Asked what the Virginia General Assembly's most important accomplishment of 2005 was, Del. Mark L. Cole (R-Spotsylvania) said it was the $848 million "we set aside" in the budget for transportation. But Cole's opponent in next week's election wants voters to remember that Cole was the only delegate to vote against the budget.
C.A. "Chuck" Feldbush, a retired Prince William police detective and a Democrat running in one of the most heavily Republican districts in Virginia, is using what ammunition he thinks he has. And one of his most pointed allegations is that Cole, who has represented the 88th House District since 2002, hasn't done anything to improve roads, a claim Feldbush hopes will resonate on the southern fringes of the Washington region, where people face three to four hours of commuting daily between their homes and their jobs farther north.
So Feldbush and advocates who are going door-to-door through Stafford, Spotsylvania and Fauquier counties keep noting that Cole was the only delegate to vote against the budget this year, their point being that he doesn't get to take credit for any of the funding in it for transportation, education, social services and so on.
Cole, however, said his decision to vote against the budget this year, as he did in 2004, represented his disgust over non-transportation spending he thought was unnecessary, spending he calls "pork" and "arts and crafts funding," though he doesn't specify. The votes were protests, he said, but they get at the heart of the key challenge for people running in this conservative exurban area: How do you deal with rising costs without raising taxes?
Cole, a former Spotsylvania supervisor, said the solution is to shift revenue from other services to transportation. He proposed bills this year to take more of the sales tax and the car rental tax, but those measures failed. Like many conservative Republicans in the area, he sees the solution to sprawl not in new taxes but in measures such as allowing localities to demand more money from developers. He said taxes should be cut further.
Feldbush said he supports a "gradual phase out" of taxes on food, inheritance and cars. But he said the voters he meets are not talking about taxes. "They are talking about health care and transportation," he said.
Feldbush is not specific about where he would get the money for his proposals, including requiring teachers' salaries in Virginia to be at least at the national average.
"Things could be rearranged," he said. "Supposedly there is a robust economy; where is the money going?"
The Virginia Education Association endorsed Feldbush. Virginia21, an educational lobbying organization made up of students at the state's public colleges and universities, ranked Cole last of all delegates in a report card issued in spring. The group based its grades on lawmakers' votes on issues including education funding, making it easier for students away from home to vote and streamlining the credit transfer system.
Feldbush challenged Cole two years ago, winning just 29 percent of vote in an election in which 22 percent of registered voters participated. He also lost a race for Stafford sheriff in 1999.
On transportation, the two candidates endorse the general idea of putting more money into transportation and making changes to the Virginia Department of Transportation. Cole, however, supports the proposed private construction of high-occupancy toll lanes -- or HOT lanes -- saying it's the fastest way to get funding to extend high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Interstate 95 to Spotsylvania, rather than waiting for the state to do it. Feldbush opposes HOT lanes, saying they are too expensive for the typical person.
Cole opposes abortion. He unsuccessfully proposed a measure this year that would have clarified the right in the Virginia Constitution to "the enjoyment of life," which is "vested in each born and pre-born human being from the moment of fertilization."
Feldbush said he considers abortion to be a woman's choice but "doesn't want to see any children killed." He said he doesn't oppose all restrictions, such as parental notification.