

APS to Keep German, Japanese Classes — “Superintendent Patrick Murphy on May 17 confirmed the decision to keep German I, II and III and Japanese I, II and III, which had been slated for elimination due to low enrollment. The turnaround came after students and parents complained.” [InsideNova]

Flanagan-Watson Get Promotion — “Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz has appointed Shannon Flanagan-Watson as deputy county manager, effective May 21, with oversight responsibility for Arlington Economic Development, Arlington Public Libraries, and a portion of the Department of Environmental Services, one of the County’s largest departments.” Flanagan-Watson has served as the county’s business ombudsman, working to help solve regulatory problems for Arlington businesses. [Arlington County]

Risk Warrant Bill Fails — A bill introduced by Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48) to create risk warrants — allowing law enforcement to confiscate the guns of troubled individuals if a court order is granted — failed in the Virginia legislature this session. [WVTF]

Patriots Win District Baseball Title — The Yorktown Patriots baseball team won the Liberty District high school tournament and title for the first time since 2012. [InsideNova]

Get Ready for Memorial Bridge Work — Major work to rehabilitate the aging Memorial Bridge is set to begin in September and will cause significant traffic impacts. The work “will require long-term lane closures and short-term detours, which will be disruptive to traffic and likely send vehicles to other Potomac River spans, tying those up more than usual, per the NPS. One of the sidewalks will also be closed ‘during much of the construction period.'” [Washington Business Journal]

Budget Limits May Limit New HS Amenities — “Those who descended on Saturday’s County Board meeting hoping to win support for more rather than fewer amenities in a potential fourth Arlington high school came away with no promises from board members. If anything, those elected officials who addressed the subject did so in an effort to – delicately – tamp down expectations.” [InsideNova]

Wrong-Way Crash in Pentagon City — A driver reportedly hopped a curb, drove the wrong way down Army Navy Drive and smashed into two vehicles in Pentagon City around noon yesterday. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Local Lawmakers Push Back Against Proposal to Sell Reagan National Airport

The Trump administration’s proposal to sell Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport as part of its $200 billion infrastructure plan has been greeted by a chorus of opposition from local lawmakers.

“Trump isn’t trying to fix our infrastructure, he’s trying to sell it off,” tweeted Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). “This ‘plan’ is nothing but smoke and mirrors.”

The proposal also suggests that the federal government might divest itself of assets like the GW Parkway and the D.C. Aqueduct.

“It is particularly outrageous that Trump suggested selling off key local infrastructure,” Beyer said. “The President didn’t consult any state or local leaders about any of this, but if he had we would have told him that our community ardently opposes anything of the kind.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) joined in the opposition, tweeting the following.

Several state legislators from Northern Virginia, including two who represent parts of Arlington, put out a joint press release expressing “strong opposition to President Donald J. Trump’s proposal to sell these two critical national assets.”

“President Trump is gambling with two of our country’s most important transportation assets without considering the high economic stakes,” said Delegate Richard C. “Rip” Sullivan, Jr. (D-McLean). “From Chicago’s Midway Airport to Newburgh’s Stewart International Airport, attempted airport privatization has failed repeatedly, costing taxpayers money and creating economic uncertainty. Taking this risk with airports so critical to Virginia’s economy, not to mention the operation of our nation’s Capital, is simply irresponsible.”

[ … ]

“These are not just casinos that you can walk away from,” said Senator Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria). “The loss of federal support for these crucial national assets would have an unthinkable impact on our regional economy. The president should not be financing tax cuts for the rich on the backs of Virginia taxpayers and commuters.”

Flickr pool photo by Michael Coffman

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Morning Notes

Porter Drama Centers Around Arlington — The resignation of White House aide Rob Porter, which has been a national headline this week, has a number of Arlington connections. Porter reportedly has an apartment here, which he shared with a girlfriend before starting to date White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, and the protective order Porter’s second wife filed against him was to keep him away from her Arlington residence. [Daily Mail, New York Times]

Arlington Kid’s Star Continues to Rise — Nine-year-old Iain Armitage stars as the title character in the CBS comedy Young Sheldon and also was featured HBO’s Golden Globe-winning Big Little Lies. That’s in addition to film roles Armitage, an Arlington native whose family owns a house in Ashton Heights, is getting as he continues to build his Hollywood career. Just 3.5 years ago, Armitage was best known for his viral reviews of Signature Theatre shows. [Toronto Star]

Flyover This Morning — There will be a military flyover around 11:30 this morning for a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. [Twitter]

Local Lawmakers’ Bills Defeated in Richmond — A number of bills introduced by Democratic lawmakers that represent parts of Arlington have, predictably, failed to gain traction in the GOP-controlled state legislature. Among the current batch of bills being defeated in committee: a bill to force the release of presidential candidate tax returns (Sen. Janet Howell), create an state-level Office of Immigrant Assistance (Sen. Adam Ebbin) and expand the list of IDs accepted for voting (Del. Rip Sullivan).

Photo via @NCPCgov / Twitter

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Podcast: Dels. Rip Sullivan and Alfonso Lopez

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.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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Metro, Renaming Jefferson Davis Hwy Among Priorities in 2018 General Assembly Session

(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.

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UPDATED: Democrats Celebrate Clean Sweep of Local, Statewide Elections

(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.

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Local Candidates United With County Board in Call to Rename Jefferson Davis, Lee Highways

The Democrats running for Arlington County Board and the Virginia House of Delegates say they are united with the Board in its desire to rename Jefferson Davis Highway and Lee Highway.

Arlington County Board candidate Erik Gutshall and incumbent House of Delegates candidates Mark Levine, Patrick Hope, Richard “Rip” Sullivan and Alfonso Lopez praised the County Board’s stand. In a statement, an excerpt of which is below, all five applauded what they described as “a powerful statement from the Arlington County Board rejecting racism and bigotry.”

The county will need to first obtain the legal authority to rename both stretches of state highway within its borders, an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled General Assembly. But the incumbents pledged to try to do so, so the county can choose “who in our history we want to honor and celebrate.”

Erik Gutshall, Democratic nominee for Arlington County Board, said “I am proud to live in a community that has long shared the values of diversity and inclusion. I fully embrace the County Board’s determination to garner local control of the names of our roadways, as I know Arlington’s delegation to the Virginia General Assembly do.”

“It’s long past time for us to rename highways that were labeled to send a hateful and divisive message to people of color in our community,” said Delegate Alfonso Lopez (49th District), House Democratic Whip. “I look forward to working with the Arlington County Board to make sure they have the necessary authority from the General Assembly to make these important changes.”

Delegate Patrick Hope (47th District) said, “I have long-supported the renaming of Jefferson Davis Highway and Lee Highway in Arlington and commend the Arlington County Board for this bold statement of leadership. I look forward to supporting legislation to grant Arlington and all localities the freedom to rename buildings, roads, and to remove monuments that do not reflect our values.”

“Giving localities the authority to rename highways — like Jefferson Davis Highway — is long overdue,” said Delegate Rip Sullivan (48th District), “This is not about erasing or trying to change history — indeed, we must never forget the evil that led to our Civil War. Rather, this is about a community choosing who in our history we want to honor and celebrate. Arlington County should have that choice. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ This matters, and I applaud the County Board for choosing not to be silent on this important issue.”

“I’m very pleased that the Arlington County Board is committed to renaming the Jefferson Davis Highway, ” said Delegate Mark Levine (45th District). “Changing those street signs will no longer honor the Mississippi traitor (with little or no connection to Arlington) who was President of a rebellious group of states that seceded from the union to enforce and protect their cruel and odious institution of slavery. Street signs bearing the current name of this highway do a gross injustice to Arlingtonians who are loyal to their nation and who abhor slavery. I know the vast majority of us are looking forward to seeing these signs no more.”

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Local Charlottesville Solidarity Rally Organized By Two Recent Yorktown Graduates

A pair of recent Yorktown High School graduates were behind Sunday’s rally to condemn the weekend’s events in Charlottesville.

Julian Lopez-Leyva and Justin Wu, both 2016 Yorktown graduates who have just completed their first year of college, decided to put the event together late Saturday night to “actively condemn bigotry and racial hatred through a series of speeches, songs, actions, and a moment of silence.”

Lopez-Leyva is a Political Science major with a minor in Economics at Emmanuel College in Boston, while Wu studies Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech.

They said in interviews Monday that they did not fully expect to see 200 people and a slew of elected officials in attendance in Courthouse, all wanting to come together and heal.

“Initially I expected only 10 people to come out, but it ended up being around 200 people and that blew my mind,” Lopez-Leyva said. “But I think that also spoke to me understanding that it wasn’t only me that was fed up, it was so many other people, and that solidarity was an imperative. We just really have to speak up, and I think speaking up is the right move.”

The pair organized the event through Facebook, and also reached out to local grassroots political group Indivisible Arlington for help getting the word out. Attendance snowballed from that initial Facebook event post. (ARLnow.com also tweeted about it.)

“When we first started organizing this, I had reservations thinking it was too quick a turnaround and that we wouldn’t be able to get the word out in time since we started so late at night,” Wu said.

The rally included poetry readings and speeches by activist Gayle Fleming, Dels. Rip Sullivan, Patrick Hope and Mark Keam, as well as Arlington County Board vice chair Katie Cristol.

Wu said he was struck by how many people have connections to Charlottesville, whether through themselves or family and friends attending the University of Virginia in the city or in other ways.

“It was powerful to see that an event in Charlottesville had an effect all the way out here in Northern Virginia, and how everyone is all connected to this,” Wu said.

And while neither had organized an event like this before, they agreed it was heartening to see such turnout, especially among young people.

“I think students are really going to be the leaders of our world in the future, so I’m sad that I’m going to be leaving Arlington but I’m happy that I have the potential to speak up among so many other people who are like-minded, maybe not so like-minded, but regardless are around the same age range as myself and who have the duress to really say something,” Lopez-Leyva said.

The event ended with a period for conversation and asking questions, like the sorts of town halls hosted regularly by politicians and businesses. Lopez-Leyva said that kind of communication and understanding each other will be key to help unite the country again.

“People and conversations are some of the most powerful weapons in the world,” he said. “I think the voice is innumerably more powerful than any sort of physical weapon, any sort of fist, anything we saw in Charlottesville. I think the discussion on any side of the aisle, no matter where you’re coming from, I think that’s an imperative if you really want to bring this country back together.”

Photos by Peter Golkin

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Local Delegates Look Beyond Arlington Ahead of November Elections

(Updated 3:45 p.m.) Three of Arlington’s four members of the Virginia House of Delegates are without an opponent this fall.

Given the lack of locally competitive races in November, when the House’s entire 100 seats are up for grabs, the lawmakers are looking at opportunities to help fellow Democrats to pick up seats elsewhere.

Democratic Dels. Mark Levine and Rip Sullivan — who are unopposed, as is Del. Patrick Hope — say they have their eyes on the statewide races, and have thrown their support behind Democratic nominees Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring, who are running for Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General, respectively. Additionally, in the House, local elected officials see real opportunities to make gains.

Republicans currently hold a 66-34 advantage in the House, but multiple Democrats point to the 17 districts won by Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election as pick-up opportunities.

So instead of having to purely campaign to defend their own seats, they have looked further afield to try and cut into Republicans’ advantage, particularly through fundraising for candidates.

Democrats now have 88 candidates for the House, including incumbents running for re-election. That list includes more women running than men, four LGBT candidates as well as African-Americans and Asian-Americans.

Sullivan, who is the House Democratic Caucus’ campaign chair, launched Project Blue Dominion, a Political Action Committee to help recruit, train and fund candidates across Virginia.

He has sent out regular emails entitled “Flip-a-District Fridays” profiling the new candidates, and the PAC reported to the Virginia Department of Elections that it received $4,296 in contributions through the end of the last filing period on June 30.

“We are very excited about our current position,” Sullivan said. “We have a remarkably diverse group of candidates, some very accomplished candidates. It is the largest group of candidates we’ve had in a long, long time… We are running in parts of the state we haven’t run in in a long time.”

Levine, meanwhile, has been fundraising too in an initiative he has dubbed “Mission 51,” so called because with 51 seats, the Democrats would have the majority in the House. He has held fundraisers for candidates like Donte Tanner for District 40 in Prince William and Fairfax Counties, while funds from his annual house party to watch the fireworks celebrating Alexandria’s birthday in early July also went to the cause.

“This is an exciting year,” Levine said. “I would say in 2015 when I first ran [in District 45], if we had gotten three seats, then I would have been thrilled. This year, if we get only four seats, I’ll be disappointed. That tells you the difference between this year and two years ago. I think high single digits is definitely in range. If we got double digits I’d be ecstatic.”

And Hope said he is focused on helping pick up seats in Northern Virginia, not only through fundraising but also phone banking and canvassing, especially after Labor Day. Hope said he has already been part of several events to help out candidates in Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax Counties, and has more planned in the coming months.

“Northern Virginia does have a lot of pick-up opportunities, so particularly since it’s so close, you can bring in a lot of Arlingtonians going out to knock on doors and people to make phone calls,” Hope said. “It’s an area they can relate much better to, so they’re more likely to focus their attention there. We’ll be transporting a lot of Arlington grassroots people into other places in Northern Virginia, so I’ll be participating in that as well.”

The only local member of the House to face an opponent is Del. Alfonso Lopez (D), as he comes up against Republican Adam Roosevelt.

Lopez too has funneled campaign contributions from his war chest out to other candidates. In April, he hosted his third annual Democratic Party straw poll and raised around $12,500.

“We have been working so long and so hard to recruit excellent candidates all across the commonwealth,” Lopez said at the time. “So we want to be able to support them and make sure they can run the kind of campaigns that are worthy of Virginia and that will really help us take the House back.”

All noted a level of enthusiasm among Democratic-leaning voters they have not seen in some time, something Levine put down to objections to the policies of President Donald Trump’s administration.

“This is our year in a way that I’ve never seen,” Levine said. “I’ve lived in Virginia for more than 16 years now, and I have never seen an election like this one. I can’t claim it’s due to our brilliance or our wonderfulness — I’d like to, and I think we are brilliant and wonderful — but we know it’s the national climate, it’s the president, it’s the shock of losing in 2016. People are coming out of the woodwork.”

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Dems, McMenamin Trade Barbs on I-66, Parks

Multimodal transportation along I-66Democrats say independent County Board candidate Mike McMenamin’s stance on I-66 would ” threaten the quality of our parks.” McMenamin says that his opponents are “purposely distorting his position.”

The latest skirmish involving a County Board candidate started when an automated call from Del. Rip Sullivan (D) started ringing in thousands of Arlington homes Sunday.

Sullivan’s recorded voice ripped into McMenamin for suggesting that he would support adding an extra lane to I-66 within the existing VDOT right of way in Arlington, tying that position into an issue near and dear to many Arlingtonians: parks.

Hi, this is Delegate Rip Sullivan. I have served on a Park Authority and Transportation Commission, and I’ve got an important message for you about the use of parks and green space in Arlington.

Independent-Republican for County Board, Mike McMenamin, supports widening I-66, which would threaten the quality of our parks at Madison Manor, Bon Air, Thrifton Hills, McCoy, and other parklands across the County. It would also threaten the quality of the Custis Trail. To protect parkland throughout Arlington County from development, join me in supporting Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol. If protecting Arlington’s parks and green space is important to you, then vote on Tuesday, November 3rd for the two candidates committed to protecting parks and green space: Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol.

Paid for and authorized by Christian Dorsey for County Board and Katie Cristol for County Board.

McMenamin responded in turn by accusing the Democrats of tying to “hide their weakness on parks.” From a press release:

Mike McMenamin today accused Delegate Rip Sullivan of making an 11th-hour attack purposely distorting his position on I-66.

“It shows that the political establishment in Arlington is worried about losing,” said McMenamin, who is running as an Independent for the County Board.

In a robo-call to thousands of voters on Sunday, the Democratic delegate said that McMenamin’s support for widening the interstate freeway would threaten the quality of various county parks.

McMenamin countered that he would only tolerate widening the highway within the current right of way and no further. Such widening, he said, would not take away any parkland at all.

“My opponents have been unwilling to say that they won’t build affordable housing on parkland, a position they know is unpopular, so they are trying to muddy the waters with these dubious attacks,” McMenamin said. “In fact, I am the only candidate committed to not building on our parks.

The Independent candidate said he is committed to keeping parkland and trails intact. “If any VDOT proposal would negatively affect any parks in Arlington, I think I would be the most effective voice for the neighborhoods.”

“While I don’t like the idea of having to widen 66, I fear the State is inevitably going to do just that,” he said. “After all, VDOT owns the road. So, I have taken the position that Arlington must strike the best deal possible.”

McMenamin also opposes tolls for I-66, saying it will lead to more surface traffic in nearby neighborhoods.

In a press release of their own, Dorsey and Cristol quoted Sullivan again.

“There’s only one candidate in this race whose policy positions would undoubtedly diminish the quality of Arlington’s parks and green space, and that’s Mike McMenamin,” Sullivan said. “Throughout this campaign, Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol have articulated their support and appreciation for Arlington’s parks and green space. Arlington voters are smart, and I’m confident they’ll see right through McMenamin’s false attacks on Dorsey and Cristol when it comes to park space. If Arlington voters want to protect the integrity of our parks, the choice is clear: vote for Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol this Tuesday.”

Voting in the County Board race and other state and local races will take place between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday.

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More Democratic Delegates Needed, Say Candidates for Va. House

Del. Rip Sullivan

In order for Virginia to move forward on issues like medicaid expansion and climate change, more Democrats need to be elected to House of Delegates, said Democratic House of Delegates candidates Del. Patrick Hope, Del. Rip Sullivan and Mark Levine.

The candidates spoke to the Arlington County Democratic Committee last night to announce their candidacy and touch on why they need Democratic support in the upcoming November election.

While all candidates spoke briefly on ideas they felt need attention, such as Medicaid expansion or better mental health care, most of the speeches focused on how Republicans in the House of Delegates were blocking important laws or passing laws that the candidates said would be dangerous for Virginia.

“Let’s call it for what it is. Republicans are killing their constituents,” said Hope, who is running for the 47th District seat. “They are killing their constituents by not expanding healthcare insurance to them. We know that’s a fact that people die when they don’t have health insurance. They’re killing them by pushing coal.”

Hope will face Independent Green candidate Janet Murphy in the Nov. 3 general election.

Republicans have refused to allow any conversation about Medicaid expansion in the General Assembly, Sullivan said.

“They’re not going to start talking about it, as my friend Patrick Hope has said before, until they start losing elections over this issue,” he said. “And we need to have some of them lose elections over this medicaid issue.”

Sullivan, who is running unopposed for the 48th District seat, warned that Republicans were also very close to passing “dangerous” legislation last year. He cited a proposed bill that would legalize switchblades, ninja stars and spring-loaded weapons that he said “flew” through House committees. He said the bill would have passed the House of Delegates, but Republican majority reversed their opinions, a move he attributed to it being a reelection year.

In order to get more Democrats elected, the three candidates plan to talk to Virginia residents in areas that elect Republicans. Levine, who is thus far running unopposed for the 45th District, announced that he would be making a trip around Virginia to talk to residents and boost Democratic candidates.

“We’ve got to elect more Democrats, not just in Arlington, but in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” he said.

Levine recently argued for more gun control at conservative conference in Denver, Colorado and said that he was able to convince some National Rifle Administration members to think about stricter gun regulations, such as better background checks. If elected, Levine said he also wants to start talking about mental health, education and jail time for drug users.

“We put too many people in jail. I don’t think non-violent drug users should go to jail,” he said.

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Fallon Picks Up Two Endorsements

Peter FallonArlington County Board candidate Peter Fallon has picked up two key endorsements in his bid for County Board.

Two Democratic state legislators who represent parts of north Arlington, Dels. Rip Sullivan and Patrick Hope, have endorsed Fallon, who’s seeking the Democratic nomination in the June 9 Democratic primary.

Fallon placed a distant third in last year’s County Board primary, picking up 18 percent of the vote compared to 52 percent for Democratic nominee Alan Howze and 30 percent for Cord Thomas. Neither Howze nor Thomas are running this year.

In an election cycle notable for a slate of younger candidates calling for change, Sullivan and Hope both cite Fallon’s long track record of community involvement, including his recent service on the Arlington Planning Commission, as a reason to vote for him.

“Peter Fallon lives and breathes Arlington,” Sullivan said, in a statement. “He has a record of deep commitment and significant contribution to the Arlington community. A long track record of community involvement and leadership. He’ll make a terrific addition to the County Board.”

“Arlington is losing a lot of experience on the County Board this year,” said Hope. “Peter Fallon has the planning expertise that the Board will need. He knows this community well, and that’s why I support Peter’s campaign and strongly encourage Arlington voters to give him one of their two votes for County Board this year.”

Hope has also endorsed Christian Dorsey in the race. Two County Board seats are open this year due to the impending retirement of Board members Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada.

State Sen. Barbara Favola, who endorsed Fallon in 2014 and is quoted on his campaign website, said today via Twitter that she is “giving all 5 candidates for Arlington County Board a chance to present themselves [to] voters” before making any endorsements.

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Arlington Delegate Takes Aim at Gerrymandering

Rip Sullivan celebrates 48th District victory at O'Sullivan's in ClarendonDel. Rip Sullivan (D) has already filed 16 pieces of legislation, and his first session in the Virginia General Assembly is just hours old.

One of his biggest priorities after being elected in August to replace Del. Bob Brink (D) will be reforming the process by which Virginia draws its districts for both state and federal legislatures. Sullivan’s legislation, HB1485, would follow through on recommendations made by a state government integrity panel last month.

Although a long-shot in the Republican-controlled Virginia General Assembly, Sullivan’s bill calls for redistricting to become a nonpartisan process.

Every 10 years, after a new U.S. Census, state legislatures redraw their district maps to align with the population changes. Often, these districts are drawn in a way to include certain blocks of voters with one another in order to gain seats in Congress or the General Assembly. The problems are not unique to Virginia, but they might be worse here.

In October, a three-judge federal court ruled that Virginia would have to redraw its congressional map after it ruled it was drawn to include too many black voters into Virginia’s 3rd District.. The court gave the state until April 1, 2015 to redraw its map, but the case has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sullivan and state Democrats think a nonpartisan panel would make redistricting fairer.

“This legislation will go a long way toward creating legislative districts that are truly compact, contiguous and respect political subdivision boundaries,” Sullivan said. “By reducing the role of politics, we will establish a redistricting process that is fair, transparent, and takes into account the interests of the citizens of the Commonwealth. Voters should choose their legislators, not the other way around.”

Sullivan’s legislation appears unlikely to pass; after the state’s panel — co-chaired by former Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling — ruled the process should be changed, House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell told the Washington Post through a spokesman that he would resist redistricting reform.

Nonetheless Sullivan thinks that Republicans, who have a vast majority in the House and a one-seat majority in the state Senate, may come around to his ideas yet.

I’d like to think people come down to vote for what’s best for Virginia rather than what’s best for themselves,” he said just hour before his first regular session. He said he senses “real traction” from some Republicans on the measure. “The fact that redistricting affects my [district’s] lines ought to be way down the list of concerns for someone down here.”

If the Supreme Court decides to overturn the lower court’s decision, Virginia’s electoral map would be redrawn in 2021, after the next census. A statewide organization called One Virginia 2021, which claims to have members from across the political spectrum, has endorsed Sullivan’s legislation.

“Delegate Sullivan’s legislation takes a major step toward ending gerrymandering  in the Commonwealth,” Greg Lucyk, the president of One Virginia 2021, said in a press release last week. “Gerrymandering eliminates competition in elections, increases voter apathy, and promotes polarization and gridlock.”

If passed, the bill would prevent the use of election data in redistricting, except to ensure “racial or ethnic minorities can elect candidates of their choice.” It would create a nonpartisan panel to look at population size, makeup and communities of interest when redrawing the maps.

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Favola, Sullivan Introduce Campus Sexual Assault Bills

State Senator Barbara Favola at Arlington Democrats 2011 election victory partyThe 2015 session of the Virginia General Assembly official begins at noon today, and a pair of Arlington lawmakers are using the session to try to protect victims of sexual assault on college campuses.

Del. Rip Sullivan (D), in his first regular session in the General Assembly after being chosen in a special election to replace now-retired Del. Bob Brink, has already filed a bill aimed to help campus sex assault victims. HB1508 would require college campuses to have a memorandum of understanding with “a local sexual assault crisis center” to allow those reporting sexual assault to be able to take their claims off campus.

State Sen. Barbara Favola (D) is co-patron of a bill in the senate, along with two Loudoun senators, Sens. Jennifer Wexton (D) and Jill Vogel (R). Favola said that despite Rolling Stone magazine retracting its story detailing a gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house, she’s still concerned about university responses to reports of sexual crimes on their campuses.

The Rolling Stone article gave me great concern, even though I know there were questions on whether it happened,” she told ARLnow.com this morning. “The point is this is a pretty serious problem on college campuses… We wanted to empower victims to come forward and report.”

The bills would allow victims to make anonymous reports if they do not want to officially report an assault, and it would provide amnesty to students who are worried that the circumstances under which they were assaulted could jeopardize their academic standing — for example, if a 19-year-old student was raped while drinking underage.

“My bill shouldn’t be a burden” for colleges that have stringent sexual assault policies already on the books, she said, “but for the colleges and universities have not been as aggressive with this, this bill will actually be able to enforce a zero-tolerance for sexual assault policy.”

With Vogel as a co-sponsor, Favola and Sullivan hope the bills can draw votes from the Republican side of the aisle — a requirement if either were to get passed by the Republican-controlled houses in the state legislature.

“I hope this bill with Sen. Favola is one that will receive bipartisan support in this environment,” Sullivan said. “There is a lot of attention paid to the hot-button issues in which there can be disagreement and things turn into partisan wrangling, but a lot of good law is, as I understand it, made every session on a bipartisan basis that doesn’t attract much attention.”

File photo

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