For two political opponents, Denise M. Oppenhagen and Billy Gray Tatum don't seem to disagree about much.
Both of the Democratic contenders vehemently opposed the intervention of Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-District 13) and other politicians in the Hugh Finn right-to-die case.
Both cast Marshall as an extremist who does not represent the views of most 13th District voters, and both agree that more state money should be devoted to roads, schools and other projects in fast-growing Prince William County.
Their differences come down to their backgrounds and their styles.
Oppenhagen, 35, is a Lake Ridge nurse who has lobbied legislators on health issues. She says her status as the mother of a student gives her a pertinent perspective on education and other "quality of life" issues.
Tatum, 51, is a sheriff's chaplain and former Haymarket police chief. He says years of volunteerism and community activism have given him a broad range of expertise that would serve him well as a delegate.
"I think the one thing that sets us apart is experience," said Tatum, who includes work in the clergy and the funeral industry on his resume. "I've been involved in community and public service all my life. That gives me more expertise in different fields."
Both candidates say they had been considering a run against Marshall for a while when the battle erupted over Finn, whose wife fought to remove his feeding tube after he spent years in a vegetative state after a car crash. Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) joined Marshall and other conservatives in attempting to stop Michele Finn from removing her husband's life support.
"When Mr. Marshall got involved in the Hugh Finn case, that for me was the final impetus to get into the race," Oppenhagen said. "Government has no business in intervening in those kinds of personal decisions."
Oppenhagen said she opposes installing filtering programs on library Internet services because harmless information might be kept from children. She favors librarian supervision to ensure that minors don't have access to pornography and other obscene material. In addition, Oppenhagen said last week's crippling truck accident on the Capital Beltway showed how "workers' wages and lives have been endangered because of out-of-control growth."
Tatum said more roads are needed to handle the growing traffic load, and he favors devoting more resources to crime-prevention efforts.
Either candidate will face daunting financial obstacles. Oppenhagen reported having less than $7,500 in the bank as of May 26, and Tatum reported less than half as much. Both have spent substantial sums in the primary.
By comparison, Marshall had amassed a campaign chest of nearly $40,000, including more than $15,000 in recent contributions from the National Rifle Association, Philip Morris Inc. and various political action committees.
Denise M. Oppenhagen
Community: Lake Ridge
Years in 13th District: 10 years
Education: BA, MA in political science, Texas A&M University; nursing degrees, Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University.
Occupation and work experience: Registered nurse, Prince William Hospital; substitute teacher; administrative assistant; small business owner; health care policy analyst.
Political offices and civic activities: volunteer, Prince William County Department of Social Services; volunteer, My Sister's Place shelter; member, Springwoods PTO; member, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church; member and commissioner, Virginia Nurses Association; past president, Northern Virginia Handcrafters Guild.
Family: Husband, Bruce; son, Christian.
What are your two top policy proposals, and how would you gain support for them?
Quality of life. Most of us moved to Prince William County because we wanted our families to experience the very best quality of life. The two biggest challenges we face in protecting and improving our quality of life are ensuring quality schools for our children and meeting the transportation needs of our growing community.
As the parent of a child in public elementary school, I am absolutely committed to the future of our public school system. We need to make certain that our classrooms are safe and drug-free. Our children should come to school free to learn, not full of fear.
Our children deserve the best education where students, teachers and schools are held accountable for high standards. As parents, taxpayers and community members, we need to be involved. I am open to any new idea that will improve our children's education, such as charter schools and magnet schools, while ensuring the continued quality of our public school system.
I would like to see smaller class sizes and smaller schools where our children have names. As our community grows, our schools are overcrowding. We all know that children learn better in classrooms, not trailer parks. I will make certain that Prince William receives its fair share of state resources.
Many of us commute to work each day, stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic and gridlock. We need smart growth and improved roads so that we can get where we need to go without wasting our valuable time in traffic jams. We need to ensure that our transportation policy is consistent with our smart growth needs to avoid the sprawl brought about by unbridled development. Our General Assembly, our local government officials and our business leaders must work together with the citizens to achieve balanced growth policies.
Trust: Government has no business interfering in the very difficult decisions families are sometimes forced to deal with. It is not the role of government to usurp the rights of the family in what is already a tragic situation.
Several years ago, Mrs. Michelle Finn's husband was involved in a serious automobile accident that robbed him of any meaningful life, leaving him in a persistent vegetative state. After much prayer, reflection and in consultation with family and friends, Mrs. Finn came to the most painful decision of her life; that is, to follow the expressed wishes her husband had left. Unfortunately, certain elected officials and government bureaucrats thought they knew better and that the family could not be trusted with this personal matter. They inappropriately injected the Commonwealth of Virginia into this family tragedy, created a circus atmosphere and prolonged the family's agony.
I will not let that happen to another family in Virginia. I trust Virginia's families and I believe that government should stay out of these decisions and instead should support our families.
Billy Gray Tatum
Years in 13th District: 11
Education: BA, Averett College; MS, Radford University; master of divinity, Baptist Seminary.
Occupation and work experience: Clergyman, funeral industry and police officer.
Political offices and civic activities: chaplain, Prince William County Sheriff's Department, present; member, Prince William County/Manassas Regional Jail Board, present; chief of police, Haymarket, 1992-96; social worker, Hospice of Henry County, Va., 1987.
Family: Wife, Kathleen; four children; one grandchild.
What are your two top policy proposals, and how would you gain support for them?
My campaign focuses on a number of very important issues, which are: education, transportation, crime prevention, economic development and patient's rights. However, as I talk with people in the district, two of these issues are paramount.
The first is educational needs. People in the 13th District are concerned about crowded schools meeting in trailers and a safe school environment. What is needed are more school construction and programs that promote creative activities. I will work hard to get funding for these concerns. I have taught in the public schools and at the college level and understand firsthand many of the concerns of teachers and administrators. My wife and I, along with our four children, are products of Virginia public schools. I will support our public schools in every way possible and will not support the diverting of public funds to private schools.
A second complaint that I hear involves gridlock on our roads. People want to spend less time on highways and travel on safer roads. Improved roads and more roads could bring some of this needed relief. If people do not have to spend so much time in traffic, they would have more time for their families and community service. Parents need more time for their children and their school activities, not time spent sitting in traffic. My wife commutes out of the county each day to work, and I'm very aware of the frustration gridlock can cause. I will do everything I can to improve and fund roads for the 13th District.
People are also concerned about economic development. We know that good schools and roads attract good businesses. Business increases revenues that can provide a higher quality of life for all citizens.