Del. Stephen C. Shannon (D) is defending his seat in Fairfax County's 35th District against a former Capitol Hill aide who is hoping to energize voters by invoking opposition to last year's state tax package.
Republican James E. Hyland is sounding a familiar theme among GOP candidates for the General Assembly this year: that the $1.5 billion signature program of Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) raised taxes, did not add sufficient transportation dollars and did not give Fairfax enough of a share of new revenue, particularly for local schools.
"My opponent voted for the largest tax increase in Virginia history with no money dedicated to transportation," said Hyland, 45, a lawyer from Oakton who practices in Washington.
The one-term incumbent, by contrast, says he is running for reelection precisely on his success working with Warner and the bipartisan coalition that pushed the spending package through the legislature.
In this year's campaign, "the defining issue has been the 2004 budget," said Shannon, 34, of Dunn Loring, also a lawyer. Hyland "threw down the gauntlet. I welcome that."
The 35th is a swing district anchored by Oakton and Vienna.
Hyland is a Republican activist who is turning to a bid for state office after unsuccessful campaigns for county supervisor two years ago and for Congress in 1992. He is well versed in the world of politics and policy, having worked as an aide to Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and as legislative director for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) He calls himself a "traditional mainstream Republican" whose number one issue is a fix for the region's crippling traffic congestion.
Hyland would not say whether he would have voted against the tax package, which raised some taxes and cut others. But he was emphatic that "it's not even a close call if [new taxes] are not devoted to transportation." The $1.5 billion bill, which covers 2004 and 2005, did, however, set the stage for $848 million in new transportation funding the General Assembly approved last winter.
Said Shannon: "We saved our triple-A bond rating, made record investments in public education and transportation, and prevented a government shutdown" because of shaky finances.
Shannon was one of a handful of Democratic holdouts on the bill but said he wanted to ensure that Fairfax received enough new revenue. "I wasn't going to say yes simply because people were going to tell me to do it," he said. "I wanted to see how the money would be spent." Fairfax received $125 million in new school aid over the two years. Hyland said he would have pushed for more.
Local issues also figure heavily in Hyland's campaign. Like Shannon, he is calling for less density in the proposed MetroWest development at the Vienna Metro station. But whereas Shannon calls the project a local land-use issue that should be decided by the Board of Supervisors, Hyland said he would "use the bully pulpit" of state office to force the developer to make large transportation improvements and would explore legislation to require caps on the density of development around Metro stations.
Shannon is a proponent of extending Metrorail through Tysons Corner to Wiehle Avenue in Reston and eventually, when funding allows, to Dulles International Airport. Hyland, however, says he is concerned that prolonged construction in Tysons would be too disruptive to businesses there. He said he believes the extension's first leg should go directly to the airport and make one stop in Tysons.
Shannon has eclipsed Hyland in fundraising. He had $229,405 on hand compared with Hyland's $55,932 as of Sept. 30.