Hugo Retains Delegate Seat

Hugo Retains Delegate Seat

Abu Ghraib controversy, disagreement over transportation funding, social issues marks race.

Incumbent Del. Tim Hugo (R) hung on despite a regional Democratic landslide to win re-election to his fourth term. The 40th District delegate won Tuesday, Nov. 6 over Democratic challenger Rex Simmons.

According to unofficial results from the Virginia State Board of Elections on Wednesday morning, Hugo, a veteran of Capitol Hill, overcame Simmons, a retired federal financial advisor, 8,706 votes to 6,519 with all 15 precincts reporting.

The race attracted a relatively higher turnout than other area delegates' races: more than 32 percent turnout, about 4 percent higher than neighboring districts.

The election had been marked by several controversial social and economic issues, with Hugo and Simmons disagreeing on topics from gun control to funding policies of transportation improvement projects.

Still, the 40th District’s strong Republican history won out for Hugo, who drew attention to his traditional and modern conservative views, including a pledge to keep taxes low, retain gun laws and get tough on immigration issues.

TRANSPORTATION IMPROVEMENT strategies and social issues were the hot-button issues in the race.

Hugo touted his continued support for a $500 million annual Northern Virginia transportation improvement bill that he actively supported during the General Assembly earlier this year. That initiative and others, including cracking down on illegal immigration and lowering taxes gave him confidence as he spoke with voters at polls in Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station on Tuesday morning.

"I'm confident we'll have a big victory tonight. I've been unopposed in the past, but we're running our races and getting information out on transportation, taxes and illegal immigration. I hope to have another two years to serve," Hugo said.

Simmons supported some of the aspects of the new Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, but also called for greater attention to alternative modes of thinning out gridlock, such as Metrorail commuter trains to Centreville and Manassas, and new ways of funding the improvements.

Transportation "is a crisis in this area and Del. Hugo doesn’t seem to find the need to adjust our policies to deal with it," said Simmons in a phone interview, the night before the election. "I think that every option should be on the table when it comes to funding transportation improvements and finding viable alternatives, and we should find this out in a bipartisan way."

Education opportunities also emerged as key among voters, with Hugo promoting caps on the number of out-of-state students allowed at public Virginia universities and Simmons pulling for Gov. Tim Kaine’s (D) early childhood education initiative. Finding new ways of bringing health insurance to state employees and Virginia’s uninsured became another topic of debate among the candidates.

Gay rights, abortion and illegal immigration all entered as contentious issues in the race. Hugo called for greater attention to be paid to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement partnership to assure that illegal immigrants convicted of crimes were deported. Simmons and his supporters touted the challenger’s adherence to extending Virginia’s non-discrimination policy to include homosexuals and a commitment to protecting "women’s reproductive rights."

THE RACE was not one absent of controversy. An October mailer funded by the Democratic Party of Virginia and approved by Simmons targeted Hugo by claiming that his employer, lobby firm The Livingston Group, represented "the ones who were responsible for torture abuses at Abu Ghraib."

The Livingston Group responded by filing a $1 million defamation suit against Simmons and the Democratic Party of Virginia the week before the election. The government contractor who provided civilian interrogators at Abu Ghraib, CACI International Inc., has not been a Livingston Group client since 2004 and Hugo joined the firm as a part-time employee in 2005, according to the lobbying firm. U.S. military personnel were the subject of torture and abuse allegations after photos depicting members of the U.S. Army Reserve with prisoners were released to media in 2003.

While Hugo and his group condemned the mailing as a misleading attack, Simmons stood by its message.

"The truth is that Del. Hugo works with a lobbying firm … and that one of the groups that his lobbying firm represented were people who worked at Abu Ghraib," Simmons said. "As a former government finance employee, I feel that that kind of lobbying … has had a corrupting influence on how Washington operates, and I don’t think that voters want to have a delegate with that kind of background."

A PART-TIME Capitol Hill lobbyist, U.S. Army veteran and former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.), Hugo was seeking his fourth term as a state delegate. He is a graduate of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a long-time resident of the Town of Clifton.

Simmons, a retired 31-year veteran of the Government Accountability Office and bank regulatory agencies, entered the race originally as a way of mitigating commute times and traffic congestion. The 56-year-old graduate of the University of North Carolina and American University is a resident of Fairfax Station.