This year’s lieutenant governor’s race has high stakes, and it will take an extraordinary Democrat to beat a Republican for the spot, said Delegate J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax City.
Petersen joined Delegate Viola O. Baskerville, D-Richmond; Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, D-Tazewell; and former state legislator and congresswoman Leslie Byrne in a candidates’ forum held Thursday night by the Committee of 100 in Lake Ridge.
The four candidates competing in the Democratic primary for this race agreed on many issues. They all support equal rights for Virginia residents, better education for children, less expensive access to health care and prescription drugs, more environmental protection, a transportation solution that includes mass transit and a two-term instead of one-term limit for Virginia governors.
But Petersen implored some 150 audience members when voting in the June 14 primary to chose the one candidate that has that something extra.
“When you’re driving home tonight, think about who said something a little bit different, who said something a little bit original,” Petersen said.
Petersen described himself as that extraordinary Democrat who is needed to win in the November race.
As a more conservative Democrat from Southwest Virginia, Puckett can balance the ticket and win support in Republican areas, he said.
Byrne won’t back down from fighting Republicans when they attack, she said. Baskerville has often won when unexpected, and knows the value of hard work, she said.
The candidates differed somewhat on how to handle complaints — especially from fixed-income residents — about soaring real estate tax bills.
Baskerville labeled both leading gubernatorial candidates’ plans to lower tax bills as gimmicks. Residents don’t like high bills, she said, but they also want safe neighborhoods and good schools, which real estate tax revenue provides. If the state fully funded its education and public safety obligations, local governments wouldn’t have to tax homeowners as much, she said.
Petersen disagreed with Baskerville’s characterization of these plans as gimmicks. He supports Kaine’s idea to allow local governments to make homestead exemptions, he said. He told the audience about a retired woman who came to him in tears, fearing she would have to leave her Fairfax home of almost 50 years because she couldn’t afford to pay her property tax bill.
“I made a promise to her that I would do what I could,” Petersen said.
Aside from Kaine’s plan, he advocated more businesses support the tax base and restrain local spending.
Byrne has introduced multiple pieces of legislation during her time in the General Assembly to allow exemptions for low-income residents over a certain age or with a disability. But that won’t solve the problem unless the General Assembly stops handing down unfunded mandates to localities, she said.
High real estate tax bills also pose a problem in Southwest Virginia, where Puckett resides, he said. But he wouldn’t propose a tax-relief plan without finding a replacement revenue source, which neither leading plan accomplishes, Puckett said. He trusts local elected officials to make the tough real estate tax decisions, he said.
“Someone has to pay for whatever we’re giving away,” he said.
Puckett has pushed for cleaner drinking water in his coal-mining dependent district, and he supports doing more to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Baskerville and Byrne agreed that economic and environmental health could coexist. Byrne wants polluters to pay more for clean-up, rather than relying on taxpayer money to get it done.
“As a mother, I know if you make a mess, you’ve got to clean it up,” she said.
She warned audience members about Virginia’s air pollution and the link to children’s asthma problems.
Petersen worried more about future generations having a lack of open space, he said. He supports tax breaks and economic incentives for leaving tracts of open land.
“Preserving open space will make the difference in our children’s lives,” Petersen said.
Dale City resident Robert Gillespie attended the event hoping to find out about the candidates’ Second Amendment views, which they did not discuss.
“I’ve been apolitical,” said Gillespie, 49. “But I’ve recently begun because certain rights are being trampled. So I’m looking to see how Republicans or Democrats they feel about certain issues.”
All four candidates seemed strong to Grace Bull, 82, of Lake Ridge. Throughout the hour-long program, Bull wavered on whom to support. In the end she leaned towards Byrne, she said.
“I’m glad they’ve got candidates of that caliber in the Democratic Party,” she said. “It will be hard to decide.”