Barely two weeks after Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican, was elected to represent the 37th district in the state senate, another district in Fairfax County is up for grabs. This time, voters in the newly redrawn 39th senate district covering parts of western and southern Fairfax County as well as parts of Prince William County will get an opportunity to send a freshman senator to Richmond.
The race for the 39th could underscore a shift to the right in the Virginia General Assembly, according to Del. James “Jay” O’Brien (R-40), the Republican candidate for the seat who adds that he is pleased and excited by the trend.
“When you start looking at it in context, there are terrific opportunities ahead in Virginia for Republicans or for those of similar values,” he said.
O’Brien would benefit from such a move as he prepares to face off in the Nov. 5 election against Democrat Rosemary Lynch, a PTA activist and former president of the Fairfax Council of PTAs.
For her part, Lynch predicts that the General Assembly will become more conscious of education issues.
“The process is changing as we get different people on the State Board of Education,” she said. “If we get different people in the General Assembly that can change the process.”
The 39th had formerly been in Southwestern Virginia near Roanoke but moved to Northern Virginia after last year’s redistricting. Sen. Madison Marye, a Democrat who had represented the district for nearly 30 years announced in August that he was not interested in representing citizens far from his Shawsville home and resigned.
LIKE THE RACE for the 37th district, this campaign is being billed as closely tied to the referendum on a sales tax for transportation which will also be on the Nov. 5 ballot. Lynch has come out in support of the sales tax increase while O’Brien opposes it.
“I think a tax referendum would certainly help Fairfax,” Lynch said even though she added: “Do I like the idea of doing this? No.”
Lynch noted that Northern Virginia was already getting more than 40 percent of Virginia’s transportation dollars, which indicates, she said, that this is “not a case of the state not giving us our fair share.”
With the current $1.5 billion budget shortfall in Richmond it is unrealistic to expect that the state is going to send Northern Virginians more money, she said, making the sales tax the only option available for transportation improvements in Northern Virginia.
That is not the case with education, Lynch added, where “we send a large portion of our money down there and we’re not getting our fair share back.”
“I don’t think that’s reasonable,” she said.
The state ought to increase its education funding for Northern Virginia to relieve the pressure on the real estate property tax, she added. Reforming the state’s Standards of Quality (SOQ) would be a positive step towards that end, she said. The state sets the standards and commits funding to allow public schools in Virginia to meet those standards but many school advocates contend that the standards are set too low resulting in too little state funding.
But O’Brien said the state ought to consider increasing its overall funding for transportation despite the budget crisis.
“You can’t slight transportation as part of the budget and you can’t slight Northern Virginia,” he said.
On education, however, O’Brien noted the state has made improvements in the past 10 years but that Lynch’s vision for school funding was unrealistic.
“I am certain there is not enough money in the Virginia budget to do what she might want in terms of public education,” he said. “The General Assembly has to make those choices about the scarce resource that is the tax dollars.” O’Brien is the chairman of a joint legislative committee that is trying to find possible budget cuts to relieve the current fiscal crisis.
“The question is: have we prioritized the budget appropriately?” he asked. “Certainly we have done a great deal in funding education and higher education.”
JAN REEVES, the chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, said that Lynch was very strong on issues of education. “She’s been an activist out there,” she said. “She knows the issues.”
Reeves added that with the current budget crisis, it was unwise to promise lower taxes.
“There’s no money,” she said. “There’s no tax cuts to hand out to people.”
But Eddie Page, who chairs the county’s Republic Committee, said that he was certain O’Brien could hold his own in a discussion on education.
“Jay’s a polished politician and he will be able to work and debate with her in any area,” he said, noting the O’Brien sits on the education committee in the General Assembly.