Del. Richard H. "Dick" Black (R-Loudoun) and Cascades resident David E. Poisson (D) are engaged in a spirited race in the 32nd District, which includes some of eastern Loudoun County's most established communities and also its newest neighborhoods.
The race has been one of the most expensive in Virginia, as Democrats take aim in a district in which they think new residents and changing demographics have created an opportunity for a win, even as Republicans work to protect one of the staunchest advocates for conservative causes in the House of Delegates.
Black, who has raised more than $300,000 in his bid for reelection to a fifth term, has promised to oppose state tax increases and said he would continue to be a leading voice in the fight to outlaw abortion. He also takes credit for road improvements to Route 28 and said residents should be pleased with the quality of the Loudoun public school system.
"I have a record of accomplishment, and [Poisson] has nothing but sort of vague complaints that he somehow thinks things could be better than they are," Black said.
Poisson, who has raised more than $180,000, counters that Black has done too little to relieve traffic congestion in Northern Virginia, and he said Loudoun schools should get more money from the state to help deal with the county's rapidly growing population.
He said Black's pledges not to raise taxes ties his hands as a legislator. And he criticizes Black's vote against the 2004 compromise state budget that raised taxes but also pumped $1.5 billion over two years into schools, health services and public safety.
"I don't think it's responsible for a member to say, 'Under no circumstances would I ever raise taxes,' " Poisson said. "You can't do that. You're talking about one of the most fundamental elements of support needed for services. It's not like members who do that are not willing to spend the money."
Both men are lawyers and live in Sterling. Black served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the Vietnam War and later as a lawyer with the Army's Judge Advocate General Corps. He retired from the military in 1994.
Black has been a strong proponent of conservative social causes since campaigning for pornography filters on computers in Loudoun's public libraries in the late 1990s. In 2003, he angered abortion-rights advocates and some in his own party by sending state senators tiny plastic fetuses before they voted on a bill requiring parental consent for minors seeking abortions.
This year, he attracted attention again when he forwarded an action alert to constituents after the Stone Bridge High School drama club performed a student-written play that included discussion of homosexuality and a near kiss between two boys.
The alert urged residents to contact School Board members to express their disapproval. Some parents appreciated his attention to the issue, but others felt that his involvement politicized a touchy student issue.
Black has said such social issues would remain on his agenda if he is reelected, but he said he would also work to eliminate the remaining traffic lights on Route 28 and widen Route 7 in Fairfax County.
Poisson, a lawyer with the Washington firm Howe, Anderson & Steyer and the president of a Dulles-based communications-consulting firm, said Black has focused on hot-button issues to the detriment of education and transportation. He cited the Stone Bridge play as an example, arguing that Black should have registered his complaints with the school's principal and the parents of the student playwright rather than with his e-mail list of supporters.
Poisson, who has been an adjunct professor at several Virginia colleges, said that if elected, he would work to increase teacher salaries and overhaul pay scales so that teachers can make as much money as administrators do.
He has also proposed building Virginia's next university online to accommodate non-traditional students who flood such programs as Strayer University and the private, online University of Phoenix. He said the state's vaunted four-year institutions should explore a trimester system that would allow students to attend classes in the summer.
He also has pledged to work with Northern Virginia legislators to extend rail service to Dulles and to build a Potomac River crossing in Loudoun.