Every weekday afternoon between the hours of 2:30-7:30 p.m., Rex Simmons takes to the streets of the 40th District asking area residents to support his bid for a seat in the House of Delegates.
He’s seen a lot of things out walking around, and said he enjoys it. Sometimes, the unexpected happens. Like the day he pressed on a doorbell, and it broke — which made it ring repeatedly inside the home. A woman came to the door looking a bit confused, and asked why he kept pushing the bell. Simmons explained what had happened. "Turns out, she was a staunch Democrat and promised to vote for me," he said.
"You get a lot of dogs," Simmons said. "People won’t answer their door, or people aren’t home. Often they think you’re selling something, and I just say, ‘No, I’m just selling myself.’"
As the race for the 40th District seat in the House of Delegates heats up, and with the June 12 primary approaching, the two Virginia Democrats
vying for the opportunity to challenge the Republican incumbent continue working to distinguish themselves from one another.
Morris Meyer, a software consultant running his own business who grew up in Ohio and moved to Virginia in 2006, and Rex Simmons, a career civil servant who has lived in Fairfax Station for 27 years, are spending the remaining weeks before the primary waging competitive campaigns and talking with district residents.
The goal for each is twofold: Convincing voters to oust incumbent Tim Hugo (R) in an area that appears to be migrating to the left, and explaining why each would do a better job than the other.
Meyer is confident that his five years of involvement in Democratic politics will give him the edge. He’s also counting on his call for progressive energy policy to counter rising costs and climate change to steer votes in his direction.
Simmons is focused on touting his 32 years of government service as an executive and auditor. "I tell people that I spent that time making the government work better," he said.
Simmons is convinced that he can bring those skills to bear in the General Assembly. "I have experience working with both Republicans and Democrats," he said. "One of the biggest problems is partisan bickering, and with my background and experience I would be very effective."
WHEN ASKED to articulate their three primary concerns, both men counted transportation as the most serious problem confronting the 40th District.
"Here in District 40, we’re not commuting from Arlington to D.C., we’re spending from an hour to two hours one way on the roads, taking hours out of their lives," Meyer said. "We’ve reached a point where the transportation system is a crisis, and it’s going to take continual investment in our infrastructure to get around Fairfax County."
He supports extension of Metro and rail service, and emphasizes that transportation funds should not be used for non-transportation purposes, and that the Virginia Department of Transportation should continue working toward greater efficiency and transparency in its projects.
Simmons explains that solving the transportation challenges in the 40th District includes a combination of factors. In addition to the basics — giving local government the tools necessary to control sprawl — Simmons supports extending Metro to Centerville, improving Virginia Rail Express commuter trains, synchronizing traffic lights, improving turn lanes and extending local bus service to more of the 40th District.
"I have lived here for almost 30 years, and all that time I commuted downtown," Simmons said. "Transportation is a big issue, and that has been reinforced when I talk with people. It takes so much time out of our lives, and people sense it’s a result of the inefficiencies of government."
The issue of healthcare is also a primary concern for both candidates. Simmons is focused on finding ways to provide care to the uninsured and promoting prevention, exercise and healthy choices as ways to help contain healthcare costs.
"Insurance premiums are going up, and out-of-pocket expenses are increasing," Simmons said. "Often, people are only one event away from financial disaster. People without insurance will go through an emergency room, and then our insurance premiums increase."
For his part, Meyer supports health insurance for small businesses and allowing small businesses to buy into a state employee health insurance plan.
"It essentially puts small businesses on par with big businesses with their healthcare costs," he said. "There are 700,000 uninsured Virginians that work for small businesses. The insurance companies get to cherry pick who gets covered, and that places real healthcare coverage out of the grasp of working families."
Simmons also wants to work to ensure that schools remain competitive and that a college education is an attainable, affordable goal. He opposes a proposal to cut money from education funds to pay for transportation projects, and supports improving early childhood education. Searching for ways to curb rising college tuition is also a priority.
For Meyer, energy policy rounds out his priority list. He was recently certified as a presenter of Al Gore’s Climate Change Project and supports obtaining energy from renewable sources and creating incentives for businesses to use and supply renewable energy.
WITH LESS THAN three weeks remaining before the primary, both candidates are working with approximately the same amount of money. While Meyer has $17,404 remaining of his original $39,820 in campaign funds, Simmons began with $36,136, and $19,197 in funding remains, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
In his campaign efforts, Meyer usually spends the hours between 5-8 p.m. talking with District 40 voters. During the day he manages his software consulting business and looks forward to call time and voter outreach in the evenings.
"We’ve got a very strong team, and we’re very happy with our field efforts. I feel comfortable about the primary and the season after the primary," he said. "The fact that we’ve taken the time to knock on every door … and ask each voter what’s pressing to them, well, it’s a community conversation, and it’s critical to get the shared wisdom that’s necessary to provide leadership."
When asked about the importance of talking with voters each day, he remarks: "Oh gosh, it’s everything. Understanding their issues, and explaining my positions on the pressing issues of the day has been critical to get the support we’ve earned in the district."
On a recent afternoon, Diana M. Rhodes, 41, greeted Simmons on her porch and spent time listening to his ideas. While she has concerns about various issues facing the 40th District, as a mother, education is a definite priority.
"So many children who come into the country but aren’t citizens are getting a lot of attention," she said. "But we need attention for all the students — all the children — American children of all backgrounds."
On the issues, both Simmons and Meyer acknowledge the opportunity presenting itself as voters appear to be increasingly leaning Democrat.
"Voters are tired of elected officials who represent special interests and extremist politics," Simmons said. "… It makes sense that the voters would carry this trend into other elections. They want partisan game-playing in Richmond to stop and are turning toward the Democratic Party." But he also believes that the leadership of Govs. Warner and Kaine have managed the state well, and voters have taken notice.
For his part, Meyer believes voters are expressing their willingness to do what is best for Virginia. "The Democratic Party in Virginia has chosen to represent the ideals of planning for the future and the common good," said Meyer, who sees these efforts resonating with constituents.
Fairfax County Democratic Committee Chair Ginny Peters sees the Democratic shift as positive, and somewhat predictable, but said she has "no clue" as to who will win the primary.
"That could go either way," she said. "As chair, I am neutral in any race that is a primary. It depends at this point on who gets the vote out as to who wins the race."
"But I think voters are tired of Republican politics, and the way things have been handled on the national level, and I think there is therefore a definite backlash on the local level," she said. "I think there’s a backlash from the General Assembly, as well."
While she has not worked with either Simmons or Meyer, Peters indicates her belief that though they are both new to the "political game" she does think Democrats will easily carry the 40th District.
"The way things have been going for us lately, I wouldn’t be surprised if we won everything in Fairfax County," she said. "Things have just been going up steadily. It’s just a plus-plus for us, everywhere we look."