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Votes

Taking Public Service to Next Level

George Barker runs in Democratic primary for 39th District Senate seat.

Although he has not served in a public office, George Barker said he has "always been politically active" through his involvement in the community and in other candidates’ campaigns.

Barker ran for the House of Delegates in the 40th District in 1991 and 1993 "because I thought there was a lot I could contribute to the people in that area," he said. "I strongly believe in a commitment to public service."

Barker decided to make another run this year — this time for the State Senate — because he has more time now that his children are grown and because there are three important issues "that we're not addressing on the state level," he said. Those are transportation, accessible health care and the environment. "These are all areas where I have some experience and some expertise," said Barker, who is running against Greg Galligan in the June 12 Democratic primary for the chance to try to unseat incumbent Republican Jay O'Brien.

"Clearly, transportation is the issue we feel the most in Northern Virginia," he said, adding that he felt his six years on the Fairfax County Transportation Advisory Commission, which he chairs, gave him the experience to address the issue. "I have a very good feel for what the problems are and what we need to do," he said.

Having worked in both professional and volunteer capacities in the field of health care for 32 years, said Barker, "I can bring my professional expertise to the Senate." He currently works as assistant director of the Health Systems Agency of Northern Virginia and is involved with the Loudoun and Prince WIlliam community health centers.

"We're far behind other states in terms of health care," Barker said, noting that many other states are working to see to it that all residents have "some access" to health care.

"The third critical issue is the environment right now," said Barker. "Virginia is on the opposite end of the spectrum from a leadership role in that area." He said Virginia ranked last in the country in terms of state involvement in energy conservation, but he noted that Gov. Tim Kaine (D) had said environmental issues would be among his top priorities for the last two years of his term. "He needs legislators with knowledge and commitment to work with him," said Barker, mentioning his own work with the Occoquan Watershed Coalition.

TWO OTHER ISSUE Barker cited as important to him are education and services for senior citizens. He said his interest in education had led him to be a two-time PTA president, a board member for the adult education program Education for Independence and former president of an academic booster club, and he is also the father of a teacher.

In terms of adult education, Barker said, "right now, the sate is not doing what it should be doing to provide funding for the localities." As a result, he said, localities are funding adult education through higher property taxes. He noted that Virginia also provides "much less" than other states for higher education. This has created higher tuition rates and prevented colleges and universities from expanding to keep up with the population, he said.

Barker noted that the state's senior citizen population is relatively small now but is growing "and the state is doing very little to meet those needs." He said that in his time working on the board of the Clifton-Fairfax Station Transition in Place Services (TIPS), a newly formed organization dedicated to helping the elderly remain in their own homes as long as possible, he had been "struck by the number of people needing those types of services or knowing someone who does."

The most important issue specific to his own region, said Barker, is the coming expansion of Fort Belvoir, which will relocate 23,000 jobs to the area, most of which will likely end up on the Army's Engineer Proving Grounds in Springfield. Under his chairmanship, the Fairfax County Transportation Advisory Commission conducted a study concluding that it would take about $2 billion in transportation projects in order for local drives not to feel the results of the influx of traffic, he said.

Barker said one way to dull the impact would be to extend the Metro south from the Springfield-Franconia to Prince William County. For starters, he suggested running the line down to the Engineer Proving Grounds, which would already cost about $600 million. This would be in addition to other projects, such as finishing the Fairfax County Parkway, improving Backlick Road and possibly adding another Virginia Railway Express Station, he said.

Barker spent most of his childhood in eastern Tennessee, graduating from high school in Knoxville. He earned both his undergraduate degree in economics and public health and his masters degree in health policy and management from Harvard University. He has lived in the area for 32 years, during which he has resided in the Lee, Mount Vernon, Braddock and Springfield districts of Fairfax County. He currently lives in Clifton.

Barker said that as of last Friday, all of the 28 elected officials in Fairfax and Prince William counties who had made endorsements in the 39th District primary race had endorsed him.

One of those officials is Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee). "The reason I endorsed George is two-fold," he said. He cited Barker's experience on the County Transportation Advisory Commission, noting that traffic concerns and "getting the county moving again" will be an important job of the office Barker is pursuing.

Also, said Kauffman, with the number of senior citizens in the county projected to double in the next 10 years, "we need someone who knows health care forwards and backwards." The job of representing the interests of Northern Virginia is "a natural fit for the skills George would bring to the office," he said.