After serving four years in the General Assembly, Del. Gary Reese (R-67th) of Oak Hill is running for re-election. Challenging him is Chantilly's Chris Craddock, but Reese says he's the better man for the job.
"In four years in Richmond, by dint of hard work, I've become the go-to guy on education and budget reform and one of three go-to guys on long-term care," said Reese, 60. "And I've now established myself on the issue of transportation."
ALTHOUGH Craddock threw his hat in the ring mainly because of Reese's initial vote on the last state budget, Reese says constituents have told him they're more concerned about traffic problems than his budget vote.
But to set the record straight on that issue, he said, "I simply voted not to close down the government of Virginia. When that happens, teachers' contracts are cancelled. No state employees get checks, state troopers are laid off and Medicaid payments stop."
Reese said if the state doesn't pay hospitals and nursing homes, patients get kicked out. And without payment, he said, doctors don't perform needed services for the elderly or poor.
When he agreed to approve the first budget, he said, "We were two weeks from all road construction and maintenance being cancelled by the state. And we were literally within 48 hours of losing our AAA bond rating — which saves us literally millions of dollars a year in higher interest rates."
Shutting down the government, said Reese, "would have been horrendous. Yet, my opponent would have voted to [do so] — with a smile." Reese said the House Republican budget relied on funding from the repeal of sales-tax exemptions that never happened: "That budget was "$300 million out of balance. Ours was not."
Once closed, he said, it costs $100 million to restart the government: "So I'm amazed at the battle taking place here. I've had experience in local governments' budgets and understand the ramifications [a shutdown would have]."
Reese said he agreed to a $750 million budget because, realistically, that's how much was needed — $750 million more in education spending "required by the Republican State Board of Education," $400 million more for Medicaid and more than $200 million for public safety after 9/11.
THAT TOTALED $1.3 billion. But realizing Virginia would have a $300 million surplus, Reese refused to support a budget higher than $1 billion. So when it came back at $1.6 billion, Reese voted no.
Craddock also accused Reese of voting 50 percent of the time with NARAL, a pro-choice group. But Reese said he didn't know NARAL's views ahead of time and simply voted for what he believes is right.
"I voted that, if a woman is a victim of a forcible rape, she should be referred to emergency physicians or to family physicians," he explained. "[Craddock] says that vote was wrong. I cannot see how anybody could try to keep from her the recommendation that she should see a doctor. That just blows me away."
Regarding family life education, Reese voted to base it on scientific and accurate information. If not, he asked, "Are we going back to the days where sex education is what you got behind the barn?"
Reese also voted against another delegate's bill saying that, when someone applies for a marriage license, clerks of the courts couldn't make available to that person information supplied by the March of Dimes on birth defects or family planning.
"I rose on the floor of the House [to speak against it] on the day I learned I was about to become a grandfather," said Reese. "I said people should have all the information they need to make an informed decision about their lives — then it's up to them. And with that, the House voted [the other delegate] down."
Reese said the 50 percent consisted of these three bills. "I voted the way I believe my district and I both believe," he said. "We're not in a world in which we need to keep people in ignorance of issues that could affect their lives."
Noting that Craddock also criticized him for voting to send $850 million into transportation, Reese said it represented the first infusion into that pot from the General Fund in a decade. "Are we to say we don't need it?" asked Reese.
HE EXPLAINED all these issues recently to the Fairfax Education Association, Western Fairfax Republican Women's Club and the Fairfax Young Republicans and said he received positive responses.
In door-to-door campaigning, he said, "I've never had an individual raise the tax [or budget] issue to me. The issue is transportation and what are we going to do about it."
Reese and several others in the House have a plan they believe has a real chance of succeeding and finally breaking the logjam of public opinion against Northern Virginia — paving the way for some serious transportation dollars to come to this area.
"I've supported every Northern Virginia [transportation] bill and seen them all defeated — and quite handily," he said. [Northern Virginia] has 31 of the 100 members of the House. And after the session before last, I and some others looked at how much money we could possibly gain for transportation."
They came up with $35 billion to $40 billion from a variety of sources. "About $15 billion of it could come from general-obligation bonds," said Reese. "But that needs the people of Virginia to vote on it throughout the state. So it became clear there had to be a coalition." He said it would form like this:
* Route 81 in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley needs two lanes on either side for trucks and four lanes in the middle for passenger vehicles. This could be addressed either by general-obligation bonds, these bonds plus revenue bonds, or straight revenue bonds based upon tolls;
* Southwest Virginia needs the Coal Fields Express to link Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky for economic-development purposes;
* Route 58 in southern Virginia needs to be four lanes all the way, to improve that region's economy; and
* Hampton Roads needs a third crossing of the river bay area.
"By putting that coalition together, we can virtually guarantee that the people of Virginia will pass it," said Reese. "And it's now a part of the overall Transportation Initiative by both the House and the Senate."
He noted that Del. Jackie Stump from the Coal Fields area said he'd previously taken pleasure in voting against Northern Virginia's transportation needs. But this year, said Reese, "With Northern Virginia talking about a coalition with the rest of Virginia — to meet all of the state's transportation needs — Stump said he'll vote with Northern Virginia."
REESE IS "heartened" about the prospect of this coalition because, if other areas of the state receive the transportation dollars they need, they'll no longer begrudge Northern Virginia getting its fair share. And with the improved economic conditions the road improvements in these areas will bring, he said, "We won't have to pay them as much for, for example, schools. They'll be able to cover the cost, themselves. If you get people to work on the roads, you create jobs, the economy starts booming and the tax base grows."
In other issues, two years ago, Reese passed the "Taxpayers' Bill of Rights," requiring a transparent and understandable state budget. So in this year's budget, people will see exactly how state money is spent. But, said Reese, "We still need an accountable budget so every government program has measurable objectives and [receives] cyclical, independent evaluations."
He said long-term care is key to keeping Medicaid and Medicare solvent. Otherwise, "baby boomers' demand will bankrupt them both and increase overall taxes by 60 percent."
As for No Child Left Behind, he said after just one year in the school system, ESOL students take the same test as students speaking English all their lives. And multiply handicapped or learning-disabled children must take and pass the same test as those without handicaps. So Reese was one of three delegates seeking a waiver on portions of this legislation.
"Coming from 10 years on the Fairfax County School Board, he's in touch with all the educational issues," said Oak Hill's Marianne Grabenstetter. "He's proven himself as a representative and a man of principles. He's done a very good job and can run on his record. His opponent can only use slurs against him in his campaign material because he doesn't have a record to stand on."
AGREEING, Poplar Tree Estates' Bob Frizzelle said Reese cooperates with other delegates to get things done and is "not a wasted office-holder. A team of votes gets legislation passed, and that's what Gary's good at. He has the power to get it done, and that's way better than Craddock, who barks but has no bite. Gary represents the point of view of most Virginians and is well in touch with the mainstream."
Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully) said being elected to public office was never Reese's goal, but a natural "extension and continuation of his public service. Unfortunately, we've sent too many folks to Richmond that don't reach out and try to build bridges to the rest of the state like Gary does."
Frey said Reese is always willing to listen to others, discuss issues and get solutions from wherever he can. "And he's clearly an incredibly hard worker. It would be a huge mistake to change delegates. The 67th has been well-represented, and I have every confidence that Gary's going to continue to do a good job."
Gary and Carol Reese have been married 34 years, have two children, Alan, 29, and Shelley, 24, and granddaughter Morgan, 7 months.