Hoping to return to Richmond for a sophomore session as the 37th District senator, Ken Cuccinelli (R) has been busy knocking on voters' doors.
"When you talk to people individually, you're there as a human being," he said. "It's much more personal, so you get a more favorable response than the polls would indicate."
A patent attorney in Crystal City, the Republican incumbent and his wife Teiro live in Centreville's Hanna Estates with their five daughters, Alie, 7; Marielle, 5; Reilly, 4; Reagan, 2 and Anna Veronica, 1. And while it's time-consuming visiting constituents in a district containing some 180,000 people, Cuccinelli said that it's worth it.
"You get really useful feedback that you wouldn't get, otherwise," he said. "You find out incredibly local things, such as a runoff problem on one street, a noise problem in another neighborhood."
It also gives Cuccinelli, 35, a chance to explain his proposals, including high-occupancy travel (HOT) lanes. He tells people what they are, their costs and benefits and why he supports them on I-66, Route 28, the I-95/395 Corridor, the Beltway, the Dulles Parkway and the Tri-County Parkway.
Besides helping with gridlock, he said, having HOT lanes would "free up money we might spend on these roads [so it could be] used on neighborhood roads, such as Route 29 — one of the worst roads in Northern Virginia."
Hence, the need for HOT lanes forms a major plank of Cuccinelli's transportation platform "The longer you wait on transportation [fixes], the more costly they become, so we need to do something soon," he said.
He also favors examining the possibility of light rail from the Vienna Metro station to Manassas. And he noted the importance of finishing the last leg of the Fairfax County Parkway through the Fort Belvoir proving grounds because "the extension comes to this district, and I have a heavy military contingent in Springfield."
In education, Cuccinelli is researching ways to alter the tuition and enrollment structure of colleges and universities so they still make money, while allowing more in-state students to attend. He's also in favor of raising teachers' salaries: "They're on the front lines of education and are the single most important element in the educational system."
And Cuccinelli wants to extend school-system accountability beyond the students to the administrators. Although his children are home-schooled, he said, "We all have a stake in our public-school system. It's central to the well-being of our communities — whether you have kids there, or not. I firmly believe that."
Regarding taxes, Cuccinelli's been working on a bill that offers the Board of Supervisors a way to change the county's tax structure and move it away from its reliance on real-estate taxes. "It would improve Fairfax County's standing in the already existing, statewide, education-funding formula — which is based heavily on local real estate and the local tax rate," he said.
"If you drive down your real-estate tax income, your county looks more needy to the state," he explained. "Therefore, by lowering the real-estate tax, Fairfax County might get a larger share of the statewide allotment."
Cuccinelli said the county would have to limit its total tax take to what it got, the year before, plus inflation, for at least three years. Then, afterward, there'd be a 5-percent real-estate tax cap. "I've been quietly working on tax restructuring with senators and delegates," he said. "There should be tax neutrality — we should break tax restructuring into two parts."
Part one would be the restructuring, itself, focused on what taxes will be eliminated and which ones will go forward. "I hope we'll do this so we'll be more economically and administratively efficient and pro-growth," said Cuccinelli.
Part two would be looking at what programs a state government should be doing and how much it should spend on them — "which determines where the tax rates should be set," said Cuccinelli. "The best way to solve the budget crunch in Virginia is to stimulate economic growth so the tax revenue is based on people's success in the Virginia economy, rather than on raising their tax rates."
Cuccinelli said it's much easier for people to "bear the burden of government" when they're rising economically. "In a properly functioning economy, everybody's coming up," he said.
Active in grass-roots, Republican campaigns for the past 10 years, Cuccinelli has been involved in Sully District politics since 1995 and he says there are good reasons to re-elect him to the 37th.
"I've already demonstrated that I'm willing to lead toward goals that I think are right — even when I'm not in step with the Richmond boys," he said. "And I've proven my ability to lead on issues that are important to Northern Virginia — transportation and taxes — and, this year, I'll add education to that."
"I've been leading the way on HOT lanes — which is a huge concept — and we're now getting a huge swath of the Northern Virginia delegation together and on board," said Cuccinelli. "I think I brought a creative and constructive approach to some of the problems of our district that other people have just declared to be unsolvable, and I've addressed them in ways that offer us some hope of improving things in Northern Virginia."
Cuccinelli said that he didn't really have a political mentor, but was "one of those people who just learned as he went." And one of the more unique aspects of his campaign, he said, is how blunt he is with people. I'm straight-forward in telling them what I expect to achieve, and why, and the principles on which I base my decisions."
Friend and campaign worker Stephine Lacey of Pleasant Valley appreciates that about Cuccinelli. She knocks on doors, makes phone calls, proofreads fund-raising letters and stuffs envelopes for him and was one of the people who initially encouraged him to run for office against former 37th District Sen. Warren E. Barry.
"Ken and I agree on issues, and I trust that he's pretty much going to promote my views and isn't concerned about being a people-pleaser," she explained. "He's concerned about what he thinks is the right thing to do, and he's provided leadership, rather than just a vote."
One of his toughest critics is Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-35th), who claims that Cuccinelli's political convictions are "why we have traffic jams and kids in trailers in that area."
"I have nothing against Ken, but we have some philosophical differences on the issues," Saslaw said. "We have a different point of view on what government ought to be about."
However, another campaign volunteer, Brad Butler of Fairfax Station, said Cuccinelli's the candidate for him. "I think he's a great guy," said Butler, who's known Cuccinelli about four years and does tasks such as handing out campaign literature and putting up signs.
"I like him personally and I like his positions," he said. "He is what he says he is, and you know he's going to stick to his principles. You don't have to worry about where he's coming down on an issue — [you already know, in advance]. There's no subterfuge or guile; he's a straight shooter, and I really like that."