Galligan Hopes for Upset in Senate Race

Galligan Hopes for Upset in Senate Race

Democrat Greg Galligan is out to unseat Republican incumbent Jay O'Brien as 39th District senator. And he believes he can do it.

"I think we need to change," said Galligan, 29, of Alexandria's Wilton Woods community. "The status quo is not solving our most important concerns. Our transportation and education are severely underfunded and trending in the wrong direction."

A communications analyst for Dynetics Inc. in Crystal City, Galligan is a former Army pilot who flew the Blackhawk helicopter and still serves as a captain in the Army National Guard's Medical Service Corps. A bachelor, he holds a degree in government from The College of William and Mary and has been active in state and local politics since 2001.

He's serious in his quest to oust O'Brien, and even Rick Gonzalez — once Galligan's toughest critic — is now a staunch supporter, who's even become his transportation adviser.

"I was his opponent in the primary, and my biggest criticism was that he was not fully aware of and experienced with the community," said Gonzalez, of Springfield. "But when he won the primary, [I realized] that Greg's philosophy and gumption were the same as mine — he'd do what needed to be done to change the situation."

Accusing O'Brien of not being in touch with the people of the 39th District, nor understanding them, Gonzalez said, "We've got the most diverse district in the state. And I've not found anything in his track record that's been helpful to the community during his time in the Senate. Greg's listening, and that's something the incumbent hasn't done, to date."

Conversely, said Galligan, he considers former Sen. Joe Gartlan, who represented Lee District's portion of the 39th, his political mentor. "He was a role model for me," said Galligan. "I saw his devotion and desire to help people, and I thought that was admirable."

In this campaign, education is one of Galligan's top priorities, and he stressed that the JLARC (Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee) concurred with what both Fairfax and Prince William school board members have said for years — that the Standards of Quality mandated by the state are seriously in need of financing.

"The governor has a good plan," he said. "His Education for a Lifetime initiative is something I'm very open to working for. The main goal is to fully fund the JLARC recommendations. We're looking for an additional $500 million a year for grades K-12."

Galligan said the way to bridge the gap between school mandates and actual funding is through a comprehensive tax-reform package. Similarly, he said, to keep classroom sizes small and recruit and maintain highly qualified teachers, "we need more money from Richmond. Right now, for every tax dollar that Fairfax taxpayers send to Richmond, we get back 19 cents in funding for education and crucial services."

A big difference between him and O'Brien, said Galligan, is that "I'm telling people, now is not a time for tax caps. The state has spent its entire rainy-day fund since Sept. 11, while police and security are still working extra shifts. The federal government is not reimbursing localities enough for this extra security."

What it shows, said Galligan, is that "you've got to look at the reality of the situation. It's not responsible to be talking about tax caps when we have a series of services that are being underfunded."

However, he said, "The burden of property taxes on the average homeowner will be lightened if counties are allowed to pursue other ways of generating revenue. For example, we could look at hotel or cigarette taxes. I think the main issue we need to focus on is getting Richmond to give counties an ability to diversify their sources of income by writing some [legislative] language allowing them to do so."

Galligan said that senior citizens are the hardest hit by property taxes because their home values have risen, while by and large their income has not. "To help seniors, we need to retain the age-deduction tax credit, without an income [means] test," he said. "My father, who's 76, is an example of someone who had a successful career, and yet his health-care costs are quickly outpacing whatever he has earned and invested for retirement."

In addition, he said, "I'd like to see cost controls put on prescription drugs, as is being done in the state of Maine. We should do that in Virginia."

As for transportation, Galligan said solutions are going to come from comprehensive tax reform. And he's working with Gonzalez to devise ways to shift transportation resources to make life easier for pedestrians, senior citizens and those who use transit.

"We'd like to see more express bus service, coupled with neighborhood van service, connecting people to the express buses," he said. "It is environmentally wise and fiscally sound to do so." He said all options must be examined, including changing the funding formula so Northern Virginia gets more money from the state.

In his bid for re-election, O'Brien has challenged Galligan to give his opinion of two things — Gov. Warner's refusal to explain his position on tax reform until after the election, and whether he (Galligan) believes same-sex marriages should be recognized.

Galligan countered that O'Brien has an obligation to make his own funding plans known. "Jay needs to tell his constituents how he'll fund education," said Galligan. "He shouldn't just wait for the governor to come up with a plan."

Regarding the second topic, he said, "I think the priority in Richmond is to solve our transportation and education issues first. I'm for equal rights and equal treatment under the law — and that's what I will fight for as a state senator."

Galligan said that people should cast their ballots for him because he's running as a "change agent and someone who thinks change is good. I will bring fresh ideas and new energy to solving these challenges."

He's also confident that being a Democrat in a highly Republican area is a barrier he can hurdle. "People want people who are going to work for solutions. That's the most important thing," he said. "I think people want new ideas and a new face in Richmond." (To reach his campaign or volunteer to help, call 703-924-9701.)

Kim Costabile, Galligan's communication director, said that he has "an unusual maturity for his age." A full-time campaign worker, she said that Galligan has "a vision for the future which is unique for someone as young as he is. He spent a great many years assisting his parents — his father has emphysema — and he has a unique perspective on caring for the elderly and the financial burdens that many of our senior citizens face."

His campaign manager, Martin Casas, said that Galligan is "really in this to win it [so he can] help others, not to become a career politician. You can't get any purer than that. He has the vision, the motivation and the energy. Greg Galligan has what it takes to be the next senator."