It's not hard to find subjects on which Del. Kenneth B. Rollins and Benjamin C. Lawrence agree.
Rollins and Lawrence, who is seeking Rollins' 32nd District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, agree that transportation is by far the most important issue facing Northern Virginia. They both support measures to preserve agriculture and open space in Loudoun County.
In addition, each candidate describes himself as a conservative with a strong dislike for labor unions. And each candidate says the other fellow is, on the whole, a pretty decent guy.
Their main point of disagreement, in fact, is who should represent the district in the state legislature. The race for this seat, representing most of Loudoun County and the northern portion of Fauquier County, has shaped into a battle over leadership abilities.
Lawrence has criticized Rollins for what he says is a flaccid, apathetic style in the House.
"He doesn't say anything, he doesn't write anything, he doesn't do anything," Lawrence said. Although Rollins has supported a number of proposals, Lawrence charged, "Rollins simply fails to take the initiative on any issue."
In addition to a more aggressive style, Lawrence said that his status as a Democrat would make him more effective in the House, where he would belong to the majority party.
Rollins scoffs. "It's an election void of issues . . . If you don't have any issues to run on, you have to come up with something," he said.
Defending his legislative record, Rollins said that he cosponsored a bill that created the Center for Innovative Technology and lobbied Gov. Charles S. Robb to put the center on Rte. 28 near the Loudoun County border. In addition, Rollins said he cosponsored a bill that raised Virginia's drinking age to 21.
Furthermore, Rollins said, being a Republican puts him in the majority party among legislators from Northern Virginia, which he contends is a crucial advantage in a legislature where battles tend to be based as much on region as on political party.
"I work very well with the other legislators from this area . . . We've done very well getting money to Loudoun County," Rollins said. Rollins was first elected to the House in 1973 as an Independent. Earlier in his political career Rollins had been a Democrat.
Rollins stressed the greater political experience he has over his opponent. A Leesburg businessman and attorney, Rollins served 15 years as mayor of Leesburg and was for many years a judge in Loudoun General District Court. He lost his House seat in 1976 before returning in 1982.
"You can't understand problems unless you've worked on them at the local level," Rollins said. " Lawrence says 'I'm for transportation. I'm for education.' But who isn't? I have a record."
Lawrence, a former air traffic controller who has been active in Loudoun community affairs for several years, isn't embarrassed by his lack of experience in public office. "I'm not a politician, and I have no ambitions of becoming one," he said. "The only reason I'm doing this is because we are in a crisis situation. There is a desperate need for someone to do the job."
Transportation issues have been the source of most of the campaign's substantive disagreement.
Rollins and Lawrence strongly support massive new road construction for the county, including an Outer Beltway. Lawrence, however, supports raising the gasoline tax to 5 cents a gallon to pay for the improvements, while Rollins prefers a bond issue.
"We're reaching the point of diminishing returns with the gas tax," Rollins said. "People will start going to Maryland or the District if we go higher."
Lawrence attacked Rollins for supporting a new allocation formula for state highway funds that was voted into law last year. He said that the new formula resulted in the loss of $6 million that would have gone to Loudoun County to extend the Rte. 7 bypass to Round Hill.Rollins responded that the state had already delayed that project and that the new allocation formula will mean more money to Loudoun County as soon as the state takes measures to increase highway revenue.
Lawrence also criticized Rollins for his support of a regional transportation authority to control Dulles International Airport. Lawrence said that the authority should not be regional but be comprised strictly of Virginians.
"I'd prefer that, too, but a regional authority is the only realistic way of getting the transfer done," because of what the federal government would find acceptable, Rollins said.
Besides transportation, the other paramount issue in Loudoun County politics recently has been land use, specifically, whether to take special measures to buttress agriculture. Both candidates support a controversial proposal known as transferable development rights, which is designed to target development in some portions of the county while preserving farmland in others. If, as expected, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors passes a TDR proposal, the legislature would have to approve the measure.
As the campaign enters its final weeks, Rollins plans to further stress his experience and what he said is his record of effectiveness in the legislature. "It's the old story. You've got show horses and you've got work horses," said Rollins.
But that line could just as easily have come from Lawrence.