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Sunday, July 21, 2013
In the dog days of summer, election season might seem like a distant distraction that doesn’t deserve attention until the leaves begin to change color. It might even be a source of dread for Virginians still weary from the barrage of negative television ads they were exposed to in last year’s presidential slugfest.
But, like it or not, the 2013 campaigns are upon us. The major-party candidates for governor held their first debate Saturday at the Homestead in Hot Springs. You may be running into candidates at county fairs, local festivals and parades. Attack ads already are on the air and will proliferate as summer turns to fall.
The statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general aren’t the only games in town. All 100 House of Delegates seats are up for election, and most New River Valley voters will have a contested House race on their ballot. Because those races are still taking shape, engaged voters have a chance to set the agenda before literature fills their mailboxes and diversions drown out details.
No dominant issue has emerged in the statewide races, partly because the campaigns have taken a back seat to the ethics scandal engulfing incumbent Gov. Bob McDonnell. And since Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe bring their own baggage to the gubernatorial campaign, House candidates may not be lunging for the coattails of their party standard-bearer.
That doesn’t mean House candidates won’t be challenged on the positions staked out by statewide hopefuls. But this doesn’t seem like the year for legislative candidates to be running cookie-cutter campaigns devised by party strategists in Richmond.
That’s good for the voters who will decide contested House races. They can push candidates to focus on the issues they consider important — issues that might matter more in Southwest Virginia than in other parts of the state.
There are two contested House races in the heart of the New River Valley. In the 12th District, which covers Giles County, Radford, part of Montgomery County and a sliver of Pulaski County, first-term Republican Joseph Yost of Blacksburg is being challenged by Blacksburg Democrat James Harder. In the 7th District, which covers parts of Montgomery and Pulaski and all of Floyd County, first-term Republican Nick Rush of Christiansburg is opposed by Democrat Michael Abraham of Blacksburg.
If you live in those two districts, what issues do you care about? If you live in Montgomery County, as all four of these candidates do, you might be concerned that state funding for the county’s public schools has decreased by $9.6 million since the 2008-09 school year. You might want to know what the candidates would do to stabilize school funding and how they would pay for it.
If you’re a teacher or if you work at Virginia Tech, Radford University or a state agency, you probably want to know if the candidates would stick with a plan to fully fund the state’s pension system by 2018, even though it will cost an additional $320 million in the next two-year budget cycle alone.
The General Assembly can’t repeal Obamacare, but legislators do have a say on expanding eligibility for the Medicaid program and accepting federal funding to enroll more low-income Virginians in the program. Where do the candidates stand?
The ink is barely dry on Virginia’s new transportation funding law, but should lawmakers repeal the $64 annual fee slapped on hybrid vehicles? What about the taxes that were increased to pay for road improvements? What about taxes in general?
And after a summer of scandal in Richmond, what would the candidates do to strengthen Virginia’s ethics laws and restore public confidence in state government?
The floor is yours, voters. What issues matter to you? Let us and the candidates know what you think.
Post your comments under this column on RoundTable blog, blogs.roanoke.com/roundtable/, or email your thoughts to me.
And if you live in the 7th District or 12th District, please say so.
We now return to our regularly scheduled summer, mindful that the fall campaign is right around the corner.
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