It’s been an uphill battle for years, but this year could be the one. In her eight years in Richmond, state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-31) has seen more than a handful of politicians dodge this issue of taxes.
“The biggest issue is going to be consideration of the reform of the tax structure,” said Whipple. “There is the recognition that it needs to be done, that’s it’s important to position Virginia for the future, and that it’s important to protect our bond rating.”
The incumbent is running for reelection to her third term in the Senate, competing with Republican challenger Kamal Nawash. “I’m certainly running on my record, both my legislative accomplishments and my experience,” she said. Whipple sits on four committees in Richmond. Before reaching the Assembly, she served on the Arlington school board and was elected to the County Board for 13 years, from 1983 to 1996.
Like many legislators in the Northern Virginia delegation, Whipple supports adjusting the income tax brackets. Currently, all Virginia residents earning over $17,000 a year are in the same bracket.
Throwing thousands of people into a higher tax category would cause a bold political move, Whipple said. “The jury is still out on whether the General Assembly is going to have the fortitude to do this. It certainly is not an easy thing to do.”
WHIPPLE’S OPPONENT SAID that wait-and-see attitude has plagued the Arlington delegation. “She does nothing,” said Nawash.
“What I hear that he says is that I haven’t done anything, and that’s just incorrect,” said Whipple. “That’s demonstrably incorrect. Every year I’ve been in the General Assembly, I’ve had bills passed that had statewide significance.”
Nawash has challenged Whipple’s record and said she doesn’t collaborate well in the Republican-controlled Assembly. “She attacks her colleagues, she blames them for everything, and then she wonders why they don’t support her when she wants to bring a service to Arlington,” he said.
But John Milligan, former state secretary of transportation and a former county board member, disputes those claims. It’s always a challenge working in the minority party, he said, but Whipple has been successful crossing party lines on a number of issues.
OF THE BILLS she’s sponsored, Whipple is most proud of the Virginia Non-Tidal Wetlands Protection Act, which passed with bipartisan support and was co-sponsored by a Republican Delegate.
“Senator Whipple has honorably served this community for a long time and has put forth ideas that have been very helpful,” said David Avella, Arlington Republican Committee chair “Sometimes they haven’t been the answers to the problems we face.”
Issues like transportation more often come down to urban versus rural rather than Republican versus Democrat, said Milligan. In those cases, charisma and know-how are more important than party affiliation. “What most people will tell you about Mary Margaret is that she’s fun to be around,” said Milligan. “She can explain things in a way that gets your attention and keeps you focused on the issues that she wants to talk about, so that Senator Smith or Senator Jones from somewhere else in the state will listen to what she has to say.”
Staying in public service for over two-decades reveals she’s doing something right, said Dan Steen, Arlington County Democratic Committee chair. “She has staying power because she is not only smart and articulate on the issues Arlingtonians care about, but she also is accessible. She is an elected official people can connect with.”
That could prove important on the campaign trail this year, after redistricting put several new precincts into the 31st.
“That’s her challenge, getting around and meeting people in the new district,” said Steen.