With less than a week to go before Tuesday's midterm election, most of the attention seems to be on the proposed one-half cent sales tax increase. The tax, if approved, would direct all revenues to regional transportation projects in Northern Virginia. With relatively uncompetitive U.S. Senate and congressional races on the ballot, it has been the sales tax referendum which has garnered the most interest and media coverage in the days and weeks before voters head to the polls on Tuesday.
"The sales tax referendum is the only race in town," said Eileen Curtis, president of the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce and proponent of the bond measure. "The sense that I get from the business community is that they are overwhelmingly in favor of it. I just hope that voters will take time to understand the referendum, because I can't imagine they would vote any other way but yes."
<b>WITH ONLY DAYS LEFT </b>before voters head to the polls, Del. Kenneth Plum (D-36), who is one of the bond's chief sponsors, is not a confident man. "Certainly it's closer than I would like it to be," Plum said. "I guess that is how politicians always run a race, though. We incumbents always run scared."
Plum said he was concerned whatever momentum the bond referendum had earlier this summer had been slowed because of an organized campaign of misinformation and misrepresentation of facts. "Certainly, it is easier to get people united against something that for something," the delegate from Reston said. "We are up against that reality and we understand that."
Vera Hannigan, the Republican chair of the Hunter Mill District Committee, has seen the polls suggesting voters favor the referendum by a slim margin. Hannigan has an answer for those polls. "I don't believe them," she said. "The buzz is all over the place, the polls are saying the sales tax referendum will pass, but that is not what I am hearing and I am not just talking with Republicans. I don't trust these polls, I find them very confusing. One thing is clear, this ballot question is the election."
Robert Simon, the founder of Reston, is worried that the election will be decided by the anti-tax crowd. "I feel we are not a point where nothing good can happen without the NIMBY crowd objecting. against anything that might cost money," Simon said. "Unfortunately, the organization of these NIMBYs is always much better, the nay sayers are always more organized."
<b>HERNDON MAYOR</b> Richard Thoesen, who recently endorsed the half-cent sales tax, agreed that the anti-tax group is much better organized and disciplined than his fellow proponents. "They are fairly well organized," the mayor said, "and they are the ones motivated to vote because they want to send Richmond a message."
While he says he has some mixed opinions about the sales tax referendum, he valued the counsel he received from his predecessor, Del. Tom Rust who has been an outspoken proponent of the transportation bond. "We've simply have to get something done about this traffic problem," Thoesen said.
Curtis agreed. "The anti-tax folks are very well organized while the pro-referendum people are kind of ad-hoc and loosely tied together," she said. "That could play a role, but I hope it doesn't."
While most seem to agree that the sales tax referendum will drive this year's election, not everyone is excited about that prospect. Capt. Mike Vencak, commander of the Reston Substation, fears that the anti-tax voters will mistakenly lump all of the bond referenda together. If passed, one of the two Fairfax County bond issues on Tuesday's ballot would designate the county to borrow $60 million to be used for safety projects, including $29 million for a new 100,000 sq. ft. Public Safety Operations Center. "I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding the sales tax bond, and I just want voters to understand that these two issues are not the same," Vencak said. "Hopefully, the community's good will stemming from the sniper investigation will trickle down to the ballot box."
<b>PLUM INSISTED</b> that the outcome of the election will hinge on voter turn-out. "The get-out-the-vote campaign on both sides is crucial, the results will depend on who is best able to mobilize their troops," Plum said, adding that he and state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32) recently mailed a flier, advocating the tax, to 20,000 area voters.
Thoesen said he has not heard much discussion among his constituents about the pending election. "The lack of interest could translate itself into a very low voter turnout which could potentially help the 'no-tax' folks."
The low-voter turn-out is exactly what the bond's opponents are hoping for, Thoesen said, but he wouldn't hazard a guess as to the outcome. "It's too close to call."
Plum acknowledged that the lack of high-profile congressional races will probably keep many voters from the polls. "I recognize that none of the issues are very glamorous or particularly sexy," Plum said, "but that doesn't mean they aren't important."
One thing Plum does not think will deter voters is the sniper investigation. "The sniper stuff is well behind us," he said, "Besides, voters traditionally do not begin paying attention to off-year elections until a week or two before Election Day."
Gerald Volloy, Reston Association executive vice president, is not worried that voter turn-out in Reston will be low. "It's a characteristic of our community to participate in the political arena. They understand that voting and taking part in their civic duty is important to their community. Rest assured, they'll be at the polls on Tuesday."
Volloy also dismissed any suggestion that Restonians might suffer from ballot-fatigue after the much touted seven-week Southgate referendum. "My perception is that now that the sniper has been caught, and the Southgate question seems to have been answered, we can get back to a focus on other matters, including this election."
Not everyone has decided which way to vote on the transportation referendum. Tom Hirst president of the Rapid Transit Action Committee, is one of those people. Hirst has been a leading opponent of the Rail-to-Dulles proposal and vocal advocate of bus rapid transit. Hirst said he agreed with the governor's contention that more money needs to be devoted to transportation and his suggestion that a "no-vote would send the wrong signal to the legislature."
But Hirst has some serious reservations about the proposed half-cent sales tax hike. "I have always voted for transportation bonds in the past but I am deeply troubled by what I've learned. The message seems to me that the county and the state don't seem to care that they want to spend 10 times more money than is necessary to fix the problem.
<b>WHILE MOST</b> of the talk has centered around the sales tax issue, there are congressional elections that some locals think may be closer than conventional wisdom would dictate. Local Republicans insist that six-term incumbent congressman James Moran (D-8) is vulnerable this year, and they are pointing to the recent Washington Post endorsement of his Republican opponent, Scott Tate. "The Post endorsement was a huge step for Tate," said Donn Dears, president of the Republican Club of Greater Reston. "It was a big step and one that I wouldn't have thought possible until about six months ago."
Dears also believes, based on what he has heard, that the sales tax referendum will be defeated. "Everyone I talked with is voting against it," he said. "I don't think it will pass."
Fellow Republican, Hannigan, shares Dears' opinion that Moran is vulnerable. "Hopefully there still some voters out there who care about ethics," she said. "Yes, I believe that Scott Tate has a chance to knock off Jim Moran."
Jackie Madry-Taylor, is the leader of the Hunter Mill Democratic Committee, doesn't place much stock in the Post's endorsement of Tate. "People who live in this district are the people that really have their pulse on who should represent them," Madry-Taylor said. "Jim's got the experience and he has shown himself to be an excellent representative for all of the people."