Issues of immigration, transportation and property taxes have taken center stage in the campaign for Fairfax County's 39th District in the House of Delegates.
Incumbent Democrat Vivian E. Watts, seeking reelection to a job she has held since 1996, is being challenged by Republican Michael J. Meunier, a businessman who immigrated to the United States from Egypt and who is making his first run for public office. Richard Lee Herron is also running as an Independent Green candidate.
In a year in which officials have weighed using Fairfax County tax dollars to partially fund a site for day laborers to gather in Herndon, Meunier has called for a crackdown on illegal immigrants. He said that undocumented workers should be offered five-year work visas and that those who do not register under such a program should be arrested and deported. Police who arrest undocumented immigrants on suspicion of crimes should report them to federal immigration authorities, he said.
"Many of us who came here have worked very hard," said Meunier, who left Egypt for the United States in 1990. "It's a privilege to be able to have the opportunity to be a citizen. We don't like illegal immigration."
Watts said that she supports more work visas for immigrants, but that the problems associated with day laborer sites are the result of failed federal policies. Local police do not have authority to arrest people for breaking federal immigration laws, she said.
"I am at least equally concerned," she said. "But I am addressing the issue within the legal framework of what we can actually do and not promising to do something that cannot be delivered."
Meunier supports a 5 percent cap on property tax increases and a freeze on the taxes for senior citizens. Watts said caps create inequities because they treat all properties alike. She prefers focusing tax relief on the homestead exemption for owner-occupied dwellings.
Meunier proposes addressing traffic congestion with relatively low-cost programs. He suggests that rapid-response teams of police officers, tow trucks and ambulances be positioned along highways during rush hours to reduce bottlenecks after accidents. He also favors turning Route 50 into a rush-hour "green route" in which traffic lights are kept green.
"They're not huge ideas that will cost a huge amount of money and would take 10 or 15 years to get done," he said. "They can be done quickly.
Watts said she has been involved in numerous transportation initiatives, both as a delegate and as Virginia's secretary of transportation from 1986 to 1990. She has called for increased state and federal funding for Northern Virginia as well as inflation-adjusted user fees and "partnerships" in which taxes on business properties partially fund the cost of widening roads.
"I know and initiated many of the things that now are looked on as new ideas," she said.
Herron, the Independent Green, calls for more rail transportation instead of widening roads.
The campaign became most contentious in September when Meunier accused Watts of putting out a "racist" flier with the message "One of Our Own." Meunier said the flier implicitly portrayed Watts as a native of America to draw a contrast with Meunier, who has lived in the district for 10 years. Watts said that she was "dumbfounded" by the allegation and that the phrase referred to her community roots.