Schools and colleges, transportation woes and complaints of unfair treatment out of Richmond took center stage Wednesday evening at a forum for state lawmakers and their political challengers at the Robinson Legislative Forum.
Candidates for the Braddock District Supervisor race and Sheriff Stan Barry also appeared at the debate, held before a crowd of several hundred people – including many students fulfilling a school civics requirement – at Robinson Secondary School.
On education, 37th House District Del. David Bulova, a Democrat representing portions of Fairfax Station, Fairfax City and Centreville, praised the merits of accountability but accused mandates such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as destroying the “joy of learning” and “teaching to the test” to the detriment of subjects such as music and arts.
Libertarian Michael Kane, candidate for 41st District delegate challenging Democrat incumbent Eileen Filler-Corn, said he supported school vouchers that give parents a greater say in their child’s education.
“I don’t feel that the Richmond government … should be putting one-size-fits-all mandates on a localized issue such as our public schools,” Kane said. “So, with a voucher system, everybody would be able to send their children where they like, and then the parents can make the decision, not the government.”
40th District Del. Timothy Hugo, a Republican, said he supported more spots for in-state students at Virginia’s public universities, possibly opting out of NCLB.
Brian Schoeneman, Republican candidate for the 37th District, spoke out against so-called “zero-tolerance” policies at local schools. “I think any policy that we have anywhere that means zero-tolerance really means zero common sense,” he said.
On gun control, Bulova argued what he called a gun show loophole should be closed. “We need to make sure that we keep those guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t legally have them,” he said.
41st District Del. Eileen Filler-Corn said she supports the Second Amendment but added: “The right to bear arms does not mean that it’s the right to carry a weapon anywhere, whatsoever, at any time. And I believe in that. I believe we need to have reasonable restrictions on access to weapons on people who shouldn’t have them.”
Kane told the crowd he did not believe in any type of gun control measures and viewed them as an infringement of individual rights. “Criminals will still continue to get guns, regardless,” he said. Kane also said that the Virginia Tech shootings could have been averted if students had been allowed to carry guns on campus.
Hugo said he supported mental health checks for gun purposes.
When asked about the environment, Kane stressed that the way to preserve the environment was to strengthen private property rights, while Dianne Blais, an independent candidate for the 40th District house of delegates seat, encouraged individual conservation activities, such as using mass transit and walking or riding buses, and utilizing solar energy. Hugo plugged mass transit but said he saw a greater opportunity in a new generation of telecommuters that would reduce commuter traffic.
Kane also said he supports the full legalization of marijuana, drawing cheers from the crowd.
Sen. Chap Petersen of the 34th District advocated restoring funding to higher education, albeit in a way that would maximize dollars. George Barker, a Democrat running in the 39th District, noted that state colleges and universities have not increased capacity alongside rising enrollment numbers. Dave Marsden, Democrat for the 37th District, noted that a new college in the Danville-Martinsville area was being built that would increase capacity and also create jobs.
Republican challenger Miller Baker, running against Barker, said he supported laws to require state colleges admit more in-state students and to tie tuition increases to the inflation rate. A surrogate for Gerarda Culipher, a Republican running in the 34th District, said Northern Virginia students were discriminated against in admission to state colleges and called for geographically-blind admission. Both she and Baker called for greater scrutiny over college and university finances.
On an environment question, Miller Baker said he remained undecided about proposed uranium mining in Southwest Virginia, saying a balance must be struck between the environment and economic development. Mardsen decried spreading fertilizer on sidewalks and streets, leading to nitrogen run-off into waterways, while George Barker highlighted the potential to generate wind energy off of Virginia Beach.
Petersen said, at times, government needs to step in to enforce environmental regulations to ensure public safety. “One, you’ve got to treat everyone equally,” he said. “And two, you can’t be afraid to step up to people when they do something wrong.”
The debate also touched on candidates’ opinions on the state law mandating that school cannot start until after Labor Day. Petersen spoke against the law, and Culipher’s surrogate maintained that local school boards should determine when the school year starts.
Responding to a question about whether Northern Virginia receives less tax dollars from the state than it provides, Barker complained that the state has not kept up with the region’s road maintenance and population growth. Peterson advocated changing the structure of the Commonwealth Transportation Board to better reflect Northern Virginia interests, while Mardsen suggested moving more state functions to a local level. Culipher’s surrogate chimed in, advocating more local control over local dollars.
Braddock District Candidates, Sheriff Speak
Candidates for Braddock District supervisor also weighed in on various subjects, including transportation. Democrat Janet Oleszek spoke in favor of modifying school start times to reduce school bus traffic during the morning rush hour, with secondary schools starting at 9 a.m.
“Biologically, you guys need to be in bed (before) that hour,” she told high school students.
Incumbent Supervisor John Cook, a Republican, retorted that only the school board, not the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, has the legal authority to change school hours and suggested alternate improvements to reduce traffic congestion on Braddock Road.
Independent candidate Carey Campbell promoted Capital Bikeshare, trains and light rail to ease congestion. “We cannot pave our way out of this mess,” he said. And later: “Rams for rail!” he cheered, a nod to the school’s mascot.
Incumbent Democratic Sheriff Stan Barry, whose rival was not at the debate, stressed reducing recidivism and promoting rehabilitation among inmates as crucial tools in combating crime in Fairfax County.
“Ninety-five percent of the people (in jail) are coming back into the community within one year,” Barry said. “So our job is to put them on the straight path and keep them from committing crime again.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a quote to Tim Hugo. Hugo said that he he supported mental health checks for gun purposes. Kane said that the Virginia Tech shootings could have been averted if students had been allowed to carry guns on campus.