With the possibility looming that the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade, the two candidates running for the 42nd District seat of the House of Delegates were asked at an Oct. 5 debate about their views on abortion.
Del. Dave Albo (R), who has represented the southern Fairfax County district since 1995, said the traditional labels of "pro-choice" or "pro-life" offer little insight into where a lawmaker stands on the issue.
"Every campaign, people want to apply labels," he said. "But I think it's more instructive to look at my voting record."
Albo, 43, rattled off a long list of his key abortion votes. He cosponsored a bill requiring parental notification when a teenager seeks an abortion. But he opposed a bill that would have required parental consent. He has always opposed state funding of abortion clinics, but has also consistently voted to keep contraceptives available in Virginia.
Democrat Greg Werkheiser, 31, said his position on abortion is not so complicated.
"I'm pro-choice," he said, as the crowd at West Springfield Elementary School cheered.
On Nov. 8, the district's 49,940 voters from West Springfield, Lorton and Mason Neck will be faced with their own choice — re-elect a long-time incumbent or throw their support to a young challenger.
AT THE WEDNESDAY debate, sponsored by the West Springfield Civic Association and attended by more than 200 residents, the two candidates offered their views and exchanged political potshots.
Werkheiser criticized Albo, an attorney, for representing clients charged with drunk driving — all while crafting Virginia's DUI laws and accepting more than $45,000 in campaign contributions from the beer and wine industry.
"I don't begrudge Dave from having a day job, I really don't," said Werkheiser, who is also an attorney. "But it's a circle that I'm a little uncomfortable with."
West Springfield resident Chris Scaptura is unsure for whom he will vote on Nov. 8, and said after the debate that the conflict of interest allegations against Albo rang true for him.
"I find it interesting that Mr. Albo considers the locking up of criminals without a chance of parole to be a high priority, but he doesn't consider a drunk driver to be a criminal when they're driving a 3,000-pound weapon," said Scaptura.
Albo pointed out that he helped implement the toughest drunk driving laws in the nation last year, earning him the "Legislator of the Year Award" from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
"You can be 100 percent sure that Dave Albo is fighting to put drunk drivers behind bars," he said.
Following the debate, Albo slammed Werkheiser for telling the West Springfield audience that his history of 10 traffic infractions over the past decade took place primarily while he was in college.
"That was a blatant lie," Albo said. "He pleaded guilty to a ticket just two weeks ago."
Werkheiser denied Albo's accusation, saying he had only one speeding ticket in the last year, which he did not contest. The last ticket, Werkheiser said, was from several months ago — not two weeks ago.
"The vast majority of the tickets he's talking about were from when I was in college," he said.
DESPITE THE JABS, both Albo and Werkheiser said they preferred to focus on issues affecting the 70,000 citizens of the 42nd District.
Foremost among those issues, Albo said, is illegal immigration.
"Illegal aliens are ruining this country and are costing us so much money you don't even know it," he said.
If re-elected, Albo said he would give state and local law enforcement officers the power to detain and deport illegal immigrants. He would also remove any illegal immigrants from the state's voter rolls.
Werkheiser said using state and local police as a replacement for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents would "raise property taxes through the roof" and divert law enforcement resources from truly dangerous crimes.
"The police don't want to be given this responsibility," Werkheiser said. "That's why they've endorsed me."
From Werkheiser's perspective, the top issue is education — and how much funding Fairfax County receives from Richmond.
In 2004, the General Assembly approved a $1.34 billion sales tax increase that boosted funding to the Fairfax County school system by $19.9 million over two years.
"Fairfax County has wonderful schools," Werkheiser said. "They will not stay that way unless we fully fund the Standards of Quality."
Albo, who voted against the 2004 tax package, said it was a bad deal for Fairfax County. Fairfax County, which has 14 percent of the state's students, pays 16 percent of Virginia's sales tax and 28 percent of the state's income tax. However, the 2004 budget action only brought 7.8 percent of the revenue from the tax increase back to Fairfax County, he said.
"Every time you send me down to Richmond, I will always vote against a rip-off," Albo said.
THE AUDIENCE on Wednesday was a mix of Albo supporters, Werkheiser supporters and undecided voters.
John Sherman, who has lived in West Springfield for 35 years, said he would be voting for Albo — just as he has done for the past 10 years.
"I've known Dave since he was in high school with my youngest son," Sherman said. "I'm partial to Dave."
Tammy Sumner, also a West Springfield resident, said she is backing Werkheiser because of his stance on education funding.
"I definitely agree with supporting our schools and keeping them on track," she said.