Lisa Fredrich attended Wednesday night’s Loudoun County League of Women Voter’s debate to learn more about Republican Del. Dick Black, his Democratic opponent David Poisson and their views on Loudoun County issues.
"I really did not know enough about either candidate," Fredrich said. "It’s my responsibility to go and hear directly from them, what their positions are."
Three news reporters from Leesburg Today, Loudoun Times-Mirror and the Loudoun Connection asked questions. Master Media Group’s Ben Weber moderated the event, and asked questions submitted by audience members throughout the debate.
"Overall, the discussion was good. I liked the way it was set up, the way reporters asked questions, and questions were taken from the audience," Fredrich said. "I think we all wanted the facts."
The forum helped Fredrich decide her vote for the Nov. 8 election.
"I was undecided when I walked in the door," she said. "I left knowing who I was going to vote for."
MORE THAN 150 residents attended the debate, held at Cascades Senior Center. Many constituents draped themselves in campaign stickers and T-shirts. However, League of Women Voters president Betsy Mayr asked the audience to remove all paraphernalia before the debate began.
Poisson led the debate with an opening statement on the main focus of his campaign, education. Poisson grew up in a single-parent home in the impoverished Fall River, Mass. His mother placed a high value on education. Poisson and his three younger siblings hold nine degree among them.
"Not bad for a bunch of mill-town kids whose mother never made it past junior high," he said. If elected, he hopes to better the Loudoun County Public School system, to ensure a better future for not only his daughter, Kate, by all Loudoun County children.
"Our parents built school and hospitals … paved roads," he said. "We need to reclaim that … I want our children to have a better life."
In Black’s opening statement, the seven-year incumbent boasted about his accomplishments in office.
"Loudoun County is the best county in the state," he said. "My district has one of the most robust transportation programs in all of Virginia." Black said he wants to widen Route 7, from Loudoun to Tysons Corner and eliminate all traffic lights on Route 28.
"Teachers get paid 19 percent more than the national average.… We set records for SAT scores two years in a row," he said.
After highlighting Loudoun’s accomplishments, Black talked about taxes.
"I oppose higher taxes," Black said. "But my opponent applauded the 2004 tax hike."
Black said there is no sense in raising state taxes to fund local roads and schools.
"We will never gain in Northern Virginia from a higher state tax," Black said. "That is why I have opposed every state tax since I have been in office."
After opening remarks, the reporters asked questions on education, illegal immigration, transportation and family values.
THE CANDIDATES gave solutions to transportation problems. Black said he would widen Route 7 from Loudoun to Tysons Corner.
"We have got to do it as a Republican team," he said. Black referred to Poisson as "one lone Democrat trying to get things done on his own."
Poisson said he would work in coalition with other office holders to solve community problems. "This is not a partisan issue," Poisson said. "This is about having good roads and making sure we get there on time."
When asked why chairman of the House education committee, Del. James Dillard (R-41), agreed with Black’s "F" grade in education from the Virginia 21 organization, Black said the delegate was difficult to work with.
Black said Dillard, who is retiring this year, endorsed Democrats and never voted with Republicans.
"Del. Dillard has been forced from office because he simply could not get along with the Republicans," Black said. "I wish him the very best in retirement. He never voted with the Republicans, he voted solidly with the Democrats throughout his career. May he rest in peace."
Poisson said Dillard was highly respected in the House of Delegates. "It is a body that requires understanding … respect for our differences."
THE CANDIDATES EXPLAINED what they would do to control property tax increases.
"I am concerned about the enormous increase in taxation overall," Black said. He is especially concerned for retirees on fixed incomes. Black promised to pass legislation that would cap property tax increases at 5 percent.
"I have never said that I favor raising taxes," Poisson said. He talked about tax rates and assessment. "If I promised you tomorrow that I could hold the rate, and the value of your home will be what it was worth 10 years ago, I don’t think any one of you would want that deal … the payment of those property taxes have helped build Loudoun and made it one of the most enviable places to live in the commonwealth of Virginia," he said.
Both candidates stressed the importance of family values, but differed on the government’s role in enforcing them. Poisson said he turned to his church for guidance because it is difficult "determining whose morals we are talking about." A large portion of the audience cheered.
Black, vocal about his views on social issues, condemned Poisson’s "liberal" views. "Unlike my opponent, I know what family values are.… The idea that we cannot legislate morality is bizarre," Black said. "The fabric of society is bound together by these laws."
When questioned about the Stone Bridge play incident Black defended his position. The one-act play, "Offsides," featured a scene where two male students appear to kiss. Without having seen the play, Black e-mailed constituents decrying the use of taxpayers' money for promoting homosexual activity in the schools.
"I want a good moral climate in our schools," Black said. "I will help parents achieve that positive moral climate whenever I can."
Poisson said he would have handled the situation differently, making sure to watch a tape of the play. He said he would have contacted the students’ parents and, at the very least, contacted the principal.
"What are we trying to teach our children in Loudoun County?" Poisson asked the audience. "We speak to one another.… We do not practice shock and awe politics.… Please fire this delegate. Hire this candidate."
BLACK and Poisson disagreed on a majority of issues, including immigration in Loudoun County. Black said illegal immigrants are eroding the middle class and pensions and is opposed to regulated day-labor site.
"I am opposed to hiring illegals in Herndon. These are people who violate the laws and penetrate our borders," he said. Black said he plans to use state troopers to arrest illegal immigrants.
Poisson pointed the finger elsewhere. "Day laborers are not the ones eroding our pensions. Corporations on the other side are benefiting from the arrangement. We need to nip that in the bud," he said. "People are not migrating from El Salvador to see what is happening in Herndon. They are coming here because they know they will find work. They have families to support."
THE CANDIDATES and audiences members were heated by the end of the debate. After being interrupted several times during his closing statement, Black asked for additional time. Members of the audience were outraged, but time was rewarded to the delegate. After mispronouncing Poisson’s last name several times, the crowd grew angry.
"Mr. ‘Poison’ is a liberal.… You always know exactly where I stand. I a supporter of law and order, higher teacher pay.… No one in Virginia works harder for transportation."
Poisson did not give in to the name calling. "I care deeply about the commonwealth and care deeply about Loudoun County," Poisson said. He is running to build a better future for Loudoun County children. "I do not want them to learn to get elected, you smear their opponent," he said.
Both candidates claimed to win the debate the following day, but the majority of the crowd cheered for Poisson. "I think we all want to have all the facts," Fredrich said. "Poisson gave us the facts. Black did score some good points about the changes he made, too. I applaud him for that."