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Votes

Nawash Makes Run at 31st

Republican moderate reaches out to immigrants with focus on transportation, education, as opponents criticize mudslinging.

State budget shorfalls are a reality in the current economic climate. While many voters and elected officials see more spending cuts and tax increases in the future, Kamal Nawash says there’s no reason to panic.

“We go through a recession every six to eight years. This is not new,” said Nawash, the Republican nominee for the 31st district state Senate seat. “Everything I’m reading tells me that the economy is turning around right now. This being the case, all programs we have cut, I expect to restore to pre-recession levels.”

Nawash, a self-described moderate, is running against two-time incumbent Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple. In a county dominated in the past by Democarts, Nawash is calling for bipartisan collaboration on transportation and education issues. He opposes widening I-66 and thinks he can secure federal and state funding to expand Metrorail to high density areas like Columbia Pike.

Nawash opposes raising the gasoline tax because he says it would hurt poor and middle-class commuters and businesses that depend on inexpensive transporation of goods. He supports a small increase in the cigarette tax and would use the additional revenue exclusively for public transportation.

In the past, members of the Arlington Assembly delegation have pushed for cigarette tax increases and have met massive resistance.

Nawash was born in a Palestinian refugee camp, and moved to the U.S. from Israel in 1979. He now works as an immigration attorney and hosts a radio show designed to help immigrants assimilate to life in the states.

He said now more than ever, he’s the right candidate to represent the 31st district. Boundary changes put several new precincts into the 31st this year. It’s a diverse district, and Nawash said he’s the only immigrant running in the area.

“I’m much more representative of the area,” he said. “In the 31st district we have tens of thousands of immigrants—people [Whipple] has never reached out to, nor can she.”

ATTACKS ON INCUMBENT Senator Whipple have been a defining feature of Nawash’s campaign thus far. The challenger is taking the offensive, criticizing Whipple for what he calls partisan bickering and an ineffective record.

“That’s just throwing mud up, and it doesn’t stick,” said Dan Steen, Arlington County Democratic chair.

Nawash lives in Falls Church, which puts him out of touch with Arlington voters, Steen said. He also noted that Nawash “has had a variety of problems filing his campaign finance reports.”

Early in the campaign, Nawash supporter Mike Lane, who also serves as chair of the 8th Congressional District Republican Committee, said the race against Whipple would largely come down to whether Nawash could raise enough funds.

After filing reports late and returning contributions from a controversial donor, financing is figuring into the campaign in ways Nawash didn’t expect.

BUT SUPPORTERS APPLAUD Nawash’s energy and say oversights in finance paperwork were just that — oversights.

“Kamal is running a very aggressive, grassroots, knocking-on-doors campaign that I don’t think you can beat,” said David Avella, Arlington Republican Committee chair. “Kamal is a very energetic, enthusiastic campaigner who has some new and creative ideas that he’s talking about.” In the end, Avella said, it will come down to a question of whether those new ideas resonate with voters.

Nawash has attracted national and international attention in coverage of Arab-American involvement in politics. It’s helped gain him recognition, and supporters. “He’s always listening to people and hearing what their concerns are,” said Howard Bernstein, who travels from Bowie, Md. to volunteer with the Nawash campaign. “I think he’d be an excellent representative of the area.”