Chris Craddock is just 26 and has limited political experience. Yet he's challenging incumbent Del. Gary Reese for his 67th District seat in Virginia's House of Representatives.
IT'S UP to the voters to decide who'll emerge victorious in the June 14 Republican primary. Meanwhile, Craddock says throwing his hat in the ring was something he had to do.
"It takes a lot to decide to challenge someone in your own party," he said. "You really have to have a lot of reasons to do it, and Gary gave me a lot of reasons."
Craddock is director of student ministries at King's Chapel, which meets at Willow Springs Elementary. He's worked in ministry since 2000 and has been a youth minister with King's Chapel for two years. He and his wife Katherine live in Chantilly's Foxfield community with daughter Katie, 14 months.
He's been a community youth counselor for many years and also coaches soccer at Chantilly High. And he has a bachelors in economics from GMU and is currently pursuing a masters in religion from Reformed Theological Seminar.
But politics also interests Craddock. He volunteered on Mychele Brickner's race for Board of Supervisors chairman, Sen. Ken Cuccinelli's (R-37th) senate race and Carl Cecil's School Board campaign.
"For me, I always felt like it was important to be involved in politics to make the world a better place," explained Craddock. "And about a year ago, another Republican activist called and asked if I'd consider running because of the tax issue and Reese's vote on it. And when I looked into it, I found other issues where Gary was on the wrong side of the issues that I cared about."
HE SAID Reese voted for the half-cent tax increase in 2002 and for Warner's $1 billion budget in 2004. "Then he voted against [Warner's] $1.4 billion budget," said Craddock. "And in between the two votes, I decided I was going to run."
Furthermore, he said senior citizens used to be able to claim a $12,000 tax deduction that they can no longer claim, "and the tax increase
[Reese] voted for in 2004 got rid of that."
And, said Craddock, "As someone with a young family, when taxes go up, I understand how much it hurts. It's a budget cut for our families. With house prices rising and property taxes going through the roof, it makes it hard for families to live here."
He believes the state should cap property taxes so they don't increase more than 5 percent, "instead of double-digit, like now. I think we've got to keep our taxes low so we can protect our families. As taxes go up, it forces people to work longer and harder just to afford their property taxes. If we don't make it easier for people to stay home with their families, we'll be in a world of trouble. I believe that with all my heart."
Regarding transportation, said Craddock, "Right now, we get so little money back from the state from our taxes to solve our infrastructure problems. So voting some of these guys out of office who have voted against bringing more money back to Northern Virginia will bring us one step closer to solving these [problems] with our own money." He also believes that, "If we were to build a coalition between Hampton Roads and this area, we could have enough votes to change the funding formula."
SAYING THAT $1 billion has been taken from the state's Transportation Trust Fund and used for non-transportation projects. "The only time we should do that is in case of an emergency," said Craddock. "And there should be a two-thirds majority vote to do so."
Instead, he said, "We need to take transportation-related expenses — such as car-rental fees and the fees for changing auto-insurance companies — and put them into the Transportation Trust Fund, instead of the General Fund, where they go now. I think it's a common-sense solution to a real tough problem."
Noting that he coaches both girls and boys soccer at Chantilly and is a goalkeeper-trainer, too, Craddock said he believes education is important. "I'm in the schools all the time," he said. "And while on staff with Young Life [an outreach to youth] and as a youth minister, I'm around high-school students. And I believe we've got to make sure we keep our educational system going, our teachers treated property and our children well educated."
In Northern Virginia, he said, students have high GPAs, but in southern Virginia, students can enter the same colleges with lower GPAs. And he said there was a bill to eliminate geographical discrimination in college-acceptance policies.
"Most of the delegates voted to kill this bill, and so did Gary," said Craddock. "It's just one more example of somebody who needs to be there for us, instead of just going along with the status quo."
He says voters should elect him because "the people who should serve in office are people who work in their communities. I work with hundreds of kids and families every week, and I feel like I have a vested interest in the community and I want to see it bettered."
ALTHOUGH REESE has more experience in the political arena than he does, Craddock asked, "What has his experience gotten us? Higher taxes and votes against Northern Virginia and the moral issues I believe in. If Gary gets anymore experience, I think we're gonna go broke."
He said that, according to the NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League), in 2004, Reese "had a 50-percent voting record on the bills they were pushing." Therefore, asked Craddock, "Is Gary misleading us on where he stands [on pro-life issues] because it's an election year?"
"A representative is supposed to represent the people," he continued. "So I believe we need someone in there who'll vote the way the people in this district believe. People want their taxes low and more money coming to Northern Virginia; and they want us to preserve the traditional, moral values that Virginia has always held dear."
Craddock said he feels like he's part of this area and understands it. And when he's gone knocking on residents' doors while campaigning, he said, "They seem to tell me that they agree with me on the issues and that they'll vote for me to represent them in the state legislature."
One of them is Kevin O'Malley of Centreville's Belle Pond Farm community. He met Craddock during his door-to-door campaigning, earlier this year, and liked his energy, as well as his stand on the issues.
"He's pro-life, pro-family, which is important to me and my family," said O'Malley. He also expressed surprise at Reese's initial vote for Warner's budget containing a tax hike. "[Craddock's] already signed a Taxpayer Protection Pledge, on Sept. 6, 2004, saying he'd vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes. So those two reasons make me want to vote for him."
Ron Etters of Centreville's Cabell's Mill community has known Craddock several years and said he's been an active member of the Fairfax County Republican Committee. "He's remarkably trustworthy and savvy," said Etters. "For a person who's 26, he has that leadership quality that people respond to."
VALUING A philosophy of limited government, Etters said Craddock's no-new-taxes pledge means that he's putting his name on the line. "And that's important, because we're becoming more and more concerned about property taxes," said Etters. "And Chris has a realistic platform of managing the increase in property taxes by capping the rate of increase."
He said Craddock wants Northern Virginia to keep more of its tax money "so we can use it, among other things, on improving our transportation dilemma." Etters agrees with Craddock's view of the Transportation Trust Fund and likes the way he speaks his mind.
"I like his openness and enthusiasm," said Etters. "I think he's the kind of new leadership we need here in Northern Virginia to help us through tough times."
Franklin Farm's Anne-Marie VonKahle has known Craddock six years, mainly through Young Life, when he was on staff and she was a parent volunteer. "I think Chris is a man of integrity — a man of leadership," she said. "He understands the community and knows how to find out its needs and address them."
She said Craddock identifies issues and is an effective problem-solver. "I think his leadership qualities would be huge assets to the 67th District and the surrounding communities," said VonKahle. "I think he's up for the task and will meet it head-on and effectively for the good of the community. I would strongly endorse him."