Two candidates are engaged in a whirlwind special election campaign to fill the seat of longtime state Del. Bob Brink (D-Dist. 48), who resigned his position June 30 to take an appointed state position.
Democrat Rip Sullivan and Republican Dave Foster had just a few days to secure their respective parties’ nomination and about six weeks to campaign for the Aug. 19 special election.
“I figure I can sleep on Aug. 20,” Sullivan said. Both candidates described the race as “a sprint.”
“It’s been a very rewarding and encouraging experience as well,” Foster said.
On paper, House District 48, which includes portions of Arlington and McLean, favors the Democratic candidate, Sullivan. Voters in the 48th have supported Democrats by margins of 60 percent or more in statewide and presidential elections since 2009, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. In last year’s race for governor, the district broke 65 percent in favor of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).
However, in an April special election, voters in Arlington also elected the first non-Democrat to the Arlington County Board in 15 years.
Following that race, analysts suggested that John Vihstadt’s victory was due in part to his opposition to the controversial Columbia Pike streetcar project.
Foster also opposes the streetcar and said he would use his position at the state level to move forward with a proposed referendum on the project. Arlington County Board members said last month that the county does not have the authority to conduct an advisory referendum.
Foster also touts his service on the Arlington County School Board, where his Democratic colleagues twice elected him chairman of the board, and the Virginia Board of Education.
“We got some things done together,” he said.
Sullivan, who has a background serving on a variety of boards and commissions in Fairfax County and at the state level, also said he believes he can bring a much-needed dose of bipartisanship to Richmond. He said this year’s partisan fights over Medicaid expansion and the state budget were “disappointing.”
“I would like to be part of the solution,” he said. “It’s going to take some work.”
On the issue of expanding Medicaid, Sullivan describes himself as a steadfast supporter for extending coverage to the approximately 400,000 adults in Virginia who would become eligible for health coverage.
Foster said he believes Republicans and Democrats need to reach a compromise on the matter that includes both expanded coverage and reforms to the existing program.
In addition to the streetcar referendum, Foster’s top priorities include protecting existing public schools funding and obtaining more freedom for local school districts to make decisions about their school calendar.
“I think local administrators, parents and teachers have the best feel for that,” he said of the school calendar issue. In Virginia, most public school systems cannot begin classes before Labor Day.
Sullivan also expressed a strong interest in education issues, including funding for K-12 schools, a decreased focus on testing, and expanded access to community colleges.
“We need to be absolutely focused like a laser to make sure that we are adequately funding education in Virginia,” Sullivan said.
Environmental issues are another top priority for Sullivan. He believes Virginia should be making greater investments in renewable energy, such as offering tax credits for solar panels.
Virginia will need to come up with a plan to comply with the latest round of EPA regulations, he said.
“It needs to be a plan that is forward-looking and sets goals and objectives,” Sullivan said.
One additional priority for Foster is to continue Virginia’s business-friendly reputation, including maintaining “right to work” laws.
The candidates will debate one another Aug. 11, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., at Founder’s Hall on George Mason University’s Arlington campus.