As part of this site’s ongoing effort to learn more about Democratic candidates for office in Virginia, today we publish the second of two interviews with the Democratic candidates in the 49th House of Delegates District (note: current Delegate Adam Ebbin is vacating the seat to run for State Senate). Those candidates are Stephanie Clifford and Alfonso Lopez. We presented the same questions simultaneously to both candidates, and also requested that they return them at the same time (to be fair, so neither of them knew what the other had answered). Yesterday, we presented Stephanie Clifford’s interview. Today, we present our interview with Alfonso Lopez. We hope you find the interviews informative, and would be very interested in your reaction. Thanks.
P.S. We will also use these questionnaires as an important part of our consideration into whether we will endorse anyone in this district, and if so, who we will endorse. We will also be watching debates and the overall campaign to determine who we believe will best represent progressive values, and of course the 49th District, in Richmond. Thank you to both candidates for their thoughtful, thorough answers to our questions!
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, and specifically, what in your background and/or temperament makes you the best qualified of the two Democratic candidates to represent the 49th House of Delegates district in Richmond.
At the outset I want to thank Lowell and the Blue Virginia team for helping to provide a forum for this campaign. Blue Virginia plays a special role in the Commonwealth which is greatly appreciated by so many Virginia Democrats!
To answer your question, I’m a lifelong Democrat and activist with nearly 20 years of Federal and Virginia legislative experience on issues of critical importance to the people of Arlington and Fairfax. I’ve been an Obama Administration political appointee, Kaine Administration Cabinet-level official, Hill staffer, and long-time environmental advocate.
I’ve devoted my life to public service. With that in mind, I believe I have the passion and – more importantly – the practical experience to best make the case for our values and needs in Richmond.
I was raised in Fairfax County (from the age of four) and I’ve spent my adult life in Arlington. I’ve seen the changes our region has experienced first-hand and – as a result of my years working at the community, State, and Federal levels – I know the challenges that lie ahead.
I’m a proud product of Fairfax County public schools and my Mom devoted thirty years of her life to the Arlington Public School System.
I’m also the son of an immigrant and know the struggles, challenges, and opportunities that face this important part of our community.
My Dad was raised in a tiny village in the Andes mountains of Venezuela. He came to this country at the age of 19 with $260 in his pocket and the dream of a better life. He worked as a bus boy and waiter, learned English and started attending school. He graduated from Northern Virginia Community College in 1975 (when I was five years old). Then he took one class a semester every year until he graduated from George Mason University – one month before I graduated from high school.
My Mom was raised in a small town in central Pennsylvania. She got a scholarship to attend college at American University. Working as a teacher and guidance counselor in Arlington Public Schools she focused on helping immigrant and English-as-a-Second language children (and their families) continue their education after high school. As a result of her efforts over 1,000 children – who could have been forgotten – graduated from college.
My parents embodied the values of hard work, perseverance, and the spirit of public service. My father told me nearly every day growing up that we owe everything to Virginia and the U.S. More importantly, we owe a debt to this country and must always try to give back in whatever way we can.
After high school I graduated from Vassar College, studied for a short time at Cambridge University, and received my law degree from Tulane University Law School. While I was there I specialized in environmental law.
Instead of going to a law firm after my first year of law school I worked at the Domestic Policy Council of the Clinton White House. My little desk was on the second floor of the West Wing. From that experience forward I was hooked on progressive politics and the nuances of public policy.
I finished my law classes in five semesters and returned to the Clinton White House’s Council on Environmental Quality. There I did research and worked on environmental justice and toxins cleanup issues. From there I worked for several years as a Federal environmental health advocate fighting for improved safeguards for Clean Air, Safe Drinking Water, and Global Climate policy. I then worked for several years for a Democratic U.S. Senator on environment, energy, civil rights, labor, and education issues.
In 2005 I was asked to become the Deputy Policy Director on Governor-Elect Kaine’s Transition Team. After the transition ended I was named the Director of the Virginia Liaison Office in Washington, D.C. In this position I directed and supervised all Congressional and Federal Relations for the Commonwealth. I also served as the Governor’s representative to the National Governors Association, Democratic Governors Association and the Southern Governors Association. During my tenure, I was the highest ranking Latino in the Kaine Administration.
When the Kaine Administration ended I became an Obama Administration political appointee serving as the Assistant Administrator for Congressional and Legislative Affairs of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). In this position I helped lead SBA efforts to enact legislative proposals in economic development, job creation, lending, contracting and innovation. I’m especially proud of my work helping lead the SBA effort to pass the Small Business Jobs Act which – at a critical time – successfully opened up the credit markets for small businesses and entrepreneurs and created $12 billion in tax relief for small business owners. I also served for a short time as the White House Liaison at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).
During the late 1990’s I became increasingly involved with the Democratic Party of Virginia and the Arlington Democrats. I held several positions in the Arlington Young Democrats and served as that organization’s President in 2004. During my tenure the organization grew rapidly – and we organized the first of many traditions (including the Valentine’s Date Auction for charity). I was twice elected the Deputy Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee and I’ve been elected to two four year terms on the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA) State Central Committee. I currently serve as a Steering Committee Member of the DPVA. I’m also the immediate Past President of the Democratic Latino Organization of Virginia (DLOV) which (for the first time) became an official DPVA Caucus and Steering Committee organization under my leadership. I am currently an elected At-Large Member of the Democratic National Committee. In that position I also serve as the Vice-Chair of the Southern Region of the Hispanic Caucus and as a Member of the Credentials Committee.
I’m honored to have been named the 2004 Virginia Young Democrat of the Year and the 2004 and 2003 Arlington Young Democrat of the Year. In 2002 I was awarded the ACDC Fundraiser of the Year award. I’m also proud to have been chosen as a 2003 Fellow of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia.
I’ve also been very involved in the community – serving on several Arlington and regional Boards and commissions. I served on the Arlington Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission from 2003 to 2006 – where I chaired the Health and Human Resources Committee and was a Member of the Public Safety Committee. I also served as the Board Vice-Chair of the Shirlington Employment and Education Center and the Board Co-Chair of the Arlington Veterans’ Memorial YMCA. I’ve also been a Member of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership’s, Northern Virginia Regional Board since 2005.
My wife Sarah and I have made our home here and this is where we want to raise our little boy Aaron Rafael. I hope you will give me the chance to use my expertise to work on behalf of the 49th District – to help make life better for the community and the people that I love.
2. What three issues are you most passionate about and why? Also, what specifically have you done to further those issues?
As evidenced by my years of work in these areas, I care passionately about the issues of Environment/Energy, Education, and Small Business growth and development.
Environment/Energy – I’ve seen the harm that can be caused in the U.S. by the rampant, unchecked release of environmental toxins. The devastating effects on the natural environment and on public health of these pollutants must not be ignored. We see it with polluted runoff into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay – that despoils these natural wonders and economic opportunities for fishermen and oystermen. We see it every time in the pained faces of asthmatic children when our region fails to meet national ambient air quality standards. We see it in cancer clusters where individuals and corporations once dumped chemicals without proper regulation or oversight. There is a peace of mind that comes from knowing that our drinking water is safe – that our communities are free from toxic waste – and that our air is clean. Indeed, there are parts of this world where parents and families never have that peace of mind.
I have been in the environment and energy public policy trenches for years – fighting for safer communities, coastal protection, energy efficiency, conservation, clean water, and remediation of toxic sites. I’ve worked on environmental justice issues in the Clinton White House, toxic remediation/cancer cluster issues in the U.S. Senate, offshore drilling in the Kaine Administration (representing Virginia before the Bush Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service), and helped pass the Safe Drinking Water Act Reauthorization and defend the improved EPA standards for ozone and particulate air pollution as an environmental advocate in D.C. I also worked with Members of the Virginia and Maryland Congressional Delegations on strengthening Chesapeake Bay clean up provisions in the Farm Bill.
Over the years I have fought for reduced greenhouse gases and dangerous emissions through energy efficiency programs, reductions in demand, and the promotion of clean, renewable resources like wind and solar. Governments must lead by example on energy efficient fleets, LEED building standards, and the use of innovative green technologies and practices to reduce our overall carbon footprint. I will continue to be a strong advocate for energy efficiency, conservation, and the innovative use of technology to create Green Jobs, and grow the green economy. I will also continue to work tirelessly to promote smart growth policies and encourage transit opportunities in the region.
While working in the U.S. Senate, I drafted numerous pieces of legislation, including the Zero Tolerance for Repeat Polluters Act, the School Environment Protection Act, and the National Estuary Conservation Act (enacted into law). I also assisted in efforts to negotiate political solutions for State issues, including ocean dumping off the coast and out-of-state garbage transport. In 1998 I drafted the Children’s Environmental Health Report Card for the Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Finally, I was very proud of my work managing all aspects of Governor Kaine’s Southern Governors Association Chairman’s Initiative on Climate Change and Energy Independence in the Southern States. This effort brought Republicans and Democrats to the table to address the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Southern region and provided State governments with a series of easily implemented programs to improve energy efficiency and promote renewable energy sources. It also addressed climate policy from the unique perspective of economic and homeland security impacts.
Education – The importance of education access for all was a driving force behind my upbringing. My father was an example of this every day – as was my mother’s dedication to Arlington County Schools, supporting ESOL programs, continuing the education of immigrant children beyond high school.
I understand the needs of our teachers and schools and will do everything in my power to preserve and improve the quality of our region’s public schools. Every child deserves an outstanding education to prepare them for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century. I want to continue my Mom’s legacy.
Our investment in the future’s leading minds begins with good teachers – protecting and promoting them is a key part of the strategy to prepare our children for the 21st century economy. With this in mind, I support honoring our teachers with a professional wage so they don’t have to choose between making ends meet and serving our community.
I understand the value of Pre-K in ensuring that children are prepared to learn in elementary school and have the foundation for success in later years. I’ve seen how cuts in education harm critically important programs for children in less wealthy areas of Virginia forced to choose between them and basic instruction. I’ve seen how school infrastructure issues can have a direct impact on child’s ability to focus and learn in the classroom. I recognize that a dollar invested in education is a dollar invested in our economy. Our economic development strategy and attracting good jobs starts with a great education open to all.
During my time in the Senate I worked on the comprehensive Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization. I’ve worked on legislation to assist localities renovate and construct new schools. I also worked to defend the U.S. Department of Education against Republican efforts to cut funding.
My wife Sarah currently works at the U.S. Department of Education in the Office of Innovation and Improvement.
Jobs and Small Business – I understand the sacrifices and capital risks associated with opening and operating a small business. The 49th District is blessed with small businesswomen and men that understand what it means to put their precious savings at risk to start a business, serve the local community, and earn a living for their families.
Small businesses account for over half of all jobs in the United States and are critical to growing the economy and creating new jobs. They also serve critical demands in the 49th District – from our diverse shops and restaurants on Columbia Pike to the retailers and merchants in Bailey’s Crossroads.
As President Obama’s Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), I led the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs for the agency and had the primary responsibility for devising and implementing SBA legislative strategy. I worked to develop and enact SBA legislative proposals in the areas of economic development, job creation, capital/lending, contracting, and innovation.
Some notable successes during my tenure included the Small Business Jobs Act, the Contracting Parity Fix, the SBA reauthorization extension and inclusion of the Jobs Act Fee Relief/Guarantee Enhancements in the Short Term CR at the end of the 111th Congress.
From my service in the Obama White House helping to lead the effort to pass the Small Business Jobs Act and the Contracting Parity fix – I’ve fought to make sure that we have the economy and the infrastructure necessary for our children’s lives to be better than our own. It is imperative that small businesses be given the tools they need to thrive.
I am very proud of my work on the Small Business Jobs Act – which was signed by the President in September of 2010. As a result of the reforms and initiatives in this legislation, efforts to open up the credit markets of medium and small size banks and encourage lending to small businesses and entrepreneurs again were very successful. Within several weeks of the bill being signed into law, targeted lending programs spiked to the highest levels in the history of the SBA. The result has been increased job growth for the past several months.
In the Kaine Administration I served as a Member of the ten-person Virginia Stimulus/Recovery Act Leadership Team. I also regularly coordinated Regional Summits between the Governors of Virginia and Maryland and the Mayor of Washington, D.C. to address issues including economic development in our region.
3. How would you describe yourself ideologically – “progressive,” “moderate,” “liberal,” or something else? How does your record of votes, endorsements, employment, and other activities reflect your political ideology?
I am a strong progressive. One of my proudest achievements in Virginia politics was helping to run the first campaign of Walter Tejada. Over the five-week campaign my team worked to raise $92,000 on his behalf and he won by a razor thin margin to become the first Latino County Board Member ever elected. I have a sterling voting record in Democratic elections. More importantly, I have worked on behalf of non-profits and government organizations most of my life – from the environmental community to the Kaine Administration to the Obama White House. I will join the Progressive Caucus.
In 2006, I served on the Commonwealth Coalition’s, Virginia State Advisory Board. In this position I worked as a part of a State-wide effort to fight Republican attempts in the General Assembly to pass a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage in Virginia.
4. Who is your favorite and who is your least favorite Virginia politician and why?
Former Governor and Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. – and his policies of “massive resistance” to block the desegregation of public schools mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1954 ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education – is my least favorite Virginia politician. He kept our Commonwealth back – as opposed to moving us forward. Ken Cuccinelli is a close second least favorite politician…
I have several favorite Virginia politicians but I will only mention two.
· James Madison – the Father of the Constitution. His wizardry in drafting, negotiating, and execution literally changed the world. He doesn’t get nearly enough credit.
· I had the honor of meeting former Governor Linwood Holton on several occasions – including spending time with him on the day of the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. He won a narrow election for Governor of Virginia in 1969 by bringing together a coalition of African Americans and white working class voters in opposition to the Byrd Machine and in support of public school desegregation. He ended “massive resistance” in Virginia. He worked to protect the environment and clean up Virginia’s polluted waterways. He also created the unified Ports Authority in Hampton Roads which remains a major economic engine for Virginia and the East Coast. Later in life he also supported several Democratic candidates for office in Virginia. He has led an exemplary life – dedicated to civil rights. Governor Holton stood up for what was right at a difficult time and left Virginia a dramatically better place.
5. This year, Virginia politicians have been busy dividing up the Commonwealth into new legislative districts, with the clear #1 goal being incumbent protection. With that in mind, do you support nonpartisan redistricting as opposed to the system we have now? If elected to the House of Delegates, what specifically will you do to make this happen?
Yes – I strongly support fair and open nonpartisan redistricting. Despite the best efforts of the State Senate, the House of Delegates has defeated efforts to move this idea forward for several years. I will introduce or support nonpartisan redistricting legislation every year I serve until it becomes the law of the Commonwealth. Suffice to say I would have voted against the gerrymandered map this year.
6. On the subject of transportation, three questions. First, if you had been in the House of Delegates this past session, would you have voted for HB 1998, a bill strongly opposed by “smart growth” and environmental group as encouraging sprawl and highway construction over public transit? Second, how do you propose paying for the tens of billions of dollars in transportation maintenance and improvements Virginia is estimated to require in coming years? Finally, what are your thoughts on the proposed Columbia Pike Streetcar system?
a) No – I would have opposed HB 1998. That legislation was based on outmoded transportation models that prioritizes only the movement of cars and trucks – and ignores other comprehensive livability factors such as transit options, work/live proximity, cycling, retail services (like ZipCar and taxis), and pedestrians. The focus should be on moving the maximum number of people, not just vehicles. We need better “smart growth” solutions – with jobs and housing close together and significant transit options. Roads/cars/trucks should be one part of a smarter, comprehensive, and diverse package of transportation solutions. Investment should be done equitably across modes so that we don’t have to rely solely on car trips to meet Virginia’s needs. Through this approach, we will reduce congestion, increase air quality, and improve public health, while also leading to better economic outcomes (improved property values and increased tax base).
b) First, let me say that taking money from schools, social services, and first responders to pay for a few off-ramps is wrong. The attempt by the Republicans in the General Assembly to take critical money from the General Fund to fund a few transportation projects betrays a serious flaw in their priorities. When I worked for Governor Kaine – VDOT provided models showing that our current approach to addressing Northern Virginia’s transportation needs was untenable over the medium and long-term. Growing/developing at current rates – without the revenue to address the necessary infrastructure requirements – is a recipe for disaster. Indeed, the last major investment in transportation in Virginia occurred during the Baliles Administration.
As the major economic engine for the rest of Virginia it is imperative that Northern Virginia be given the tools to address these needs. Consistent, sustainable, and dedicated revenue sources must be created for our transportation and transit system.
Among the various options available to the Commonwealth, we should consider increasing the gas tax to bring it in line with neighboring States. We need to require a system that is fair to consumers, fair to Northern Virginia, and that recognizes that the time for short term budgetary gimmicks is long past. Rest assured that I will make smart growth based transportation infrastructure a top priority.
c) Finally, as a Columbia Pike resident, I support the pursuit of the Columbia Pike Streetcar as one fundamental part of the long-term, community-led planning efforts to create a viable, accessible, and sustainable corridor for those who live, work, shop, and recreate in the area. The streetcar is part of a dynamic vision for the Columbia Pike community, supported by other transit service (like ART and Pike Ride) as well as a comprehensive land use and form-based code urban design strategy. This includes the current ongoing housing study, to help ensure that we can maintain our economic, social, and small business diversity while achieving these community goals. However, at the end of the day, we have to recognize that the Federal funding necessary to make this project a reality is still far from certain, especially considering the current climate in Congress.
7. If you had been in the House of Delegates this past session, would you have voted “yea” or “nay” on Majority Leader Dick Saslaw’s bill, SB 1367 (motor vehicle title loans to nonresidents)? In general, if elected, would you always do what you believe is right or would you follow your leadership, even if you don’t agree with it?
I would have voted against SB 1367. I will be a champion in the fight against predatory lenders and predatory lending practices. People should not be locked into debt as a result of working with these companies. I will always do what I think is right and stand up for the interests of the people of the 49th District. That is who I want to represent and their needs should always come before the dictates of party leadership.
8. What is your vision for Virginia’s energy future? For instance, if you are elected to the House of Delegates, will you push for legislation like Chap Petersen’s Clean Energy Future Act? Will you support any of the following: offshore oil drilling, natural gas “fracking,” uranium mining, new coal-fired power plants, mountaintop removal coal mining? If not, what will you do to fight against these things, and to fight for a healthy environment, energy efficiency, and renewable power?
We should be leading by example in Virginia. Virginia should be investing in wind, solar, and other developing/new energy technologies – and moving away from the dirty energy sources of yesterday. We need to be smart about green energy, energy conservation, and efficiency. I support ensuring that all Virginia buildings and renovations meet LEED certified standards. I support stronger Renewable Portfolio Standards and net metering requirements. We should be striving to emulate the new efforts of the U.S. General Services Administration by creating more incentives for zero environmental footprint facilities. We should also require that all new Virginia vehicles be hybrid or electric. Virginia should become a leader in clean energy technology and renewable energy development. We also must do more to create incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy company investment in Virginia. These policies will go a long way toward reducing our emission of greenhouse gases.
Yes – I fully support Chap’s proposal and would go even further with the Renewable Portfolio Standard levels in his legislation.
Will I support: Offshore oil drilling – NO. (In fact, I presented the Virginia counter-proposal – severely limiting offshore efforts – to the Bush Department of Interior’s Mineral Management Service. “Fracking” – NO. Uranium mining – NO. New coal-fired power plants – NO. Mountaintop removal coal mining – NO.
Never before in the history of our country have we had such an opportunity to serve our environment, deliver on the demand for 21st century energy generation and drive economic development and job creation with leadership and sound public policy. We need more leaders in Richmond to fight for reducing dangerous emissions and greenhouse gases through reductions in energy demand, elevating energy efficiency programs and rewarding the clean generation of renewable energy resources like wind and solar. Also, by investing in proven renewable energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal, and hydrokinetics, we can create jobs for a wide range of Virginians – engineers, machinists, installation techs, etc. I will be a leading voice for the environment in the General Assembly.
Among other things – I would advocate for the following:
· Increasing the renewable portfolio standard goal to 25% by 2025 and/or establishing a mandatory renewable energy standard.
· Providing incentives for the use and implementation of advanced electrical metering infrastructure.
· Calling for the implementation of Governor Kaine’s Commission on Climate Change recommendations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
· Establishing a tougher, mandatory energy efficiency standard under which investor-owned electric utilities would be required to reduce electricity use by at least 25% of 2006 consumption levels by 2025.
· Mandating that all new State, Local, university, or school system buildings (larger than 5,000 square feet) be built to LEED silver or equivalent Green Globes standards. We should also push to retrofit all state buildings for energy efficiency.
· Expanding eligibility for the current solar tax credit to a broader range of alternative energy companies and creating incentives to use more of Virginia’s resources such as offshore wind and solar.
9. Yes or no answers. Do you support: a) a strongly progressive tax system, including a reasonable estate tax on the wealthy; b) a “Dream Act” for Virginia, as recently passed in Maryland; c) allowing gay couples to adopt; d) ultimately, repealing the Marshall-Newman Amendment; e) closing the “gun show loophole” and taking other commonsense gun measures; f) raising the gas tax and/or instituting a carbon tax?
b) Yes – I have fought for this for years.
d) Yes – I was a Member of the Commonwealth Coalition fighting this in 2006.
10. Given that the 49th House of Delegates district is a solid “blue” district, and thus a “safe seat,” it is crucial that whoever is elected has a plan to help elect Democrats – preferably progressives – across Virginia. That includes fundraising, organizing volunteers, and maximizing turnout in the 49th district for statewide and Congressional elections. Do you agree with this vision for the Delegate from the 49th district, and if so, what exactly is your plan to accomplish it?
As I stated in my announcement speech, when elected I pledge to do everything in my power to elect MORE Democrats. The only way we will be able to make our vision of what Virginia can become a reality is if we regain the majority in the House. We are sitting on top of one of the wealthiest areas in the nation and should tap into the resources at our disposal. I will raise money in Northern Virginia to give to Democratic candidates throughout the Commonwealth and the Caucus. If done properly, this will involve a nearly year round effort to raise funds and the implementation of several new techniques. With several successful fundraising efforts under my belt I believe I am the right person for this effort. I will also make a point of working with the caucus to assist in recruiting candidates and providing them with the tools to succeed on the campaign trail. In the coming years we cannot afford to take any votes for granted. With that in mind, I will work tirelessly to increase vote margins and turnout each year in the 49th District. We never know when there will be another Webb campaign that relies on the margin of victory provided by our area’s hard work and perseverance.
11. Do you agree or disagree that Richmond is broken – for instance, the tremendous influence of money and lobbyists on legislation – and needs major reform? If elected to the House of Delegates, would your general attitude be more “go along, get along” or “shake things up?” Please be as specific as possible in your answer. For instance, would you support campaign finance reform that sharply curtails the power of corporations, lobbyists, and special interests?
There are significant problems in Richmond that must be addressed. Under the part-time system in the General Assembly State lobbyists hold extraordinary power and influence. With this in mind, I definitely support comprehensive campaign finance reform and stronger ethics rules. We need increased transparency and sunlight on the process – especially as it relates to the budgetary process. I also believe that all Committee and Subcommittee hearings and votes should (at the very least) be recorded and live-streamed on the Internet.
I’ve never been a go-along, get-along kind of person. In every leadership position I’ve held I’ve worked to push new, innovative ideas – overhaul antiquated programs and processes – and speak the truth. My time in Richmond will be no different.