Long before they became political rivals this year, Donald E. Shuemaker Jr. and Harry J. Parrish knew each other under more amiable circumstances. In winter 1996, when Shuemaker was in high school, he spent a week in Richmond interning at Parrish's office.
"Parrish is not much different now than he was then. I didn't agree with everything he stood for," said Shuemaker, a Democrat who at the time was a senior at Manassas Park High School. "It was very interesting to mill around. You see lobbyists. You felt like, 'Gosh, you could really make a difference.' "
Parrish, a Republican who has served as delegate for 24 years, reflected on his old intern a little more bluntly.
"He is a young man, and I think a great deal of him," Parrish said. "But he has no experience in any government function. Anyone running for state government should have some local experience, either on the school board or town council."
This year's race for the House of Delegates seat in the 50th District -- which encompasses the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park and parts of western Prince William County -- pits a former public school teacher turned mail carrier against a career politician with years of experience and lots of campaign money.
The difference between how much each candidate has raised is startling. Parrish has received $304,431 and Shuemaker has raised $1,387, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Shuemaker said his experience as a schoolteacher and a mail carrier have helped shape his platform. One of his main goals is to increase spending for local schools so they can improve standards, he said.
Shuemaker, who taught social studies and U.S. history, said he is especially concerned that not enough money is being spent to ensure that non-native English speakers improve their performance on state standardized tests, which help determine whether individual schools and districts make "adequate yearly progress," as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
If elected, Shuemaker said he would also propose increasing spending on gang prevention, focusing primarily on elementary and middle schools, where law enforcement authorities say recruitment begins.
"One of my students in the seventh grade was expelled for recruiting for gangs," he said. "If we cut down on the number of people they recruit, we really can cut down on gangs."
Shuemaker said he also wants to stop families from crowding too many people into one house and said he would propose a bill that would regulate such practices. He said he once lived next to a townhouse with eight people.
"I deliver mail. I can see how many people live in these houses. It's a health and safety issue," he said. "It's happening in 'better' neighborhoods. In Manassas Park, you have two or three families living in the same houses."
Parrish said he wants to ensure that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on eminent domain does not affect Virginia homeowners. The decision allows local governments to force the sale of private property for economic development projects through eminent domain. Parrish wants a bill that would preclude such actions for any reason, except for highways and power lines.
"Some of the smartest brains in law say the decision will affect us, and some say it won't. We're going to make sure it doesn't," Parrish said. "Power lines and highways are things that are necessary for the well-being of the citizens of the commonwealth. But I don't think it's fair to use eminent domain for economic development."
Parrish said he wants to eliminate the estate tax. Efforts to do so in past years have been defeated in the General Assembly or by a governor's veto. Parrish said the tax has a sharp impact on small business owners -- such as farmers who own increasingly valuable land -- who want to pass on property to their children.
"Because the economy has turned around, it seems like a good idea to bring it up," Parrish said. "And it's my understanding that both major party candidates have endorsed the idea."