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Arlington Hopes to Hire Six Workers to Manage Medicaid Expansion Changes

Arlington officials expect as many as 3,000 more people will be able to earn health insurance through the Medicaid expansion passed by state lawmakers this year — and now the county needs new staffers to sort through the paperwork.

The County Board could soon accept just over $277,000 in state funds to hire six new workers to process Medicaid eligibility applications, anticipating that Arlington will see up to 7,000 requests for coverage through the program when changes officially take effect next year.

The General Assembly approved the expansion this spring, after Democrats’ sweeping gains in the legislature set the stage for a compromise on an issue that had long roiled state politics. Now, Arlington and other localities around the state are preparing for an influx of applications from low-income and disabled workers looking to earn healthcare coverage under the program for the first time.

Starting Jan. 1, 2019, Medicaid benefits will be available for childless, able-bodied adults for the first time, so long as they earn no more than $16,754 a year. The income cap will be raised to the same level for adults with disabilities, up from $9,700 a year, while income limits will also be bumped up for families with anywhere from three to eight children.

Under those new standards, county officials project at least 2,904 additional people in Arlington will be eligible for the program, and staff fully expects that evaluating the incoming flow of applications will overwhelm county workers.

While income is one measure Medicaid officials will examine in determining if someone is eligible for benefits, the program will also require many recipients to hold down a job — Republicans insisted on including the work requirements as a condition for approving the plan, though it will likely entail complex reporting requirements.

Accordingly, hiring six new staffers would help the county better distribute work among its employees and “contribute to reducing the error rate and processing time for application and recertification processing,” staff wrote in a report prepared for the Board.

In all, the county expects to spend about $527,000 annually to afford those staffers moving forward, with the state covering just over half that amount. Staff are hoping to pay for the remaining $249,000 or so with its own money, then evaluate in future budget years if the county needs to maintain those positions.

The Board is set to sign off on the new hires at its meeting Saturday (Sept. 22).

Photo via Arlington County

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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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ABC Officials, Lawmakers Pitch Reforms to Arlington Businesses

Virginia lawmakers are considering loosening some state alcohol regulations in the coming months — and that could be good news for Arlington’s bars and restaurants.

The General Assembly is weighing a bevy of changes to how the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control authority, commonly known as the ABC, hands out licenses and permits to better match the ever-evolving beverage business.

Changes could include a big reduction in the types of permits the ABC hands out, or perhaps even a change in regulations dictating how much food businesses need to sell if they’re also offering liquor. All that and more were tweaks offered up by ABC officials and state lawmakers to local business owners at a gathering hosted by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce Thursday (Aug. 16), as part of a bid to connect the business community to its regulators.

“We’re trying to look for a concept that does free up the market a little bit, without getting to the point that we have bars on every corner,” said Tom Kirby, ABC’s acting chief of law enforcement.

A particularly popular option offered up by Kirby and his colleagues: somehow adjusting ABC’s current requirement that businesses maintain a 45 percent to 55 percent split between food and mixed drink sales. Beer and wine sales are exempted from that requirement, yet some bars and restaurants still find themselves challenged by that standard.

Freddie Lutz, owner of Freddie’s Beach Bar in Crystal City, recounted that he’s had several slow winters where he’s bumped up against those limits, largely thanks to competition from bars in D.C. and Maryland. Accordingly, he’d be quite happy indeed to see those limits change, particularly as he prepares to open another restaurant in Crystal City.

“I just want to see that ratio tweaked just enough to not get gray hair over it,” Lutz said.

To that end, Kirby said his agency could work with lawmakers to bump the food standard down to 35 percent of gross sales, or even offer exemptions at certain levels of sales.

State Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-29th District, currently sits on a subcommittee examining ABC issues, which he says is weighing even more targeted fixes. For instance, lawmakers could measure how much liquor bars sell by volume to determine a balance between food and drink, instead of looking at the dollar amount of sales.

The goal of the limit in the first place is, after all, to prevent bar patrons from being overserved.

“What if you have a higher-priced shot that costs like $150?” McPike said. “Think about how much you need to sell to make up for that.”

ABC officials stressed that such a change would in the agency’s interest as well — Chris Curtis, secretary to the ABC’s board, noted its employees spend roughly “10,400 man hours” each year monitoring whether restaurants are complying with the food-drink split.

“But I’m sure that pales in comparison to the amount of time you all have to spend sending us this information,” Curtis said.

Another possible change the ABC could consider is issuing a new type of permit to let bar patrons bring their beverages outside into a common area shared by multiple businesses. McPike suggested that local governments, or even business improvement districts, could manage the process, allowing for more events drawing in a variety of restaurants in a small area.

Kate Bates, the chamber’s president and CEO, noted that Rosslyn businesses have long hoped to offer events pulling in all the neighborhood’s different bars, but have run into challenges letting people easily move between different establishments if they’re too far away from each.

Similarly, Cassie Hurley, events manager for the Crystal City BID, suggested that her group “would love to do something similar to 6th Street in Austin, [Texas] on 23rd Street” to let people bring their drinks into stores along the small strip.

Kirby says ABC is receptive to the idea, though he did caution that inevitably there will be enforcement issues to consider, considering that revelers could easily get carried away and leave the permitted boundaries for such activities.

Complicating matters further are the political realities of Richmond — the needs of Northern Virginia businesses are quite different from those in Southwest Virginia, where, as McPike pointed out, there are still some dry counties left.

Progress could certainly be slow in some areas, as lawmakers will only meet for a short legislative session next year with more elections on the way. And, as Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-30th District, noted “it’s rare that we rewrite whole code sections all at the same time.”

But Kirby underscored that ABC is willing to work with lawmakers to ensure everyone is a bit more satisfied with the entire regulatory framework.

“There is a lot of agreement that we need to do something differently,” Kirby said.

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Northam Pledges to Revive Tax Increases to Fund Metro, Send Transportation Money Back to Arlington

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) says he’ll renew his push for a set of Northern Virginia tax increases to fund Metro next year, a move that could help Arlington win back some critical transportation dollars.

Republicans in the General Assembly narrowly defeated Northam’s efforts to add the tax hikes to legislation providing the first source of dedicated funding for the rail service earlier this year.

The tax increases would’ve been relatively modest, bumping up levies on real estate transactions and some hotel stays, but they could’ve helped the state avoid pulling roughly $80 million in annual funding away from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. The group uses regional tax revenue to fund transportation improvements across Northern Virginia, and the NVTA has already had to scale back its plans to help Arlington pay for construction projects like second entrances at the Ballston and Crystal City Metro stations.

That’s why Northam says he plans to propose the tax hikes once again when lawmakers reconvene in Richmond in January, setting up another tussle over the issue several months ahead of an election where all 140 state legislators will be on the ballot.

“We’ve got to be so careful pulling resources out of the [NVTA],” Northam told ARLnow in a brief interview in Rosslyn. “It threatens other projects we were working on. It also makes Northern Virginia compete with other parts of Virginia. It was a bad idea, and that’s why I amended [the original bill]. We’re going to continue to work on that.”

There’s no guarantee that Northam’s second effort will be any more successful than his first, however. Republicans still hold a slim, 51-49 majority in the House of Delegates where GOP leaders, particularly Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th District), have pledged to beat back any tax increase to fund Metro.

But Democrats are eager to take up the fight once again, especially with other contentious issues, like Medicaid expansion or the freeze on state utility rates, off the table.

“It’s worth coming back and doing this right,” said Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District). “The way we funded this thing was clearly shortsighted.”

Neither Hugo nor a spokesman for House Speaker Kirk Cox responded to a request for comment on Northam’s Metro plans. But Hope believes Republican lawmakers, particularly those outside of Northern Virginia, will come around on the tax hikes as they begin to feel the impacts of the funding deal’s structure.

Specifically, he points out that without seeing all the money they’d like from the NVTA, Northern Virginia localities like Arlington have already started applying for more funds from statewide entities. That will put Northern Virginia projects in competition with applications from cities and counties without the same level of traffic congestion as the D.C. region, meaning places like Arlington could end up winning out in plenty of cases.

“Everyone else is going to get less money,” Hope said. “Nobody likes to be stuck in traffic and nobody wants to get blamed for causing that.”

County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey points out that applications for the state’s “SmartScale” transportation funding program have already “more than doubled” this year, with counties like Arlington on the hunt for more construction dollars. He expects that will only continue as time goes on, and he was similarly pleased by Northam’s plans to bring the tax increases back.

“It wouldn’t just relieve the funding pressures on us, but everyone else,” Dorsey said. “The way Metro funding was accomplished this year ends up hurting the entire state.”

In the meantime, however, Dorsey notes that the county can’t assume that Northam’s efforts will be successful.

As the Board has started work this summer on its latest revision of Arlington’s 10-year construction spending plan, county staff have repeatedly expressed hope that the Metro funding equation changes and opens up more room for spending on big transportation projects. But without any certainty on that count, they have to prepare as if things will remain the same.

“Hopefully, this is something we can correct in two years,” Dorsey said. “But we can’t know for sure.”

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State Lawmakers Urge Arlington’s Top Prosecutor to Reform Cash Bail System

A group of state lawmakers is urging Arlington’s top prosecutor to reform the county’s cash bail bond system — but Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos thinks they’re barking up the wrong tree.

Each one of the three state senators and four state delegates representing Arlington in Richmond, not to mention two lawmakers from nearby Falls Church, sent a letter on the subject to Stamos last Thursday (June 21).

Echoing efforts by criminal justice reform advocates around the country, the lawmakers argued that requiring people to post a cash bond to earn their freedom contributes to the “disproportionate incarceration of low-income individuals and people of color.” They’d rather see Stamos adopt a system for pretrial release “based more on the severity of the crime and the defendant’s perceived public safety and flight risk, rather than the ability to pay.”

“The current system of cash bail is broken in that it conditions the pretrial release of individuals on the ability to pay, violating the principle of the presumption of innocence that is foundational to our criminal justice system,” the lawmakers wrote.

Stamos says she’s joined some of her colleagues around the state in examining such a policy change, but, fundamentally, she feels this “was a rather silly letter to send me.”

“I think the letter is misguided on a number of levels,” Stamos told ARLnow. “If these members of the General Assembly have a problem with cash bail, they should change the law. It’s perfectly within their power to do so.”

Stamos says prosecutors in her office regularly recommend releasing people on “personal recognizance bonds,” giving them the chance to go free before trial with paying. However, Stamos feels bound by state law, which obligates prosecutors to evaluate if someone charged with a crime “is a flight risk or a threat to the community” when assigning a cash bond.

“I understand the considerations around cash bail, but the countervailing considerations are: who is being held and why are they being held?” Stamos said. “Do they have a prior criminal history? Are they a flight risk? Many of our defendants are from D.C. or Maryland, and we don’t have the resources to be extraditing everyone.”

Yet the lawmakers argue in their letter that other jurisdictions have seen success with such a policy change, noting that prosecutors in Richmond agreed to end cash bail earlier this year.

They point out that most low-income people can’t afford to post a sizable cash bond, which often “translates to weeks of missed income, employment or education before ever having been convicted of a crime.” The lawmakers add that holding so many people before their trials start can be costly for the county — they estimate Arlington pays as much as $182 per day for each person it holds in jail, while other methods of pretrial monitoring can cost as little as $7 each day.

Stamos agrees that there could be “some adjustments we can make” to the process, but she also urged the lawmakers to consider the impact of a policy change for everyone involved in each court proceeding.

“There is a cost as well for witnesses or victims of crime who come to court and the defendant doesn’t show up,” Stamos said.

Most of all, however, Stamos is confused why the lawmakers chose to fire off a letter to her on the issue, rather than working with her a bit more directly.

“Not one of my good colleagues in the General Assembly have one time picked up the phone about this,” Stamos said. “This is news to me that this is a big concern of theirs. Not one has asked me about my position.”

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Morning Notes

State Budget With Medicaid Expansion Passes — “After months of inaction, Virginia’s General Assembly passed a budget Wednesday that expands Medicaid to around 300,000 low-income Virginians. The House voted 67-31 Wednesday night to send the two-year budget bill to the governor, and 68-30 to send the ‘caboose’ bill to the governor that the Senate approved earlier in the day.” [WTOP, Richmond Times-Dispatch]

County Auditor Gearing Up for New Projects — “Arlington County Board members and the general public soon will be able to see what topics the government’s internal auditor plans to study over the coming year.” [InsideNova]

Citizen’s Police Academy Accepting Applications — “The Arlington County Police Department is now accepting applications for the fall Citizen’s Police Academy. The 22nd Citizen’s Police Academy will begin on Thursday, September 6, 2018. The Academy will consist of 12 sessions that meet on Thursdays from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at police headquarters located at 1425 North Courthouse Road, Arlington, Virginia.” [Arlington County]

Journalist Death Hoax Has Arlington Tie — The staged death of journalist and Vladimir Putin foe Arkady Babchenko has a local connection, revolving around a photo that supposedly showed Babchenko shot to death in his Ukraine apartment: “Yevhen Lauer, the reporter who published the photo… has worked for various Ukrainian media outlets in the past [and] more recently been affiliated with Trident Group LLC… based in the Washington suburb of Arlington.” [RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, Twitter (Caution: Graphic and NSFW)]

Nearby: Unique Show at State Theatre — The State Theatre in Falls Church is hosting a Joss Whedon-themed burlesque show Friday. It will feature a puppet playing the role of Whedon, a writer and director of cult TV shows and films, as well as burlesque performers from as far away as Dallas. [State Theatre, Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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Lopez Announces Formation of Virginia Latino Caucus in General Assembly

Del. Alfonso Lopez (D) announced last week the formation of the Virginia Latino Caucus in the General Assembly.

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.

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Roosevelt and Lopez Clash on Medicaid Expansion, Agree on Immigration at Forum

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.

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In Re-Election Bid, Alfonso Lopez Hopes to Keep Advocating For Constituents

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.”

Lopez is the only Arlington member of the House of Delegates facing a challenge this November, against Republican Adam Roosevelt.

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.

Lopez said one of his main priorities is to ensure Virginia is welcoming to immigrants, even amid some heated rhetoric and actions from some in both Washington and the General Assembly.

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.

The office had been slated to move to Falls Church, but Lopez held a community meeting in Arlington and through negotiations with the DMV and building owner helped resolve the issue.

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.”

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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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With House of Delegates Run, Army Vet Hopes to Continue Service to Country

Political newcomer Adam Roosevelt said he knew at the age of 13 years old that he wanted to run for the Virginia House of Delegates.

He grew up in Norfolk, Va., in what he described as a “ghetto” neighborhood that struggled with gangs and poverty.

But at 13, he was inspired after meeting a local woman named Mrs. Bell, who spent her life donating money to the needy and taking trips to Africa to feed the hungry.

The 25-year-old began by serving in the U.S. Army, which included two tours in Afghanistan and a stint at NATO. He filed to run for the 49th District of the House of Delegates earlier this year on a platform he calls “Let’s Secure Virginia,” focusing on education, transportation, small business and veterans’ affairs.

The Pentagon City resident faces the task of trying to unseat Del. Alfonso Lopez (D), a three-term incumbent who also serves as Minority Whip for the Democratic caucus. The district includes neighborhoods along Columbia Pike and near the Pentagon, as well as parts of Bailey’s Crossroads and Seven Corners in Fairfax County.

If elected, Roosevelt said one of his major priorities would be improving education in the district. With a focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), as well as encouraging more students to study medicine, he said he wants to help young people be competitive in the job market.

And to help do that, Roosevelt said he would be open to adding more charter schools and vouchers, which would provide government money redeemable for tuition fees at a non-public school. He said the growth of such schools helps encourage competition.

“It forces our teachers to have to get more certifications and get more education, and we’re going to start providing a system there that by competitive nature allows for higher quality and it allows our parents to have the opportunity to say, ‘I want my son to go to that school, I like the curriculum, that school’s doing very well,'” Roosevelt said. “It forces the other schools to compete now, and I think that’s healthy.”

Roosevelt now works as a contractor in cybersecurity and intelligence for the Department of Homeland Security. He said that helping small businesses grow is another priority, by reducing the corporate tax rate from 6 percent to 4 percent for small businesses and working with Arlington County to make the Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) tax less burdensome.

Also on Roosevelt’s agenda is improving transportation, which he said should be invested in wisely, and be made as reliable as possible.

“I’m big on cutting down on waste, fraud and abuse,” Roosevelt said. “Our contracting processes are causing us to purchase things that are too much money, like $1 million for a bus stop. We could have bought a few bus stops, we could have had three full-time employees under a small business and we could have had some more labor there.”

Still a U.S. Army Reservist, Roosevelt said he wants to ensure returning service personnel and their families are well taken care of. That would include more education for military spouses, as well as helping ease those who have served into civilian life with job training and opportunities.

“I want to expand the portfolio of education for our spouses that are staying behind, and I want to give them a path to success while their husbands or wives are away,” Roosevelt said. “And when the husband or wife returns homes, I want them to feel like Virginia is home for them and they are received by a community that has programs there to help them back and reintegrate into normal life.”

Lopez has a big fundraising advantage, with nearly than $25,000 on hand at the end of the latest filing period, compared to just over $1,000 for Roosevelt.

Arlington GOP chair Jim Presswood said that while the odds may be long for the only local Republican candidate on the ballot this fall, Roosevelt’s energy and ability to sell his agenda to voters will matter more than money.

“I think if you have a candidate who is energetic, who is out there, who is going to be knocking on a lot of doors and talking to a lot of people, I think money makes less of a difference,” Presswood said.

Roosevelt said if elected, he would be determined to fight for issues that concern his constituents, and even rail against party leadership in Richmond to pursue those goals.

“It has to be a bipartisan focus,” he said. “So what [voters] can expect from me is to champion their voices to the General Assembly, and if need be, I will take on any party for that matter if they stand in the way of the people. This is not about a political party. This is about a community of people who need hope and need help and they need it now.”

Editor’s note: a piece on Lopez’s re-election campaign will follow in the coming weeks.

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Residents Report Misleading Get-Out-The-Vote Texts Days Before Primaries

(Updated 5:55 p.m.) With statewide primary elections just days away, late last week numerous local residents reported receiving text messages encouraging them to vote, but with incorrect information including their name and polling place.

Multiple readers reported receiving texts this weekend from a group identifying itself as “NextGen Virginia.” The texts use what they say is publicly available information on voters’ names, addresses and polling place, and reminds them to vote on Tuesday in the primary elections for Governor and Lt. Governor.

But for many, the information was incorrect.

Some, who live in the Fairlington area, were to vote at Abingdon Elementary School, which is under construction and so not a designated polling place this year. More received texts intended for someone else, sometimes containing that individual’s address; one, for instance, was sent to the mobile phone number of the intended recipient’s sister.

Linda Lindberg, the county’s director of elections, said she had no details on the group involved but said voters should check all their information before going to the polls. The county has been tweaking its precincts and voting locations since last year, when two new voting districts were added.

“We encourage all voters to check their voting locations at vote.virginia.gov before they go to the polls,” Lindberg said. “This is especially important because we’re had some changes since the last election. All affected voters were sent notices in April, but some may have overlooked the notices.”

A representative of the state chapter of NextGen Climate, which advocates for political action to prevent what it calls “climate disaster,” said it has been sending text messages to potential voters, and may have received incorrect data to help it do so.

“NextGen volunteers are sending text messages to a list of young people from numbers we get from a reputable political data firm,” a NextGen spokeswoman said. “No list is perfect, which may occasionally lead to people getting text messages intended for other people. Our text messages inform people that if they live at the address that we assume they live at based on publicly available data, then they vote at a particular voting location. Again, this is based on the best publicly available election data.

“Our goal is to increase turnout in the gubernatorial primaries, and we believe text messages will help us do that. Texting can provide the electorate with critical information on how to participate in the voting process.”

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Moran Weighs in on Cantor Primary Loss

Rep. Jim Moran at Don Beyer victory party in Alexandria(Updated at 3:05 p.m.) House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) lost a primary challenge last night to David Brat, a professor at Randolph-Macon College.

The result stunned the political world, as did Brat’s convincing margin of victory: 56 to 44 percent.

The D.C. punditocracy, trying to comprehend Cantor’s unprecedented loss, floated a number of theories: conservative voters were upset with Cantor about possible immigration reform, talk radio hosts endorsed Brat, Brat captured the anti-establishment Tea Party vote, Democrats voted in the open primary to spite Cantor, etc.

It has also been suggested that Cantor spent too much time in D.C. and not enough time in his Richmond-area district. Cantor maintains a condominium in Arlington, near Pentagon City, public records show.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), speaking to ARLnow.com outside of Don Beyer’s victory party in Alexandria, said he had just seen Cantor on the House floor earlier that day and was “shocked” that he was voted out of office, presumably by the same conservative voters that Cantor had tried so hard to court over the years.

“Compared to this guy Brat, Eric was so much more competent, informed, and showed leadership in his party,” Moran said. “I disagree with his positions but between the two of them he was by far the more accomplished, capable statesman.”

Moran marveled at the irony that someone regarded as a “young gun” conservative leader was apparently considered not conservative enough by Republican voters.

“He was very conservative,” Moran said. “If you’re conservative, he’s the guy you should have voted for, not some guy to doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Eric is very much anti-immigration… I was bitterly opposed to his position. But the idea of voting against him because he wasn’t sufficiently anti-immigration is nonsense.”

In a press release Wednesday morning, the Democratic polling group Public Policy Polling claimed voters in Cantor’s district actually support immigration reform, but were unhappy with Cantor and with the GOP leadership in the House.

“Both Cantor and the GOP House leadership are deeply unpopular, even with Republican voters, and that likely led to his loss,” Public Policy Polling concluded, based on a poll conducted Tuesday night.

“I think the fringe of the Republican Party is taking over the party,” Moran said. “The Republican Party has lost control, it has a tiger by the tail and it can’t rein it in. It’s bought in to the Fox News and the hate radio stuff and now it’s out of control. You need some government, and yet these people want no government. “

Moran said redistricting in Virginia might have hurt Cantor.

“When you gerrymander a district so you only put conservatives in there, you don’t get a balanced district and this is what you get,” he said. “I think a more moderate district, it turns out, probably would have been in his favor. But Eric didn’t want a moderate district, he wanted as much concentration of conservatives as possible, and this is what he wound up with.”

Despite the fact that the news about Cantor was a couple of hours old, Moran, who is retiring after 12 terms in the House, was still battling disbelief.

“Wow, isn’t that something,” he reflected.

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Rousselot Vies for State Democratic Leadership

Update on 12/5 — Brian Moran won the voting and will be the next chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia.

Peter Rousselot, who wrapped up a four year term as the chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee earlier this year, is hoping that fellow Dems choose him to lead the state Democratic party. Members of the party’s Central Committee will choose the next state party chairman by a vote at a meeting in Newport News on Saturday.

But Rousselot has formidable competition in the form of Brian Moran, brother of Rep. Jim Moran.

Moran, a top lobbyist for the for-profit college industry, is benefiting from his family pedigree, his 13 years in the Virginia House of Delegates and a long list of key endorsements. Rousselot, fighting an uphill battle, cites the work he’s done for the party in Arlington and the full-time commitment he’d be able to give to the job of chair.

“If you elect me as DPVA Chair, I pledge to serve out the entirety of my term, devoting myself full-time to my role until May 2013,” Rousselot said in an email to committee members. Moran, on the other hand, would likely keep his day job.

Rousselot says the party should contest all 140 Virginia Senate and House of Delegates seats, rather than “targeting” a portion of the seats. Moran has a similar message. Both men say the party should develop a stronger communication strategy for statewide races.

Rousselot says he’s confident heading into Saturday’s vote, but is not making any predictions regarding his chances of winning.

“My opponent, Brian Moran, got a several-week head start before I entered the race, and is being publicly supported by several big names in the Democratic Party,” Rousselot said in an email. “However, I believe that my candidacy has defined the agenda for the future of DPVA and has also picked up substantial support.”

Rousselot’s candidacy has gotten a bit of a boost from local political blogger Ben Tribbett.

Tribbett has posted a number of articles on his Not Larry Sabato blog questioning Moran’s seemingly prodigious fundraising ability and predicting that he would push to replace the 2012 statewide Democratic primary in Virginia with a insiders-only party convention.

It’s yet to be seen whether Tribbett’s blog, while widely read by state political-types, will be able to change the minds of any committee members on Saturday. Moran is heavily favored to win the vote.

Update at 4:05 p.m. — Locally-run politics blog Blue Virginia has also run some not-so-flattering posts about Moran, including this one calling him an “Anti-Obama lobbyist.”

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