51st District candidates spar

There’s no question about who’s the conservative and who’s the moderate in the 51st House of Delegates race.

It’s more of a question of what voters prefer.

Faisal Gill is the pro-life, non-apologetic Republican. Paul Nichols is a pro-choice, self-described “regular guy” on the Democratic ticket.

Gill says he wants Virginia to reprioritize its budget and put transportation first, to pay for more roads without raising taxes.

Nichols said he’s embarrassed that Virginia is ranked as one of the worst in paying for Medicaid benefits; Virginia should help the needy and bring Metro to Prince William. He hasn’t ruled out raising taxes to do it.

Both are vying for the seat that will be vacated by Del. Michele B. McQuigg, R-Occoquan, in the Nov. 6 election.

They both want to bring back to Prince William County what its residents need.

Only, they don’t agree on what that is.

They argued their points on Wednesday night at the Elks Lodge in a debate sponsored by the Prince William Committee of 100.

Topics ranged from building a commuter lot near the Glen Shopping Center to social issues to carrying guns in schools.

Gill and Nichols are attorneys – Nichols practices family and medical practice law. Gill practices civil litigation and immigration law. Both practice criminal defense and business law.

“Richmond is broken,” Nichols said in his opening statement. “Single-party issues are obstructing issues like transportation.”

He said the county’s current delegation, which is comprised of mostly Republicans, is ineffective because they focus on social issues such as banning gay marriage and abortion.

Gill said he’s proud of the current delegation.

“They have brought money back from Richmond,” Gill said. “Not in the way I wanted, but they have brought money back.”

Gill volunteered to get the 2006 marriage amendment approved in Virginia.

When Nichols referred to the marriage amendment he twirled his finger.

“He’ll join in,” Nichols said. “He’ll do a great job with the comrades down there. He’ll be worried about issues like that and transportation will go right by us.”

Gill said he’s proud of his work to support a ban on gay marriage.

“I might have agreed with the marriage amendment, but I was out there fighting for the issues that are important to the 51st,” Gill said.

The two candidates represent two different camps in the state legislature. One says transportation money should come from the general fund, a vast pot of money used to pay for state police and healthcare, among many other state responsibilities. The other says it doesn’t want to see road maintenance compete with those responsibilities.

“The general fund provides money for education, for Medicaid, for many other things,” Nichols said. “Virginia is 38th in education. In Medicaid we’re 48th in the nation.

“I’m embarrassed by those numbers,” Nichols said. “The general fund is for things like that.”

Gill questioned where Nichols would come up with the money to fund all of his ideas.

“Are you going to use the general fund or raise taxes?” he asked Nichols. “Why is education, why is Medicaid funded through the general fund?

“Why isn’t transportation like that?” Gill continued. “The number one responsibility of the state is to take care of the roads.”

The two take similar stances in hopes to curb illegal immigration: targeting the employers.

Gill had already announced that he wants to increase punishment from a misdemeanor to a felony for knowingly hiring an illegal alien.

Nichols wants to require state and local contractors to use the federal E-Verify system to determine employee eligibility. If they don’t, they lose the contract, he proposed.

“We need assistance from the feds because they preempt our ability to do some of these things like fine employers,” Nichols said. “Felonies and big fines? That’s bull. It’s not legal. We need to change that and as a lawyer we know that.”

Gill said the state should approve laws that enforce employment laws more than federal law allows.

“We need to push the envelope like Arizona and Hazleton [Pa.],” Gill said. “I’m going to go down there and fight, put this law in place and take it to court and we’ll win.”

Moderator John Peterson asked the candidates what they plan on doing to address the needs of the homeless and impoverished.

Neither had a ready plan to tout.

“When we are so prosperous around here it’s a shame we don’t do more on a statewide basis and on a local basis for people who need our help,” said Nichols.

Gill said the state’s budget probably couldn’t bear to help needy residents.

“Folks, this is where I’m going to be completely honest with you and what I’m going to say you might not like, but the situation probably might not improve for them this year,” Gill said.