The three candidates for the Board of Supervisors' Catoctin District – Republican Caleb Kershner, Democrat Forest Hayes, independent Sam Kroiz – squared off in a Lovettsville debate Monday night, and each offered different visions to lead the largely rural, Republican-leaning district. (Incumbent Geary Higgins (R), who is running for the state Senate, won the 2015 contest by 30 percent of the vote over Democrat Craig Green.)
Here are five takeaways from the evening.
The most encouraging aspect of the event was citizen engagement. While attendance wasn't taken, the crowd exceeded organizers' expectations – on a gorgeous weeknight, nonetheless – with well over 100 people on hand. We hope the crowd size is an indicator this year's voter turnout will surpass the disappointing 35 percent in 2015.
We know it's probably a pipe dream, but we'd love to see Loudoun voters coming out in off-year elections in numbers similar to that of a presidential year.
Where the candidates scored points
An item all the candidates could agree on (not surprisingly) was preserving and maintaining the rural west. While this isn't a surprise in the district that covers charming country towns and villages like Lucketts, Lovettsville, Hamilton and Waterford, all three were unwavering in their declaration that they'd fight any encroaching development where it doesn't belong – which is almost anywhere in the Catoctin confines.
Hayes has repeatedly said he'd like a moratorium on development in the Rural Policy Area, but that's more stump speech than government reality. As Kershner and Kroiz pointed out, a moratorium on development is likely illegal and could pose a serious threat to property rights.
About that $3.2 billion budget
Spectators of the event learned that none of the three candidates could share one area or department of the county budget that could use a little trimming. That's hard to believe considering the county's spending plan is more than $3.2 billion and growing.
The moderator – I happened to be the one who asked the question – didn't ask candidates to name significant cuts amounting millions of dollars, I simply asked one department or program that could be reduced.
With a $3.2 billion budget, we like to think even the biggest of big-government, safety-net proponents could find somewhere to trim. (For the record, we also asked where more investment could be needed.)
Maybe the candidates haven't reviewed past years' budgets and that's why they couldn't say an area they'd cut; that would be a little troubling, as well.
Surely libertarians and small-government conservatives were disappointed Kershner couldn't – or wouldn't – name a specific department that may be bloated.
In the same vein, each candidate came up woefully short on SPECIFIC proposals they'd introduce on the board level. From a plan of attack on Route 15 to rural economic development support to errant shooting incidents, candidates spoke largely in platitudes about “starting conversations,” “maintaining” the rural west, better marketing and listening to the needs of their constituents.
That's all well and good – and no doubt important – but listening and conversing is something the candidates should have been doing for months, if not years, by now. The time to serve up concrete proposals is past due.
Current board's performance
On the question of what has been the current board's biggest mistake, Kershner had a puzzling answer. The Republican essentially placed blame on the board for the county's Comprehensive Plan not being revisited for two decades.
We couldn't agree more that was a problem – especially in fast-growing, dynamic Loudoun – but how does the blame lay at the feet of the current board, which immediately took up the new comp plan when it assumed office?
If any one person were to blame for county planning being tossed aside for years, wouldn't that be former Chairman Scott York (Republican turned independent turned Republican turned independent), who led the county's governing body from the start of the millennium up until losing the 2015 contest to Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D)?
Kershner's response left us scratching our heads.
Nevertheless, the first debate spearheaded by the Coalition of Loudoun Towns was by most accounts a success. We thank all the candidates for participating in the forum and stepping up to the plate.
Trevor Baratko is the editor-in-chief of the Loudoun Times-Mirror. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.