When voters in Virginia’s 45th legislative district get to the delegate race on their primary ballots Tuesday, they may have a hard time finding policy differences among the five Democratic primary candidates.
Medicaid expansion? Unanimous support. Nonpartisan redistricting? Five yes, zero no. Stricter ethics laws for lawmakers? Definitely. Higher taxes for education? Bring them on. Offshore oil drilling? No way.
The five are vying to replace Del. K. Robert Krupicka Jr. (D-Alexandria), who announced in March that he will retire after his third terms ends this year to focus on his new doughnut business.
It’s been a low-key campaign, with only two large voter forums in a district that usually features many more. Turnout is expected to be light. The district includes the city of Alexandria, with five precincts in Arlington County and two south of the Capital Beltway in Fairfax County. What separates the candidates are cash, experience and personality.
Democratic Party insiders say the two leaders are Craig Fifer, 37, director of communications for the city of Alexandria, who has attracted endorsements from multiple legislators and from The Washington Post editorial board, and Julie Jakopic, 54, owner and operator of a leadership and strategy consulting firm, who has a 25-year history of volunteer work for local causes. She also has racked up a large number of important endorsements, including that of Krupicka, whose campaigns she helped run.
“She’s the only person in this race who can point not just to values, but also actually to deliverables,” Krupicka said.
Jakopic led a city advisory board that helped Alexandria develop and acquire $15 million in affordable housing for people with disabilities, and worked to expand access to early childhood education funding.
Fifer has advised legislators on open-government and voter access issues for years, said Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), one of his supporters. “Craig’s already a go-to policy expert,” Ebbin said. “He’s prepared and ready. There’s no learning curve.”
Neither Fifer nor Jakopic has won the campaign fundraising race so far. That distinction goes to Mark Levine, 49, an attorney and talk-show host who ran unsuccessfully last summer in the Democratic Congressional primary won by now-Rep. Don Beyer. Levine personally contributed more than $70,000 of the $97,018 that his campaign reported taking in.
Levine, who once called himself the “aggressive progressive,” helped write the marriage equality law in the District and a domestic violence bill in Tennessee that was prompted by a family tragedy. He wants to raise the tax on tobacco and gasoline. Of current laws that allow unlimited gifts to legislators, he says: “I know it’s legal, but I still call it bribery.”
He says he would like to leverage conservatives’ beliefs in local decision-making and fiscal conservatism to raise the minimum wage in Northern Virginia, particularly for people who work for tips and are paid $2.13 per hour, and allow the expansion of Medicaid.
“There is no logical reason to opposed Medicaid expansion and I’m willing to call [opponents] out on it,” he said at a May 27 voter forum. Six days later, he said he’d woo the GOP majority in the House of Delegates, which blocked Medicaid expansion last year.
“There’s a fiscally conservative argument to be made, and I’m ready to make it,” he said.
Clarence Tong, 33, chairman of the city’s Democratic committee and legislative affairs manager for the Environmental Defense Fund, reported $89,715 in contributions, in-kind donations and loans through May 31. His biggest donor, his mother-in-law Hui Fang Chen, put in $11,745. Tong, like most candidates, also loaned his campaign money, $27,000 in his case.
Tong said he would refuse contributions from Dominion Virginia Power and work to encourage investment in clean energy and create incentives for Virginians to use solar or wind power or make energy-efficient changes.
But Tong bobbled a question at a forum Tuesday night about whether state alcohol agents should have arrest powers, admitting he didn’t know much about the issue, which drew significant public attention earlier this year after the violent arrest of a University of Virginia student by Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agents. Tong seemed unprepared for other inquiries as well, saying at one point, in response to a highly specific question from Fifer, that he supports “looking at different ways to fund universal pre-kindergarten.”
Larry Altenburg, 44, a senior executive at Rapiscan, a technology manufacturing company, positions himself as the only parent, military veteran or businessman in the field. He has raised $47,885, including a $25,000 personal loan. He wants to reduce testing in schools and improve the economic climate by attracting and redeveloping new business.
Like his opponents, Altenburg said he wants to restrict gun sales and bar firearms from college and university campuses. Unlike the others, he supported a decision by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to suspend the state’s ability to review and adjust Dominion Virginia Power’s base electricity rates through 2022. Altenburg also challenged other candidates’ plans to help elect Democrats in other district, saying it is “giving up responsibility to this district,” a belief that others disputed.
Both Jakopic and Fifer say they are deeply interested in early education. Jakopic said she sees the need for more pre-kindergarten programs, teacher empowerment and changing Standards of Learning tests so that they measure student growth, and don’t come too late in the school year for students to improve.
“The problem isn’t with our schools,” Fifer declared. “The problem is the state never fulfilled its obligation to fund the schools.” He said he would change Virginia’s income tax from a flat rate to a progressive scale, so that wealthier taxpayers pay more, with the increase helping to fund education.
Jakopic, who has endorsements from Emily’s List, Virginia National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority, excoriated what she described as the ethical failings of recent legislators, including Rep. Joseph D. Morrissey (I-Henrico), who was convicted for contributing to the delinquency of a minor but continued to legislate.
“There’s no excuse for having pedophiles sitting on the House floor, period,” Jakopic said. “Someone who slept with and harassed an employee — it’s appalling and absurd.”
Jakopic reported raising $41,276 with more than half of it unspent as of May 27. Krupicka, her biggest donor, gave her $5,000 from his campaign fund. She loaned her campaign $3,200.
Fifer reported a fundraising total of $48,854 and claimed the most cash contributions from individual donors. His biggest donor was Chris Gallaway, a political consultant, who gave $2,786 in cash and in-kind services.
Correction: Earlier versions of this article misstated Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s action on a bill involving Dominion Virginia Power. He signed a bill to suspend, not extend, the state’s ability to review the utility’s base electricity rates through 2022.