As a parent, Ron Grignol knows that sometimes lessons have to be disguised as something fun in order to be effective.
In that vein, he has created The TaxMan, a large, rectangular box costume that, when placed over a willing volunteer, helps the Republican hopeful for the 43rd District seat in the House of Delegates get out his message about taxes.
"People in the 43rd feel overtaxed," said Grignol, sitting in an upstairs office of his Springfield home. "When the price of a house doubles in two or three years, a person's income doesn't increase as fast. It's paper wealth, there's no way of knowing if you'd get the same price if you sold your home."
With that in mind, Grignol was inspired to create the TaxMan as a way to get potential voters' attention.
"It adds a little humor to the campaign and lets people voice their concern on Mark (Sickles, the Democratic incumbent) and his history on taxes," said Grignol. "Kids like to see who he is and adults like to threaten him."
Ideally, Grignol would like to see the assessment process abolished and implement a 5-percent cap on property tax increases, possibly even looking back "a year or two" to determine a fair amount.
RESETTING THE personal property tax rate and home assessments would be most helpful to senior citizens and those on a fixed income, said Grignol, by allowing them to afford to remain in their homes. Additionally, he would vote to repeal the car tax and instead use money from the budget surplus to help fund transportation projects.
"The whole idea of that tax increase is unnecessary and dishonest to voters," said Grignol. "We knew we were going into a budget surplus but none of it went into transportation. My opponent wanted to raise taxes."
Traffic is the second hottest topic in the 43rd District, said Grignol. With an expected influx of residents and vehicles courtesy of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) into Fort Belvoir within the next few years, roads that are currently jammed with traffic during everyday rush hours would become even worse if transportation alternatives are not explored.
"I support Metro going into Fort Belvoir," said Grignol. "The Rail to Dulles project takes up a lot of rail and money and is not cost effective. A smaller project would make much more sense and it would be easier to do."
Another alternative he believes would be more efficient would be widening local roads that create bottlenecks during rush hours and possibly including HOT Lanes along the Beltway.
"I think we can go further with telecommuting," said Grignol. Fewer people on the road would open up driving space for those who need their cars for their jobs. "Now that there's some real competition from the cable companies to provide Broadband Internet service in homes," he said. "I'd like to allow the state to regulate it and let everyone compete for better rates."
AS THE FATHER of two daughters enrolled in Fairfax County Public Schools, in sixth and eighth grades, Grignol knows firsthand the quality of teachers most students find in their classrooms and would like to see better teachers receive better pay.
"I'd like to give the power of pay to the principals, they know who the best teachers are," he said. "We need to reallocate money without having to figure out how to add money to the system through raising taxes."
Grignol also supports the idea of letting students who are homeschooled participate in traditional school activities, like band or athletic teams, as a way to socialize with other students. "Their parents are still paying taxes on the schools too," he said.
During the course of his campaign, Grignol has received many ideas from talking with residents about their concerns and sometimes has to admit he doesn't have all the answers.
"There are a lot of new immigrants in the area and they're eager to vote, so I pick up new issues talking with them," he said.
If elected, Grignol hopes to take with him to Richmond what he has learned while campaigning and combine it with his experience as a defense contractor and lobbyist for a fathers-rights organization to continue to advocate for "socially conservative" legislation.
"We need to keep more money in the area for traffic, for taxes, for education reform and for health care," said Grignol. He considers himself a better choice than his opponent because "I'll do what I say regardless of what other members of the party are doing," he said.
Most of Grignol's campaign has centered of grassroots-type politicking: going door-to-door, attending back-to-school nights and having volunteers manning a phone bank to call residents. "My daughters have gotten their friends and their friends' parents involved which has been a great help," he said.
Personally, Grignol considers Sickles "a nice guy" who has lost touch with the residents of the district.
'He voted for the largest tax increase in Virginia history but none of the money went towards transportation," said Grignol. "He also introduced a bill to raise the gas tax 7 cents per gallon. He's got no thought of trying to do things differently."
WITH THEIR father running for delegate, Grignol's daughters have become his biggest supporters. Youngest daughter Julianne, 10, is running for class president and Melissa, 12, said she would like to go to Richmond to see her father in action if he's elected.
"I've been taking civics this year but I don't know much about how the House of Delegates works," said Melissa. "I've been learning a lot about it this summer helping my dad."
Grignol has served as the treasurer of the Northern Virginia Regional Fatherhood Coalition for several years and Franklin Malone, president of that organization, said Grignol would be a "family type of delegate who's focused on what's best for the family."
Malone said Grignol has presented several bills and pieces of legislation in Richmond to delegates in the past. "We need a voice representing diversity and the choices families need to make regarding fathers," he said. "We're going to put our people out to work for Ron and encourage people to vote for him. You don't need a wimp to represent you and Ron has shown he has a strong voice."
Campaign manager Jay Ford said unlike other candidates he's worked with, Grignol has kept his wits about him while running for office.
"Usually, when a person announces their candidacy their IQ drops 70 points, but this is completely different," Ford said. "Ron is a rocket scientist and he thinks that way, usually totally different from the rest of us."
While campaigning with Grignol, Ford said that most people they have met going door-to-door have been receptive to his message. "We're going out to a lot of community events," said Ford. "I've never attended a back-to-school night before, but that's what you have to do here to keep up with the incumbent."
At the end of the day, Ford believes that Grignol will make decision based on "what's right for the area" if elected to the House. "I've met all kinds of candidates with ulterior motives, but he doesn't have any intention of running for another sort of office."
Prior to Election Day, Ford hopes residents of the 43rd District will "read over both candidates and look at the issues" before casting their vote. "Ron is in the right place on the issues that effect this area," he said.
Sickles, the incumbent, admitted that his opponent "has been working very hard on his campaign," but isn't sure Grignol has had enough experience in the public arena to be a representative.
"It has made me a better candidate because he's worked so hard, but I've got a good record to defend," said Sickles, adding that he's "looking forward to" the remainder of the campaign.