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Views on the state's transportation funding plan did not follow strict party lines.
MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
A standing room crowd of 130 people attended a House of Delegates forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County in the Blacksburg town council chambers on Thursday evening.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
BLACKSBURG — The candidates in two New River Valley House of Delegates districts traded views on a wide range of policy issues at a Blacksburg forum Thursday night, and not all of their differences broke along party lines.
Two incumbent Republicans, Nick Rush of Christiansburg and Joseph Yost of Pearisburg , explained how they came down on opposite sides of the landmark transportation funding bill the General Assembly passed earlier this year. Their Democratic challengers, Blacksburg residents Michael Abraham and James Harder, also disagreed with each other on the issue.
The candidates also responded to questions about gun laws, social issues and their own legislative priorities during the 90-minute forum before a standing-room only audience at the Blacksburg Municipal Building. The League of Women Voters of Montgomery County sponsored the event.
Yost and Harder are competing in the 12th District, which covers all of Giles County and Radford and parts of Montgomery and Pulaski counties. Rush and Abraham are running in the 7th District, which covers parts of Montgomery and Pulaski counties and all of Floyd County.
Yost, a first-term delegate, defended his support for a transportation bill that will generate $3.5 billion in statewide revenue over the next five years, and additional amounts for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Among other things, the bill eliminated the state’s per-gallon excise tax on gasoline and replaced it with the sales tax assessed on the wholesale price of fuel. It also increased the retail sales tax and the vehicle sales tax.
“It’s not a perfect plan by any means, but it was a compromise,” said Yost, who described himself as a consensus-builder willing to cross party lines to achieve important policy objectives.
Harder said he would have opposed the transportation bill and argued that the package “didn’t do enough” for the New River Valley. He also criticized Yost for supporting a compromise that included a $64 annual fee on hybrid vehicles, calling it “the exact opposite of the kind of policies we need.” Yost said he will support legislation to repeal the fee.
Unlike his fellow Republican Yost, Rush voted against the transportation bill and on Thursday called it “the largest tax increase in Virginia history.” He argued that the legislation’s array of taxes and fees will “disproportionately hurt rural Virginians.”
Abraham said he would have voted for the bill and called the issue “a cornerstone” of his candidacy.
“I thought it irresponsible that our bridges are structurally deficient and chunks of concrete are falling on people’s heads,” Abraham said. “My opponent says he puts people in front of politics; it sure seems that people took second place to political concerns.”
The candidates had bright-line differences on gun laws. Rush and Yost both made note of their favorable ratings from the National Rifle Association, while Abraham and Harder said they didn’t bother filling out questionnaires from the gun-rights group.
“My opponent has an endorsement from the NRA,” Abraham said. “That’s good for him, because I don’t want one from those folks.”
Rush noted that Abraham wrote a Roanoke Times op-ed piece earlier this year that was headlined, “Yes, the government should take your gun away.”
When asked about their legislative priorities, Rush said he would push to keep the Southwestern Virginia Training Center in Hillsville open to serve people with intellectual disabilities. Abraham promoted his “pay it forward” plan that would allow students to attend college and then pay for it after graduation from a percentage of their earnings.
Yost said he would continue working on a plan he introduced this year that would allow local school divisions to opt into the state employee health insurance plan. Harder said he would focus on job creation, with an emphasis on the roles community colleges and four-year institutions can play.
The joint appearance by Yost and Harder was the first since a pair of controversial mail pieces from Harder’s campaign began circulating in the 12th District. The brochures accuse Yost of supporting legislation that would force police to investigate women who have miscarriages. The claim is based on Yost’s support last year for so-called “personhood” legislation that would grant certain legal protections to the unborn beginning at conception. Yost, whose wife has suffered two miscarriages in the past year, was outraged by the mailers and said he would not have voted for the personhood bill if he thought it would subject victims of miscarriages to police inquiries.
Neither candidate directly mentioned the mailers Thursday night. Yost said near the end of the forum that Harder’s mailers criticize him for only about five of the more than 2,000 votes cast on the House floor during his first two years in office.
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