Facing her first election in a newly configured district, state Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-36th) kicked off her 2003 campaign Saturday to a standing-room-only crowd at VFW Post 1503 in Dale City.
"The people in Richmond who drew up this (redistricting) plan were trying to hurt me politically. It was the oldest trick in the book — but I made up my mind that it wouldn't work," Puller said in announcing her re-election bid.
"Two years ago when I first saw the new redistricting plan, I was surprised to see that my district was changed to include lots of new territory I had never represented," she explained. "I decided I would work as hard as I could to meet the many new people I now represent."
Puller also acknowledged, "What I've found is pretty simple — though the district boundaries may have changed, the issues and concerns remain the same." Under the reconfiguration, 60 percent of her district is new territory.
The 36th District now encompasses 20 precincts in Prince William County and 19 in Fairfax County. Puller has served in the Virginia General Assembly for 12 years. State Del. Kristen J. Amundson, (D-44th) holds her former House seat.
Orchestrating Puller's re-election announcement ceremony was Woodbridge District supervisor Hilda Barg. "Sen. Puller has been personally involved in health and disability issues as well as education and transportation. The plan for Route 1 wouldn't have happened without her," Barg told the gathering.
IN ADDITION TO serving on the Senate committees of Courts of Justice, Local Government, and Rehabilitation and Social Services, Puller's boards and commissions memberships include the Joint Commission on Health Care, Virginia Disability Commission, Educational Fund, and Healthy Families Advisory Board.
State Sen. Charles Colgen (D-29th), presently the longest-serving senator in the General Assembly with a 26-year record, told the crowd, "When redistricting was done, she [Puller] was somewhat concerned. But each of you should feel very fortunate to have Toddy as your senator."
Colgen was followed to the podium by another longtime political fixture in Prince William County, Sheriff Lee Stoffregen, who has served in that post since 1979.
"I have had the pleasure of joining Toddy and watching her attend all kinds of events throughout the county over the past year," he said. "I can tell you Toddy has never forgotten why she was elected."
Because the event was scheduled on Easter weekend, several political supporters were unable to attend, but they sent endorsement letters, which were read. Both Fairfax County Board of Supervisors members Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) and Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) strongly backed her re-election campaign.
In his letter, Hyland stated, "I fully support your candidacy for state Senate not only because of your initiatives on behalf of Route 1 and transportation efforts in general but also because of your incredible sensitivity to the needs of Northern Virginia.
"Your vision and tireless commitment to helping Virginia's citizens enjoy a safer, more fulfilling quality of life are evident in all you do." Hyland cited the following initiatives by Puller that have benefited the citizens of Fairfax County and the commonwealth as a whole:
* Introduction of a bill to allow the state to receive federal Medicare funding to reimburse schools for special-education students' transportation needs;
* Sponsorship of a driver privacy-protection act resulting in safeguarding certain personal information on car registrations;
* Efforts to help win state funding for school construction, renovation and technology.
KAUFFMAN ECHOED Hyland in praising Puller by noting, "Whether it’s dealing with large projects like your Richmond Highway initiative or simply filling potholes, you have always been there for us."
He further emphasized, "This coming session of the General Assembly, our legislature can and must deal with the long-term issue of how we fund state and local government. It won't be a time for amateurs and slogans. More than ever, your reasoned approach will be essential."
Some of the highest praise came from David G. Brickley, a former House of Delegates member and former state secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources. In his endorsement letter, Brickley stated, "In this time of national concern for freedom from terrorism and despotic governments, your family history of true American military heroes brings forth an understanding and resoluteness which we all admire."
IN TAKING THE PODIUM, Puller explained to her new constituents, "I picked this day because it was the day when Maggie, Philip, Ben and Charlie could be with me," in referring to her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren in the audience.
"Ben and Charlie are a big part of why I am running," she explained. "I want to continue working for quality public schools and colleges and universities — so that they and all children in Virginia have a chance for a better future."
In addition to referencing her accomplishments, as stated in Hyland's letter of endorsement, Puller emphasized her efforts in 1999 on a bond package of $104 million to fund Northern Virginia transportation projects.
She also referred to her suspicions concerning severe cost overruns for the Springfield "Mixing Bowl" project. "I couldn't find the truth. It was very disturbing to me. I finally exposed these cost overruns by working with a Washington Post reporter," she said.
"So this year, I co-patroned the VDOT [Virginia Department of Transportation] reform bill, which will ensure that VDOT will be accountable, efficient and responsive in delivering transportation projects on time and on budget," Puller insisted.
In education, she noted, "I introduced a bill to make a $1 billion down payment in school construction bonds statewide. Unfortunately, the legislature ... voted it down. ... There are now more than $8 billion of documented school construction needs across Virginia."
Puller vowed, "I'm going to introduce it again next year and every year until it passes. We simply can't afford to ignore these needs any longer."
She closed the event by stating, "This will be a tough year, but I'm ready for it. I want to go back and help Gov. Warner meet the unfinished challenges."