When it comes to representing the people and interests of the 37th Senate District, Centreville's Jim Mitchell believes he's the best man for the job. And Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35th) agrees.
"[His platform] more suits where I'd like the state to be," said Saslaw. "Mitchell would be amenable to some kind of reform that would enable us to fully fund public schools and higher education."
A Democrat, Mitchell, 45, and his wife Marion, of Sully Estates, are the parents of three children, sons Ryan, 21, and Pat, 19, and daughter Tara, 16, and their education has always been an important part of their lives. But Mitchell fears what would happen to public schools if incumbent Ken Cuccinelli (R) is re-elected to the 37th.
"Sen. Cuccinelli is clearly an enemy of public education," he said. "He has consistently advocated that Fairfax County schools have sufficient funds — that their only funding problem is that they don't spend it correctly. He advocates a confrontational approach with the public school system to force 'greater accountability.'"
However, said Mitchell, "I believe we have one of the best public school systems in America, right here in Fairfax County. I also believe that it does not receive sufficient financial support from the Commonwealth of Virginia. We need more state dollars in the county school budget for construction, to increase teachers' salaries, reduce class size and improve the program even further."
Mitchell said that's a clear difference between him and his opponent. He noted that Westfield High — just starting its fourth year — already has 14 classroom trailers and an $8.7 million bond referendum on the ballot to add 24 more rooms.
"Those rooms should have been built in the first place, but we couldn't afford it," said Mitchell. "Our teachers are not paid as well as [those in] Montgomery or Loudoun counties. If we can't compete with those jurisdictions, we're at constant risk of losing the best and brightest."
Mitchell pointed out that Cuccinelli, speaking to the Senate Finance Committee, was asked how he'd come up with money for transportation improvements in Northern Virginia, and "he suggested reducing the budget for the Standards of Quality in the Education Department."
"The quality of our public schools is the greatest asset we have in Fairfax County — and it's not just a community asset, but a business asset, as well," Mitchell said.
He added that people want to work and live here because of the school system, and "I'm the only candidate in this race who understands that. I'm the only candidate who'll be a tireless advocate for the Fairfax County Public School System in Richmond."
Mitchell said that the state also needs to spend more of its dollars on Northern Virginia's transportation problems. Stressing that Northern Virginia is the economic engine that drives the entire state, he said that the area's traffic woes increasingly threaten the vitality of Northern Virginia's economy.
"Unless more money can be spent by the Commonwealth of Virginia on transit and road improvements in Fairfax County, our economy is at great risk and our quality of life will deteriorate," said Mitchell.
At the same time, he said, several consecutive years of double-digit increases in real-estate taxes have severely hurt many Fairfax County homeowners. And he agrees with Gov. Mark Warner (D) that the way Virginia collects revenue is antiquated and its reliance on residential real-estate taxes must be reformed.
"I think this discussion needs to be nonpartisan and involve civic, business and political leaders from across the state — and all possible solutions need to be considered," said Mitchell. "Mr. Cuccinelli can never be a productive part of this process because he has stated publicly that all taxes are evil, and he has taken a lifetime pledge to never support any increase in any tax."
Mitchell does not advocate increasing taxes. But, he said, "If real-estate taxes are to go down, some other source of government revenue must go up. By taking the pledge, Mr. Cuccinelli has made himself irrelevant to that discussion."
AS EARLY AS 1997, Mitchell was a proponent of public/private partnerships as a way to construct schools without the use of bonds and to protect the county's bond rating. "A lot of government leaders rejected that idea as radical," he said. "The next high school being built in the county, in Lorton, is being built [this way]."
Mitchell said the same concept may be applied to road building. "HOT lanes are an interesting idea and need to be utilized in several areas," said Mitchell. "But Sen. Cuccinelli believes HOT lanes will solve all our transportation problems, and they won't. We need Metrorail to Centreville and rail to Dulles and we need to implement bus rapid transit, in the more immediate future, until these other projects can be funded and completed."
"If we'd invested public funds in all the road improvement and construction projects that were planned, a generation ago, we'd all have a much more pleasant commute, and traffic would not be the threat to our quality of life that it is today," said Mitchell. "If all taxes are evil, then, by implication, all things supported by tax collection would be called into question."
"We educate our children with tax dollars, we protect our citizens by paying police and firefighters with tax dollars [and] we build our roads with tax dollars," Mitchell said. "Properly managed, state and local government can improve our quality of life and keep us prosperous and safe. My only goal is to make living in the great place that is Fairfax County even better."
Many residents — on both sides of the political fence — agree with him. Donna Ainger, of Centreville's Fairways community, is a registered Republican who's supporting the Democratic Mitchell.
"My views do not coincide with Mr. Cuccinelli's on women's rights, in particular," she said. "I've known Jim Mitchell for a long time through PTA and scouts, and I know that he's a hard worker who gives back to the community. And I feel that he'll do his best to represent this community, rather than toeing the party line."
Virginia Run's Jim Hart, Mitchell's campaign treasurer, also believes in Mitchell. "He is a well-respected consensus-builder," said Hart. "He has been able to work constructively in a bipartisan way. And he's always given a great deal of himself and his leadership ability to community activities."
Mitchell has a law degree from American University and is president of Metropolitan Title and Escrow Co. in Chantilly. He co-chairs the Centreville Strategic Planning Task Force and belongs to the Herndon-Dulles Chamber of Commerce.
He has served on the WFCCA Land-Use Committee, was a scoutmaster for several years and is currently on the Centreville Community Foundation's board of directors and the Residential Housing Assistance Committee of Western Fairfax Christian Ministries.
"I've run my own, small business in this community for 20 years and raised three children in the public school system, and I believe I've already made a difference in the lives of the people who live in western Fairfax County," said Mitchell. "I understand the issues, and I believe I have the common sense to resolve [them]. And I believe I have the mainstream values of the community and, therefore, am the best qualified to represent them."