The two candidates vying for a Virginia House of Delegates seat in an Aug. 19 special election appeared before a business-minded audience Tuesday and jockeyed for what, by Arlington County and McLean standards, passes for the middle of the political road.
Richard “Rip” Sullivan (D) and David M. Foster (R) told 70 people at the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce that they both support more money for transportation, in-state college tuition for young undocumented residents and federal Medicaid dollars.
Their differences came in the level of commitment each candidate had to those issues.
Foster, who because of his party affiliation is considered an underdog in the contest to succeed former delegate Robert Brink in the 48th District, says the liberal enclave would benefit by sending a Republican lawmaker to Richmond.
Democrats say they doubt Foster would hold much influence with the more conservative Republican leadership in the House. Electing him over Sullivan, they say, would give GOP lawmakers in Richmond an even greater majority on such social issues as women’s access to abortion — which Foster opposes and Sullivan wants to protect.
Tuesday morning’s debate was organized by the Fairfax and Arlington chambers of commerce and the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors. It focused on business rather than social issues, with questions touching on health care, transportation, education, tax reform and immigration.
Foster said there was “a little bit of daylight” between his support for Virginia accepting Medicaid money “with reforms” and the Republican leadership’s rejection of any Medicaid dollars that come as part of the federal Affordable Care Act.
Sullivan said he staunchly supports Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s position that Medicaid funding should be accepted immediately in order to cover about 400,000 uninsured Virginians.
He applauded Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s announcement this spring that some illegal immigrants brought to this country as children can qualify for in-state tuition, calling the decision “absolutely crucial to the future of our economy and state.”
Foster agreed with the importance of keeping those students in Virginia schools but said he would add conditions, such as residency and payment of taxes.
Both candidates urged more state money for schools and transportation.
“I have watched with great disappointment as education funds have been cut over the years,” Sullivan said. “The legislature has to live up to its responsibility for funding.”
Foster, a former chairman of the Virginia Board of Education, said the commonwealth already gets a lot for its money but needs to “more fully fund the standards of quality,” including science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.
Sullivan said he would reintroduce a bill — vetoed by then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) — allowing Arlington to increase a local hotel tax and use the revenue for promoting tourism. Foster said he supports that idea, too, although he said the politics of the original bill were “poorly handled.”
The candidates differed on whether Virginia should raise the minimum wage — Foster is opposed, Sullivan is in favor — or allow offshore oil drilling.
“We need to be putting windmills offshore, not gas drills,” said Sullivan, who wants tax incentives to encourage alternative energy.
“One problem with windmills offshore is the wind is not always blowing,” said Foster, who supports offshore oil exploration and other energy exploration.
The candidates will debate again at 7 p.m. Monday at George Mason University’s Founders Hall in Arlington.