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Bell, Kolla square off in tight 87th District contest

A tight race is again expected in the House of Delegates' 87th District between first-term incumbent Del. John Bell (D) and Republican Subba Kolla, a real estate businessman from South Riding.

In recent election cycles, the 87th has been one of the most politically-balanced districts in the state. The district includes parts of Sterling, Dulles, South Riding and Prince William County.

Bell, a retired Air Force major who was elected to Virginia's House of Delegates in 2015, won with 320 votes, and just under 50 percent of the vote. He defeated Republican Chuong Nguyen. It was Bell's second bid for the seat. His 2013 contest was even closer, with Bell losing to incumbent David Ramadan by a mere 187 votes out of more than 20,000 cast.

Kolla was born and raised in India and received his master’s degree in mechanical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology. He went on to teach at the collegiate level, and later moved to the U.S. at the age of 30 with his wife and two daughters. Kolla became an American citizen in 2008 and owns a real estate firm in South Riding.

Both candidates have cited transportation as a top priority. Bell has pledged to continue to focus on a plan for the state to buy back part of the Greenway and implement distance-based pricing. He would also like to see new roads opened more quickly.

Kolla cites transportation as “the highest priority.” He too would look to introduce distance-based pricing –something that's long been advocated for along the privately-owned Greenway – and he says he would work for more funding for alternative roads so commuters can avoid using the Greenway. Kolla sees solving transportation issues as key to getting many things done in the district.

Education is also a priority for both men. Bell said he has long been an advocate for full-day kindergarten and worked to get more funding from the state.

Kolla said he would focus on improving the quality of education and reducing overcrowding by creating more classrooms. Kolla sees STEM as a priority and said he wants to introduce more STEM courses in Loudoun County.

Bell pledged to continue working to bring more jobs to Loudoun and attract businesses, in particular growing the cyber security business sector.

Kolla also listed jobs as a priority. When it comes to stimulating the economy, Kolla said he would seek changes to the regulatory framework, “to get employers to come to Loudoun by easing regulations.”

Bell highlighted his long track record in public service as a big difference between himself and Kolla and stressed what he called the practical steps he's made in working on distance-based pricing for the Greenway, in contrast to Kolla, who hasn't served in public office. Bell also cited his experience of managing billion-dollar budgets in the Air Force, where he served for 26 years and became a self-described “budget-cutting expert.”

Kolla, who volunteered on campaigns for former 87th District state Del. David Ramadan (R) and U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-10thDistrict), said he's been involved in the community for a long time at the grassroots level. Kolla said he's knocking on a lot of doors and is seeing a lot of passion for his campaign and doesn't believe Bell is delivering anything to the district. “Most of the people I met don't know who the current delegate is. The 87th District deserves a fresh face, they want change,” Kolla said.

Bell told the Times-Mirror he is getting a good response to his campaign so far and has also been knocking on doors where he said he's listened to anger about what is going on in the federal government. “It's hard to separate state from federal,” he said. “People are very worried about immigration. So many in the 87th District have benefited from H1B visas and if companies can't fill vacancies held by H1B visa holders with Americans then those companies will move away,” Bell added.

In 2015, a total of $568,952 was spent on Bell's election. His opponent spent $520,097 and took almost 48 percent of the vote. A third-party candidate, Brian Suojanen, earned a little over 2 percent of the vote and spent $4,138.

This time around, Kolla got off to an impressive fundraising start. Donations totaling more than $284,000 were collected in January, February and March according to Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP). Kolla's coffers remained fuller than Bell's throughout the year until August, when Bell crept ahead. The latest reporting period, which ended Aug. 31, shows the amount raised by Kolla as $429,514 with Bell at $432,479. Both candidates have received substantial sums from out of state. Public records show Kolla leads with $93,272 from out-of-state donors while Bell received $53,193 from outside of the Commonwealth.

Bell's top donors come from the political sector, while Kolla's support has come mostly from the technology and communications sector.

Both candidates boast endorsements. Bell said he has a wide spectrum of support including The Virginia Education Association, The Virginia Police Benevolent Association, Planned Parenthood and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords' Americans for Responsible Solutions. He said he's also hopeful he will be able to get the backing of The Northern Virginia Technology Council.

“It's been a honor for me and I'd like to thank people of the 87th District for the opportunity,” Bell said.

Kolla said he has the backing of the Republican Party, mentioning Supervisor Matthew Letourneau (R-Dulles), Rep. Comstock (R), and Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), as well as the NRA.

“I'm honored to be the nominee, and I would work hard,” Kolla said.


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