Election Day is not far away and the race for the 55th District Virginia House of Delegates seat is in full swing.
Though there is some common ground among the candidates, their platforms head in three different directions.
The three candidates vying for the position aired their stances on an array of issues during an Oct. 3 forum at Patrick Henry High School, sponsored by the Herald-Progress and Friends of Hanover Schools.
All three candidates agreed that the state should not pass on unfunded mandates to localities. The trio also said they support ethics reform in light of the recent gift scandal with Gov. Bob McDonnell and his family.
But the candidates did not agree on all topics.
The first part of the forum focused on public education, as the candidates responded to questions submitted before the event by Friends of Hanover Schools.
For Democrat Toni Radler, education takes top priority. Her education platform focuses on “protecting the general fund,” adding more security in schools, maintaining small class sizes and reevaluating the state’s “Standards of Learning,” or SOLs.
Republican Buddy Fowler said he wants “70 percent of all public education funding be targeted for the classrooms as opposed to the central office bureaucracy,” which is a standard Fowler said Hanover schools have already met.
Fowler also said he will push for smaller class sizes – a position also backed by Radler and Libertarian Christopher Sullivan – teacher salary increases and technology upgrades in the classrooms. If elected, Fowler said he would make sure the state sufficiently funds the Virginia Retirement System, so that teachers can “have a retirement income that they work for [and] that they deserve.”
Radler and Fowler both agreed that the SOLs should promote “long-term learning” instead of teaching students to memorize material.
Libertarian Christopher Sullivan said his education focus was on giving parents opportunities to choose the type of education for their children, whether it be at home, or in a private or public school.
Each candidate proposed plans to remain accessible to stakeholders and their different opinions and ideas related to education, if elected. Both Radler and Fowler said they would create an education advisory committee while Sullivan proposed district-wide town hall-style meetings for stakeholders to share ideas.
Fowler said this is a big issue because full-time employees are being forced to work part time and Radler agreed.
“Creating jobs is one of the most important roles we can do in the General Assembly,” she said.
Radler proposed that a passenger train stopping in Caroline County could help the county’s economy and, as a result, “spill over into Hanover County.”
Sullivan suggested the state “set the economic conditions and get the heck out of the way.”
Candidates were asked whether or not they would support a universal background check to buy guns.
Fowler and Sullivan both opposed the measure. Sullivan argued that a law requiring expanded background checks would not discourage criminals.
“All you’re doing is putting additional bureaucratic administrative burden on law-abiding citizens who are not inclined towards criminal activity,” Sullivan said.
Radler said she would support universal background checks performed before gun purchases.
Radler gave the example of the Navy Yard shooting, where the shooter tried to buy an assault rifle-style gun in Virginia but was turned away because he was out of state.
“He killed a lot of people but he could’ve tripled and quadrupled that,” she said.
She emphasized the need to talk about gun safety, so that people are not afraid to leave their houses and get together for activities like seeing a movie.
Candidates were asked whether or not they would support Medicaid expansion in Virginia. Both Fowler and Sullivan said they would oppose it. Fowler added that the Medicaid system needs to be reformed and Sullivan believes it would take away from the education fund and encourage more taxes.
But Radler said no healthcare is worse than having Medicaid. She noted all of the people who, despite how many jobs they have, do not have healthcare because they technically work part-time.
The contenders were also asked about the recent transportation bill that was brought up last year in the General Assembly, which divided the table. Fowler and Sullivan opposed the bill while Radler said she supported the measure because it would create more jobs and the last “road-fix” bill was 26 years ago.
Protecting women’s right to choose is part of Radler’s platform.
“I really hate the fact the government is inserting itself in this issue,” Radler said.
Fowler said the right is protected by the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. Although Fowler is pro-life, he said conversations at a doctor’s office between a doctor and a female patient is “their business.” Fowler emphasized the fact that he doesn’t agree with abortions, but “[he] doesn’t like to push people.”
Sullivan had a similar stance on the issue because he is also pro-life. He said that abortions should not be funded by the state and that the best approach to abortions is by changing the minds of those who support them.