Given the typically low numbers for House of Delegates races, City of Fairfax General Registrar John Harold does not expect an overwhelming voter turnout as in last year's presidential election. But in the race to fill the 37th District seat, said Harold, both the Republican and Democratic candidates carry some name recognition, which could help bring voters to the polls.
"John Mason (R) is going to get people out in the city because he's a city boy, and [David] Bulova (D) is going to get people out in the County because his mother is [Supervisor] Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock)," said Harold.
The race is a four-way battle of democracy, with Independent Green Dan Haugh and Libertarian Scott McPherson joining Bulova and Mason. The district had been the only one in Virginia to have a contested primary in both the Republican and Democratic parties. Continuing that tradition of choice, it is now the only one in the state with four candidates on the General Election ballot.
But undecided voters in the 37th District may have a difficult time choosing between the Democratic and Republican candidates. Mason and Bulova, who recently signed a goodwill pact between their campaigns, also share many of the same views on issues impacting voters.
Both Bulova and Mason said they would have supported the $1.34 billion tax increase in 2004. The budget, which increased the sales tax from 4.5 percent to 5 percent, supplied more money toward education, human services and public safety in Fairfax County.
Mason says the budget could have allocated more to transportation, however. He would fix that if elected, he said, since transportation is where most of his expertise lies. A consultant with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), Mason led SAIC's Transportation Policy and Analysis Center. He also served on the Metro Washington Area Transportation Policy Board and on the Northern Virginia Coordinating Council.
To fix the transportation crunch currently facing the county, Mason would focus his efforts on increasing public transit capacity by extending Metrorail and Virginia Railway Express lines, adding cars to Metro trains and enhancing bus service. He would work on increasing highway capacity by creating a network of high-occupancy toll (HOT) and high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, and improving existing operations such as light synchronization.
Bulova supports those same initiatives. He is a strong believer in mass transit, such as the program to bring Metrorail to Dulles. He also supports strengthening initiatives for telecommuting, a method he himself uses several days a week.
Bulova would use a portion of the state's budget surplus for some transportation funding, but supports one-time construction projects. "Don't commit to long-term projects," he said.
For transportation, McPherson supports privately-owned roads. "I don’t believe the government should be in the transportation business," he said.
Haugh supports extending rail throughout the region. He thinks the federal government needs to provide additional funding and would push for expanding the Metro system. "The government is responsible to provide alternative modes of transportation," he said.
He opposes expensive Beltway projects, as well as those that take more than five years. "There are too many studies and not enough action," he said.
In education, Mason points to his own record with schools in the City of Fairfax. He helped introduce Latin into the elementary-school curriculum and enhanced art programs, he said.
"Education is the key to people's success," said Mason.
McPherson's main platform is education. His primary focus is a 100-percent return on the portion of property tax that goes to public education, for parents who send their children to private or alternative schools.
"Children have rights that ought to be respected," said McPherson. "I'm uncomfortable with the idea of sticking a kid in a desk all day."
Children should be able to learn at their own pace and not confined to the "one-size-fits-all system" of public schools, he said, offering his own children as examples. His daughter Meghan, 7, initially had little interest in reading, he said. But she wanted to audition for a speaking role in a play, and so she taught herself to read.
"It's interesting. People are receptive to the idea that they should have a say in their children's education," said McPherson.
WHILE MASON and Haugh focus on transportation, and McPherson on education funding, Bulova often points to his environmental record. Bulova is an environmental planner by trade. He holds a seat on the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District and served on the Consumer Protection Commission. He also serves on the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Board, a group which helps localities understand the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act. "I am proud to have been an environmental leader since 1991," he said.
Bulova would like to create a state office to assist localities as they develop. He notes that many smaller counties which suddenly find themselves besieged by new development are not equipped to understand how to plan their growth.
While Bulova would keep the decision making at the local level, he would create a state office to consult with the localities and show them different scenarios. "Just to simply provide a visualization tool to help put it in context," he said. "I think its a good thing to have that kind of support at the state level."
Bulova would also support things like Transferable Development Rights, which can be used to protect environmentally sensitive areas.
According to Toni-Michelle Travis, associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University, deciding factors in the 37th District race may well turn out to be age and experience.
"You've got youth and age, with Bulova and Mason," said Travis. "You've got long-term political experience with Mason, some political experience with Bulova."
But for Mason, whose campaign slogan is "Experience does matter," voters don't want a delegate who requires on-the-job training. Mason often points to his record in the city: he served 12 years as mayor of the City of Fairfax, and four years on the City Council before that.
"I want to be able to start on day one in the House of Delegates," said Mason. "Voters are looking for somebody who has background and can start on the first day."
TO BULOVA, experience doesn’t just come in the form of political office. Bulova focuses on his own record of environmental leadership, culminating in a position as district director at Northern Virginia Soil & Water Conservation Services.
"It’s one thing to compare resumés," said Bulova. "It’s another to see who has the tenacity, energy, the skills."
Energy may well be a factor in a race where one of the candidates is nearly twice the age of the others. Mason is 70, while Bulova is 36, McPherson 32 and Haugh 27.
If elected, Mason does plan on sticking around, he said. "It takes several terms to get seniority," he said. "I certainly see myself being there for a while."
Admittedly, said McPherson, he is younger and has no experience in government. But to him, this is an asset rather than a hindrance. The similarities between Bulova and Mason are precisely the reason the electoral process needs alternatives like himself and Haugh, he said.
"I don't think Virginia needs another professional politician," said McPherson, who used to live overseas while in the U.S. Army and now homeschools his two children. "It needs somebody who it can trust and who can articulate a clear position."
As for experience, McPherson pointed out that none of the candidates in the race has served in the House of Delegates before. "Everyone's inexperienced until they're first elected," he said.