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Meet the candidates: Loudoun chamber hosts candidates forum

Loudoun’s business community had a unique opportunity to get to know 12 of the 14 local candidates for the Virginia House of Delegates Friday morning.

Instead of a typical forum, the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce decided to go a different route. Advertised as “speed dating,” each candidate spent seven minutes with a table of chamber members before moving on to the next.

Del. Randy Minchew (R-10) and challenger Wendy Gooditis (D), Del. Tag Greason (R-32) and challenger David Reid (D), Del. Dave LaRock (R-33) and challenger Tia Walbridge (D), Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34) and challenger Cheryl Buford (D), Del. Jennifer Boysko (D-86) and challenger Linda Schultz (R), Del. John Bell (D-87) and Del. Jim LeMunyon (R-67) answered constituents’ questions throughout the two-hour event.

Democratic challenger Karrie Delaney of the 67th District and Republican challenger Subba Kolla for the 87th District did not attend.

Although questions were left largely to the table members’ discretion, health care, education and transportation dominated the discussions.

Transportation

With many Loudoun residents commuting to Washington D.C. and neighboring counties for work – and with Metro coming into Loudoun in 2020 – transportation was high on the list of constituent concerns.

LaRock said ensuring transportation projects give the “bang for their buck” has been a priority since he entered office two terms ago.

“A healthy economy is what allows business to thrive and allows individuals to thrive,” LaRock said. “Transportation facilitates that economic growth and development.”

One of the biggest concerns surrounding Metro is the proposed tax to help fund the project. LaRock said that with a sales tax increase, western Loudoun would pay disproportionate rates. He suggested solutions such as tax districts or increasing fares. Even a small fare increase would generate significant revenue, LaRock said.

Minchew also spoke against the floated 1 percent regional sales tax and said the federal government needs to step up to the plate in paying for Metro, because even though it goes through Maryland and Virginia, it is still federal infrastructure.

Murphy echoed the need for a dedicated source of funding for Metro.

Bell said he’d like to explore the possibility of adding tolls to the Dulles Greenway route to Dulles Airport once Metro is opened, as well as an express system for the Metro from Loudoun County to the Metro Center stop to improve commute times.

Walbridge cited Metro as a way to expand daytime and overnight visitors to western Loudoun, which in turn could drive more business, particularly in the bed and breakfast and restaurant industries. Walbridge hopes to support rural entrepreneurs and businesses that work to keep the west’s rural charm.

Health care

Walbridge named making health care more affordable and accessible a top priority for her campaign.

“Health care is a very personal issue for me. My husband’s had cancer three times and both of my babies were IVF, so we still carry a decent amount of medical debt, and we’ve had insurance,” Walbridge said. “I can’t imagine how people without insurance go about doing that.”

Walbridge pointed to state programs like bundling common procedures as a possible solution to lowering cost and expanding access.

Reid, Gooditis, Boysko and Bell all spoke on expanding Medicaid so that the commonwealth gets its fair share of tax dollars. Reid said Medicaid is the first step to affordable health care. Gooditis said by expanding the federal program, 400,000 more Virginians would have health insurance and it would create new jobs in the health care field.

All of Loudoun's Republican representatives in Richmond have opposed expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, with most saying the federal government won't be able to fulfill its promise to fund the bulk of the expansion.

Education

For public schools, Loudoun receives less state aide per pupil than other counties. Several candidates expressed a willingness to adjust this.

Buford said the school funding formula doesn’t take English Language Lerner students into account. Buford and LeMunyon said if the formula is amended to add this population, Loudoun could see more funding.

Another major aspect of education is preparing students for the fastest-growing job markets: IT and health care. Walbridge said focusing on STEM education would be a priority for her. She’d like to see more Loudoun residents going into jobs in the space technology corridor in the county.

Greason also spoke on preparing students for the workforce. He emphasized the importance of dual enrollment so that high school students can enter college already with credits.

He also said he’d like to expand the number of colleges that accept dual enrollment and increase consumer awareness so students know before they take courses, which colleges accept the credits and what grades they need to be accepted.

He also called for creating more awareness on the different pathways to the work force, be it a certification, two-year degree or four-year degree.

“Education is everything for us here,” Greason said. “There are so many important issues, don’t get me wrong, but if we don’t get the education part right, everything else suffers.”
Gooditis and Boysko also spoke on increasing awareness of all possible job fields.

Walbridge would also like to see a partnership between the state universities and government to allow graduating seniors to begin the process of applying for security clearance while still in school, therefore making them more eligible for local jobs after graduating.

Gooditis would also like to expand state support of education, particularly in recruiting and retaining teachers.

Schultz said she’d like to increase incentives for Virginia students to stay in Virginia after graduating college by creating programs like partial or total loan forgiveness for Virginia students studying in STEM fields and working within the commonwealth.

Boysko wants to see an expansion of scholarship opportunities and the creation public-private partnerships for internships and apprenticeships.

Virginia voters will head to the polls on Nov. 7. In addition to the House of Delegates, voters will cast ballots for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

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