After breezing to victory in his most recent elections, Del. Kenneth R. "Ken" Plum, the Democratic incumbent, faces a tougher challenge this year from Republican newcomer Michael N. Pocalyko for the seat representing Virginia's 36th District in western Fairfax County.

As in other Northern Virginia jurisdictions, transportation and public education dominate the list of issues, and both candidates generally agree on a need to wrest more money from the state to help relieve traffic congestion and improve schools.

Also running is Peter L. "Pete" Thomas, 29, a Libertarian and self-described "neo-pagan" who wants to abolish public schools altogether.

Plum, 57, of Reston, a retired teacher and school administrator who chairs the Democratic Party of Virginia, is seeking his 11th term in the House of Delegates.

Plum's camp said he faced token opposition in his last two races and expects this election to be closer. The energetic Pocalyko said he has already visited 9,100 households in his door-to-door campaign.

Pocalyko, 44, of Oak Hill, a former Navy pilot and Pentagon staff member who now heads a local investment firm, is making his first bid for state office. As an avowed fiscal conservative but "independent-thinking political moderate," he has staked out positions that are at odds with GOP leaders on some issues, notably gun control.

"I don't mess around with this issue," Pocalyko said. "No guns in schools. No guns in community centers." He said he was "outraged" when Plum voted for a provision to weaken gun-control legislation, a vote that Plum called "inadvertent."

"It strikes me as political opportunism that I continue to hear about it," Plum said, noting that he strongly opposed Republican proposals to allow students to keep guns locked in their car trunks on school grounds for hunting after class. "I didn't spend 30 years in public education . . . to do anything other than make sure there is zero tolerance for guns in public schools," he said.

Pocalyko has been unforgiving. "That kind of mistake endangers children's lives," he said.

Thomas, of Herndon, who is running as an independent, rejects gun control entirely. "An armed society is a polite society and a safer society," he said.

Stressing his legislative experience, Plum vows to push for solutions to the region's growing traffic problems through road and interchange improvements, the synchronization of traffic lights and, eventually, the extension of rail service through the Dulles corridor.

Pocalyko favors "a fundamental restructuring of Virginia's outdated taxation system" and "long-term bonding authority" to channel more money into transportation and other infrastructure projects here. "We're taxing productivity growth on young and growing companies in Northern Virginia," which is a "cash cow for the entire rest of the state," he said. "But very little of our tax dollars are spent here." He said he opposes raising taxes now but refuses to sign any "no-tax-increase pledges."

Plum and Pocalyko both want to relieve school crowding and increase the state's share of education funding in Northern Virginia. But Pocalyko said he holds Plum, as a 20-year incumbent, partly responsible for an "unfair" funding formula that pays Fairfax County schools less than half the state average per student. And he objects to Plum's comparison of the state's Standards of Learning program to the Trivial Pursuit board game.

"I have criticized the Standards of Learning as being too political in their origin," Plum said. "They need to be more reflective of the localities." He added, "There is no question that the history and social studies standards are 'trivial pursuit' in nature."

DISTRICT 36: House of Delegates

Kenneth R. 'Ken' Plum (D)*

Age: 57.

Residence: Reston.

Education: BA, Old Dominion University; MEd, University of Virginia.

Occupation: Retired public school teacher and administrator.

Elected offices/civic activities: Founding chairman, Dulles Corridor Rail Association; chairman, Democratic Party of Virginia; member, United Christian Parish; member, Virginia Literacy Foundation Board.

Family: Married; four children.

Why should the voters elect you?

"I understand from 20 years of representing this area that voters are interested in a balanced and improved transportation system, the best educational system in the country and a safe, quality community. I have the committee assignments and knowledge of the legislative process to deliver rail to Dulles and improved roads, increased investments in our schools and colleges, better land-use and growth controls, environmental protections and tough laws to keep our community and our schools safe. I will work for long-term care for the aged and for programs and services for those with disabilities."

What would you like voters to know about you?

"I received the highest recognition from the U.S. Internet Council and the Northern Virginia Technology Council; I am chairman of the Joint Commission on Technology and Science."

Web site: www.kenplum.com

E-mail address: kenplum@aol.com

Michael N. Pocalyko (R)

Age: 44.

Residence: Oak Hill.

Education: AB, Muhlenberg College; MPA, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; MBA, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Occupation: Managing director, Monticello Capital LLC.

Elected offices/civic activities: Former pilot and retired commander, U.S. Navy; at-large member, Fairfax County Industrial Development Authority; Boy Scouts commissioner for the National Capital Area; former president, King of Kings Lutheran Church; PTA member, Oakton High School and Crossfield Elementary School.

Family: Married; two children.

Why should the voters elect you?

"As a progressive Republican I place the interests of taxpayers, families, seniors and children of Western Fairfax first--and partisan interests last. A father with children in the public schools, I am also a small-business owner who has helped create hundreds of good-paying jobs. I'm the candidate for voters who like the centrist policies of John Warner and Tom Davis, and Frank Wolf's fiercely dedicated approaches to our transportation problems. Sen. Warner and Congressmen Davis and Wolf strongly back my candidacy and my plans to upgrade our roads and transportations systems, improve our schools, reduce our tax burden and fight crime."

What would you like voters to know about you?

"I grew up in a tough blue-collar neighborhood. I made it because of my family's loving dedication and some incredibly caring public school teachers."

Web site: www.mike99.com

E-mail address: mike@mike99.com

Peter L. 'Pete' Thomas (Libertarian)

Age: 29.

Residence: Herndon.

Education: BS, aerospace engineering, Georgia Tech.

Occupation: Systems engineer; associate, High Performance Technologies Inc., and president, Painless Computing Inc.

Elected offices/civic activities: Appointed member, Fairfax County Tree Commission; former two-term member, Fairfax County Public Schools Student Advisory Council; lifetime alumni member, Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity.

Family: Married.

Why should the voters elect you?

"Though appearing to be opponents, the two current major parties have proven to be the opposite sides of the same coin. Libertarians and Greens believe, as I do, that the first principle of good government is decentralization. That is to say we get better results for less when we allow families, then communities, then cities and counties, then states, to self-govern--only permitting the federal behemoth's jurisdiction as a last resort. As your delegate, I will be striving first and foremost to repeal onerous legislation, eliminate unneeded taxes and put personal responsibility first. Let's simplify government together."

What would you like voters to know about you?

"I will limit myself to two consecutive terms. I signed the Virginia Taxpayer Protection Pledge to not levy any new, nor raise existing, taxes."

Web site: www.lpva.com/Thomas

E-mail address: pete@painless-computing.com