The contrasts are stark in the hard-fought race for the Republican nomination in Virginia's 29th Senate District, which pits the administrator of antiabortion pregnancy centers against a former chamber of commerce president in a bid to unseat longtime Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D).
Robert S. FitzSimmonds III, 47, has focused much of his campaign on socially conservative issues, from stricter abortion restrictions to tax credits for private schools, while at the same time bemoaning recent increases in state government spending.
G.E. Buck Waters, 39, has focused his well-funded primary bid on proposals to limit local real estate taxes and otherwise restructure Virginia's tax system, saying that more state revenue should be funneled back to Prince William and other counties.
At the same time, Waters has insisted that his views on social issues are much the same as those of FitzSimmonds, who has characterized his opponent as a fair-weather conservative on abortion and other questions.
Hovering above the squabbling was an unusual political intervention by Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R), who angered many within the Virginia GOP by endorsing Waters and several other Republican primary candidates throughout the state.
Gilmore's involvement signals that the 29th District -- considered a conservative bastion despite Colgan's Democratic credentials -- will be a prominent target in the Republican bid to gain total control of the Virginia General Assembly next year. Colgan is a virtual icon in Manassas area politics and has served in the assembly for more than 20 years.
Drawing on his endorsement from Gilmore and his deep ties to the local business community, Waters collected more than $24,000 in the last two months and spent over $40,000 in cash and in-kind services. His donations include $5,000 in polling from a political action committee affiliated with Gilmore. Waters said he expects major financial support from state Republicans if he wins the primary.
"It certainly gave me a boost and increased my visibility," Waters said of Gilmore's endorsement. "This is a vital race, and I think the governor recognizes that."
FitzSimmonds, by contrast, reported just more than $2,000 in recent contributions and a $5,000 loan to himself; he spent less than $1,500 on expenses in April and May.
FitzSimmonds favors requiring parental consent for teenagers seeking abortions and stricter health regulations for clinics performing abortions. He supports a proposal to offer tax credits for parents who want to send their children to private schools or teach them at home.
He criticized the latest state budget as too large and for drawing on surplus funds, and he alleged that Waters has been unclear in his stands on those and other issues.
"I've been very clear about who I am and where I stand, and part of the difficulty in running against Buck is that he's been all over the map," FitzSimmonds said.
Waters disagrees, saying he favors stricter abortion regulations but is opposed to the school tax credit proposal because it would be too expensive.
Waters -- a former comic-book store owner whose family holdings in Myrtle Beach, S.C., have made him independently wealthy -- is pushing for a cap on increases in local real estate taxes of 3 percent or the inflation rate, whichever is less, fearing that Gilmore's car-tax phaseout will inspire local governments to raise property levies.
Waters said the proposal also would help efforts to restructure Virginia's tax system, which sends most sales and income taxes to Richmond rather than to counties and cities.
Both candidates have said they generally favor giving local governments more power to control and limit development, although Waters has said his views are mixed on the details of some proposals. Growth politics are expected to figure prominently in many local races this year.
Robert S. FitzSimmonds III
Community: Prince William County
Years in 29th District: 9
Education: BA in history from Asbury College.
Occupation and work experience: 13 years with NationsBank in branch management (banking center manager); seven years in leadership at Manassas Crisis Pregnancy Center (executive director, 1995-1996).
Political offices and civic activities: Vice chairman, Charlottesville Republican Committee, 1984-1988; outreach committee, Christ the Redeemer Episcopal Church, 1995-1999; steering committee, Partners in Prevention-Prince William, Manassas Out of Wedlock Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, 1997-1998; director, Association of Virginia State CPC Directors, 1997-1998; executive board, Crisis Pregnancy Centers of Prince William and Fauquier Counties, 1991-1994; participant, Arlington County Mentoring Program, 1994; participant, Church/School Initiative in Prince William County, 1998.
Family: Wife, Debbie; four children.
What are your two top policy proposals, and how would you gain support for them?
Pass legislation requiring that budget surpluses be returned to the taxpayers. If this legislation had been in place this year, taxpayers would have received a rebate of $950 million, much more than we got from the car tax rebate. It is essential that we pass this and other controls on state spending. This year our state budget grew over 16 percent. This is more than $6 billion. At this rate, our state budget will double in less than six years. This rate of growth is much higher than in the past (from 1990 to 1997, Virginia's budget grew a total of 24 percent) and it threatens the economic prosperity we are now enjoying and could ultimately lead to a state government as inflated and out of hand as our federal government.
Pass the three abortion-related bills now before the Legislature: Parental Consent, Informed Consent, and the Clean Facilities Bill. I am firmly opposed to abortion (a position I have held for over 25 years); however, I believe that as long as abortion is legal, it is important that women have the information and support they need to make an informed decision. For minor children, that means the guidance of their parents. For adults, that means the same clinical information that would be provided for any other surgical procedure. Recent studies show a direct link between a teen aborting her first child and a substantial increase in her risk of contracting breast cancer by the age of 45. This type of information about the abortion procedure and its risks should be made available to every woman, not just those that come to a Crisis Pregnancy Center. In addition, abortion clinics in Virginia should meet basic sanitary and health requirements, just like your dentist or family practice doctor. While I believe that abortion is always a bad choice, a woman choosing an abortion should be confident that she is doing so with the best information available and at a clinic that is clean and maintained according to commonly accepted standards. All of this legislation already enjoys substantial support and will pass as we increase a conservative Republican majority.
G.E. Buck Waters
Years in 29th District: 17
Education: 1977 graduate of Gar-Field High School, Woodbridge, Va.; 1981 graduate of Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, Va., BA in economics and history.
Occupation and work experience: General business consultant and owner; previously, employee benefits consultant and small-business owner.
Political offices and civic activities: No political offices held. Two terms, president of the Prince William Regional Chamber of Commerce; chairman, Prince William 1998 Citizens Bond Referendum Committee; chairman, Prince William School/Business Curriculum Review Committee; founding member, Prince William Tourism Advisory Council; president, Metro Council of Chambers; chairman, Dialogue 2000PLUS; president, Prince William Litter Control Council; chairman, Citizens Advisory Committee on Industrial Water and Sewer; founding member, Northern Virginia Coalition of Chambers; member, Business/School Partnerships Steering Committee for Potomac High School; board of directors, Prince William Symphony; treasurer, Vpstart Crow Production Inc. (New Dominion Shakespeare Festival); member, Prince William Tourism Study Committee.
Family: Wife, Julie; three children.
What are your two top policy proposals, and how would you gain support for them?
The top priority would be to cap the growth of the real estate tax rate. I feel very strongly about protecting the citizens from the undue burden of significant tax increases through the real estate tax rate. It is my hope that this legislation will prompt a long overdue dialogue of the tax structure in the Commonwealth and bring to the table the localities and the state to discuss how revenue flows between the two. I would also couple the above with a constitutional amendment that would return a portion of any budget surplus to the citizens. Their hard work created the surplus and they should get back money when they are overtaxed. With a Republican majority and sensible legislation I feel I can craft a solid coalition in support of the above items. The tax cap is designed as a piece of legislation that could be passed quickly, while the tax issue and constitutional amendment would most likely be spread out due to the complexity of the issues.
An equally important issue is one of education. It is a very complex issue, having many components. State money from the lottery will need to continue to flow to the localities for not only bricks and mortar but for additional teachers, increased training, and innovative programs designed to maximize the potential of all our students. I feel very strongly in community involvement with the school system and would push for program funding that would encourage such involvement. I would also look to strengthen the current charter school legislation and ensure that parents have a choice as to how their children are educated. We must never abandon any proven teaching venue -- from public schools, to home schooling, from private schools, to parochial, all are important to the education of our children.