Part of the reason J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen ran the Marine Corps Marathon last fall was to strengthen his legs for the door-to-door campaigning he plans to do in 2007.
Petersen, a Democrat, announced his candidacy for the 34th District seat in the State Senate, Wednesday, Jan. 3. The seat currently is held by Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, a Republican entering her fourth year as senator.
“I really enjoy representing people,” said Petersen. “When I do that, I’m happy.”
Petersen ran for lieutenant governor in 2005 and lost. He said he wants to represent the 34th District in Richmond because the General Assembly “needs some fresh leadership.” Petersen said he has no intentions to run for a higher elected office again, but doesn’t regret his lieutenant governor race in 2005. He said after taking last year off from public office, he thought that getting back into it would be the right decision.
“I’m 38, and I still think I can make a difference,” said Petersen.
THE RECENT Democratic victories in Northern Virginia prove that the district is a swing district, said Devolites Davis. She predicts that it will be “a million-dollar race,” and said she’s fortunate she has so many loyal contributors. Devolites Davis is beginning the 2007 campaign with about $540,000 in her campaign fund, while Petersen is starting out with a $0-balance.
“I have no illusions that I’ll be outspent by a fairly large margin,” said Petersen.
The Blue Dominion Majority PAC, or political action committee, based in Falls Church, has raised about $20,000 since the November elections, said Sandy Thomas, co-founder of the PAC. Petersen is an attorney at Surovell, Markle, Isaacs & Levy, where partner Scott Surovell is also co-founder of the Blue Dominion PAC. The PAC was formed in 2005 to support the gain of Democratic seats in the General Assembly, and contributors include Petersen and Fairfax City Councilmember Scott Silverthorne. Thomas said Blue Dominion intends to support Petersen in 2007, but said it’s too early to tell which races will be a key focus for the PAC.
“This area is turning into a Democratic majority, but I don’t take anything for granted,” said Petersen. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m running as the underdog.”
Petersen started his political career at the state level as an underdog, as well. In 2001, he defeated incumbent Jack Rust who had held the seat since 1997.
Devolites Davis said it is very rare for incumbents to be beaten in the General Assembly and points out that the Democratic seats won in recent state elections have been open seats, not seats taken from incumbents. According to the University of Virginia Geospatial and Statistical Data Center, 97 percent General Assembly incumbents won re-election in 2005.
THE U.S. SENATE race last year resulted in a Democratic win because of Sen. George Allen’s “macaca” remark, not because Virginians are necessarily going Democratic, said Devolites Davis.
“When you look at fact that not a single Congress member lost their seat, it speaks volumes to the fact that Virginia still leans Republican,” said Devolites Davis. “Both parties are recruiting, both are raising money; we’re going to see more money spent than ever this year.”
Both Petersen and Devolites Davis said they probably have many similar views and opinions, which is why campaigning is going to be huge this year. Both candidates have represented the City of Fairfax for many years, but Devolites Davis has strong roots in the part of the district that includes Vienna and Oakton. That is likely the area where Petersen will be putting his conditioned legs to use.
The City of Fairfax isn’t a shoo-in for Petersen or Devolites Davis, so campaigning is likely to be turned up there as well. In last November’s election, 54 percent of city voters reelected Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) — Devolites Davis’s husband — to the U.S. House of Representatives, but 56 percent of city voters voted for the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, Jim Webb. Fifty-three percent of city voters also voted "no" on the marriage amendment, which could generally be perceived as Democratic votes.
“Both parties will generate a lot of activity in the  elections,” said Devolites Davis.
Both candidates recognize transportation in the region as a key issue this election year. Neither candidate is saying “no new taxes,” since they both think there needs to be increased transportation revenues in Northern Virginia.
“The only way to remedy the traffic gridlock is for our locality to raise revenues,” said Devolites Davis.
BOTH AGREE that the revenues need to be held by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, in order to keep the money local once it’s raised. If certain localities don’t want to ante up, Devolites Davis said they shouldn’t benefit.
“You have to pay to play,” she said.
Petersen points out that the gas tax is one of the lowest in the country, but Devolites-Davis said that unless it’s raised by at least $0.40 per gallon, it wouldn’t generate enough revenue over time. She wants to see an increase in sales tax, by about half a percent, so that visitors to the state who use its roads and contribute to traffic problems can participate in a solution.
Petersen said the General Assembly needs some new, original solutions, which is another reason he thinks the General Assembly needs fresh faces. He said he wants money set aside for mass transit and rail, and he too wants revenues increased. The General Assembly has a lack of vision because one side wants no new taxes, while the other wants taxes raised but has no direct solutions for which ones and by how much, he said. Petersen also wants to see the overwhelming amount of bureaucracy disappear.
“You’ve got half a dozen state agencies spending the money, many that are politically appointed,” said Petersen. “We need to have a streamlined authority for making decisions and professional people making those decisions.”
Davis said that while she and Petersen share a lot of the same views, she finds some of his votes on gun legislation while he was in the House concerning. She said he voted against banning guns in county libraries and nine other local anti-gun bills because he was trying to please rural voters in other parts of the state prior to his lieutenant governor race.
Petersen said that was not the case. The General Assembly has shown that localities generally lose when trying to draft their own gun laws, said Petersen. "This issue has been pretty much decided [by the state]," he said. He sponsored a bill in 2002 to ban firearms in government centers, but it was defeated. Devolites Davis said she can point to Petersen’s gun legislation votes to prove that they were not in the best interest of the constituents in the 34th District. Guns are a “make-you or break-you issue,” said Devolites Davis.
“My goal will be to represent this district; to be an advocate for them,” said Petersen. “It’s like representing a client in court. I’m very focused on representing my client, and that’s a skill I plan to use.”
Petersen is kicking off his candidacy with a party at Old Town Hall in Fairfax, on Sunday, Jan. 7, from 5-7 p.m.