In November, the people of Reston in the 36th district will choose between incumbent Del. Ken Plum (D-36) and Libertarian challenger Donny Ferguson.
To help people decide, the two candidates faced off Monday as part of a televised debate on the public access show Reston Impact, hosted by John Lovaas and co-hosted by the Reston Citizens Association, represented by Marion Stillson.
Ferguson, a staffer for the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, faces Plum, a 13-term incumbent. Ferguson is new to Reston, having lived here less than a year.
While composed throughout, the two candidates answered questions ranging from transportation to Reston township, laying out two very different platforms.
The format for the debate allowed members of the three local newspapers — The Reston Connection, the Reston Observer and the Reston Times — to pose questions.
The candidates, who met for the first time at the forum, agreed on very little. For example, on education, Plum would like to strengthen the public school system by lowering teacher-to-pupil ratios and offering expanded preschool programs. Ferguson, on the other hand, would like to create an “educational marketplace” where parents can choose where their children go to school.
While the debate won’t air until next week, here is a preview with excerpts of the candidates’ responses to several issues.
On the Role of Government and the Safety Net
Ferguson: “I believe government should limit itself to protecting public safety and should leave people alone to live their lives as long as they don’t harm others.”
“The fact is government-run Medicare will not get the job done long-term. We need to look at making health care affordable long-term so people do not need Medicare. There are corporate laws in this country that benefit big pharmaceutical companies and make drugs more expensive. If we get these out of the way and we allow people to save more for their retirement then hopefully we won’t need Social Security and Medicaid.”
Plum: “I find it interesting that we would be talking in a state delegate race about the potential of getting rid of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — such vital, important components of our social security support system.”
“I think the recent events of Hurricane Katrina points up to us the vital role that government plays.”
“We need a strong core of government services to move in and take over some of these activities, obviously supported by the community and faith-based organizations — but they alone can’t do the job.”
Plum: “The truth of the matter is that one size does not fit all. The Standards of Learning tries to make that happen. No Child Left Behind tries to make it happen. But what we need to be able to do is have individual programs that meet the particular needs of students.”
Ferguson: “We should allow parents to take their share of education funding, what they pay in and invest it in the best possible education they can find. Because the fact is one size does not fit all. We need to open the educational marketplace.”
On Transportation and Rail in Reston
Ferguson: “I know firsthand what Metro does to a community, and it’s not a pretty thing.”
“We can get people moving through bus rapid transit. You would achieve the same objective of Metro, and get people moving, but you could do it now and in a very cost-efficient manner.”
“The Dulles Corridor Rail Association’s own Web site boasts the fact that everyone who parks their car in [Washington] D.C. will now be parking their car in Reston and Herndon, and I can tell you from personal experience that it is not a pleasant thing to have people parking their cars in your neighborhood.”
Plum: “You simply can’t move that many people with buses. It takes the higher capacity that rail has to offer. Rail will not cost $5 billion and it will not take away from highway construction simply because it has a unique funding structure to itself. It is needed to meet the increased growth that is coming to this corridor.”
“Bus rapid transit requires that people park somewhere, too. Also, once you get the bus on the road, it’s in the same traffic that everyone else is in.”
On Reston Becoming a Town
Plum: “I’d be happy to, on behalf of the citizens of Reston, when there’s a consensus of opinion in the community and when the details are worked out as to how this would work with the county and also with the Reston Association, which is the other little encumbrance that we’ve got here in a contractual agreement with the deeds — when those are worked out, I would be happy to carry a proposal before the legislature to make Reston a town.”
Ferguson: “I’m not inclined to support it. I don’t see any clear-cut benefits and I don’t see how it will solve the problems that will come up that you probably couldn’t do through restructuring the Reston Association or electing different people. I’m still open to listening and learning more.”
On the Sale of the Toll Road
Ferguson: “I would not support it in this case because it’s simply a way of propping up a program — a big rail project — that is not going to address long-term needs.”
“We should be expanding the toll road and bus rapid transit.”
Plum: “We are going to need to go to a rail system, and from what I’ve seen in public opinion polls, some 80 percent of the community wants that to happen.”
On Day Laborer Sites
Plum: “I want to commend the town council of Herndon for their action. It was a responsible action. It’s one I support. It’s astonishing to me that people who congregate so they can get themselves a job so they can support their families and their extended families gets to be a problem in a locality — it’s most unfortunate.”
Ferguson: “Del. Plum is absolutely right. These immigrants are here for a reason. They’re here because we want them here. We need them here and we need to accommodate for them. Frankly, we couldn’t get by without them.”
“I would encourage Reston Interfaith to use one of their parking lots to do this or other charity groups, because the fact unfortunately is that federal law makes it expressly illegal to use federal, state or local tax dollars to subsidize illegal activity. And as it stands right now, it is illegal to hire a worker without proper documentation.”