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Candidates Debate Arlington's Political Future

Candidate's Square Off on Iraq, Taxes, Housing and Social Security

Candidates in the coming November election debated Arlington's political future Tuesday night in a conference room at the Virginia Hospital.

US Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) squared off the with Republican challenger Lisa Marie Cheney and independent candidate Jim Hurysz. In her opening remarks, Cheney, selected to speak first by a random number drawing, blasted Moran’s credibility and called herself "the best choice" to replace his "embarrassing behavior."

Cheney, the head of a government-relations firm specializing in national missile defense and the wife of a US. Navy commander, went on say she would support increased defense spending in the House.

"I will never put a price tag on the lives of our men and women that serve," she said. "I will use my vote in a fiscally responsible manner to make sure they have all the necessary tools, resources and technology available to protect their lives and our freedom and democracy."

On tax policy, Cheney advocated lowering taxes on small business owners.

"I am a small business owner," she said. "I find it very disturbing that I pay almost 50 percent of my business income to taxes."

Hursyz, an independent democrat, said his grassroots campaign funded solely on individual contributions sets him apart from Moran, describing himself as "not a congressman of PACs, lobbyists and special interest groups." Hurysz focused much of his opening speech on the need for federal money to revamp the district's transportation infrastructure.

"According to projections, this district's population will increase by 100,000 people each year," he said. "My priority will be to return federal tax dollars to this district to build the infrastructure we need before the eighth district becomes a parking lot."

Stepping away from the podium and speaking without the aid of a microphone, Moran addressed the audience only feet from the front row. "Most of my efforts over the past three years have been directed at opposing this administration's policies," he said, of the Bush administration.

Beginning with the war in Iraq, Moran, who co-authored an alternative, democratic resolution prior to the invasion, said the Bush administration "has squandered the international good will this nation has built up over generations."

He added at the start of the war, "there was not an adequate exit strategy then and there is not one now."

The administration's wartime spending, he continued, has caused a soaring deficit and an irresponsible waste of tax dollars.

"This borrow and spend policy has resulted in 5.5 trillion in accumulated deficit and that is simply wrong," he said.

The debate was hosted by the Arlington Civic Federation and after the candidates' opening statements, federation delegates questioned them on topics ranging from the war to social security. Again, Iraq became the focus.

"Let's put it this way," Cheney said. "Saddam Hussein took every opportunity he could to threaten us with weapons of mass destruction. He threatened our interests, he threatened our people and we took action before another September eleventh could happen again."

Moran voiced his opposition to the war once more.

"The reality is that Saddam Huessein was not an immediate threat," he said. "He was not involved in 9-11. Our real threat was in Afghanistan and we have not completely fulfilled our obligation there."

Hurysz said he too opposed the war in Iraq and promised to use his vote to further the country's revitalization if elected.

"I will work for a major, international reconstruction effort and a peace conference," he said.

On the topic of abortion, Hurysz said he supports the rights of women to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.

"Let me go beyond being pro-choice by saying that I don't believe the government should ever be involved in the decisions made between patients and their physicians."

Hurysz added that he wants to reduce the number of abortions performed in America each year by gaining federal funds to create after-school programs. Keeping teens engaged in after-school activities, he said, would prevent them from becoming involved in drugs, crime and sex.

Moran, also pro-choice, said the abortion debate should not be decided by Congress, a group "mostly male legislators". He characterized the nation's abortion question as a matter best left to the individual.

"I don't think this issue is really so much about the word abortion as it is about the word choice," he said.

Cheney answered with the abortion question with a personal story about her mother, who nearly chose to have an abortion.

"It's personal to me," she said. "I am a living, breathing example of what choosing life is all about."

The audience also raised the question of social security and recent proposals to privatize the system. Moran spoke against the idea, describing it as a program "defining of America."

"It is irresponsible and we'll be paying for it with $1 trillion in general revenue funds that we don't have," Moran said. "Our children are the one who will be paying the costs of it."

Moran added without the current social security system, "half its recipients would be living poverty."

Hurysz said he wants to maintain social security within the realm of the government and grant benefits of the Federal Employee Retirement System, pension plan offered to government employees, to all American citizens.

"I want all Americans to have the same options members of Congress have," Hurysz said. "Let's extend that system to everybody."

Cheney favored privatizing social security. Placing her faith in the stock market, Cheney said investing social security money would give Americans "money to grow on." Cheney said the government should first admit the present system cannot survive.

"The money is not there," she said. "We need to make options open to people. Let the treasury invest that money in the stock market. You can guarantee five percent growth in the stock market these days, let me tell you."

After the congressional debate concluded, two candidates for Arlington's County Board took the floor, Democratic incumbent Barbara Favola and Republican challenger F. Landey Patton. In her opening statement, Favola pointed to her work on the board reducing county taxes and creating affordable housing. Patton said his bid in the election is centered around balancing the opinions of the board, which consists of entirely Democrats, with a Republican voice who favors the business community.

On the county's transportation needs, Favola said she and other board members, driven to find more funding for the Metro system, lobbied the Virginia General Assembly to raise local gasoline taxes, an idea she still wants to pursue.

"We asked the general assembly to raise the gasoline tax by 2 cents," she said.

Patton countered by saying, "I don't think letting a tax entity handle it is the right answer but I don't know what the solution is."

Patton also criticized the board for its increased level of spending in recent years, throwing some harsh words at county manager Ron Carlee, and said the board should look to cut taxes further.

"The board is allowing the county manager to run rampant with its funding," he said. "If you look hard enough, you can find ways to make spending cuts."

Favola argued the board has already cut taxes.

"Arlington has maintained the lowest tax rate of any major

jurisdiction in the Greater Washington area.," she said. "The current rate is 95.8 cents per $100 of assessed value. I have voted to lower the tax rate 6.5 cents since 2002."

Arlington's affordable housing crisis came to the forefront with a question from the audience. Favola pointed to her record and the guidelines the board enacted this year to reserve 10 percent of the housing units within all newly properties for middle-income residents.

"Affordable housing is the county's top priority," she said. "We want to ensure we have a community that is inclusive."

Patton challenged the claims of affordable housing activists that county workers, firefighters and police can no longer afford to live where they work because or housing costs. He suggested they are content to live outside Arlington.

"It's a complex problem but what's being said about the police and firefighters doesn't equate," he said. "They are getting more for their money by living outside of the area."