Blue Virginia Interviews with 49th House of Delegates District Candidates: Stephanie Clifford

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    As part of this site’s ongoing effort to learn more about Democratic candidates for office in Virginia, today we publish the first 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). Today, we present Stephanie Clifford’s interview. We hope you find it 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.

    I’m running to take my passion for public service and support of my community to the next level by going right to the heart of our problems in Richmond. Change in our community is just the beginning; for all of our progress to become permanent, we need to make sure our voices continue to be heard in Richmond.

    My husband, Cliff, and I met in Arlington and have been here for nearly a decade. We’re proud to call this area our home-in large part because of the people from our volunteering who love this community and work to make it stronger, everyday.

    Volunteer work has always been a big part of my life. My mom instilled that spirit within me at a very young age. As a single mother, she always took the time to help at our school, church, and with other groups in the community. I believe everyone as a duty to step up when they believe in something and can help-and my time to step-up and represent my community is now.

    I may be new to politics, but I am very familiar with working on difficult and complex issues and have successfully negotiated solutions to overcome the challenges they presented. Part of effective leadership is not only meeting problems face-on, but also finding ways to prevent them. In my career in the private sector, I helped my clients find common ground and build consensus without having to degrade their core values or sacrifice their mission.

    2. What three issues are you most passionate about and why?  Also, what specifically have you done to further those issues?

    The Environment

    I’ve always been passionate about environmental issues-even donating my paper route money to environmental causes when I was a kid. I’ve worked to clean up the environment as both an activist and in my career. My first job after college allowed me to work on developing environmental technologies, such as oil spill and nuclear waste remediation products and non-toxic paints. I have advocated for these issues in my other jobs, and helped bring them to the forefront of the national debate and addressed in federal legislation. I’ve volunteered in NOVA on these issues-literally cleaning up our waterways, wild spaces and my street.

    As a volunteer I have lobbied in Richmond as a citizen, worked with local and state environmental groups to build community support and made calls, written letters, gathered petition signatures and worked for candidates who share my views.

    Jobs & Workforce Education

    Part of improving job opportunities and raising the living wage in the 49th is by utilizing ongoing education for our workforce. Community colleges provide a network accessible to many residents in our community.  I’ve supported community colleges and career training in my work in education policy and with my family. These centers are often the hidden core of our community’s growth. My family is a testament to this ongoing education–my mother taught at our local community college in Wisconsin and my husband attended Northern Virginia Community College while serving in the Army during the transition from being a medic to a focus on the technology side of medicine. And, I overwhelmingly endorse NOVA, as my step-daughter has chosen it as an education route after high school.

    Workers Rights

    My family is from Wisconsin, with a long legacy of union membership and there is no greater reminder of the benefit of unions, than what we saw in that state earlier this year. As someone who has worked since I was legally able, and who largely paid for my own education, I couldn’t have done it without my friends, family and the opportunities given to me from union support. The UAW helped me start my education at George Washington University.

    Over the last couple of months I’ve been meeting with union leaders and talking with workers to make sure I am looking out for their specific interests in this community. What unions stand for isn’t lost in Arlington and Fairfax. They keep salaries and benefits competitive and protect workers-that’s something we could use more of here in the 49th District. People are being forced out of their homes and the area altogether because wages are far behind what it costs to actually live here. Salaries are simply not competitive. Treating your employees with dignity and being good at business are not mutually exclusive. I’ll make it a top priority to engage with innovative small businesses that share our community values and bring them to the 49th District.

    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?

    Progressive. I am proud to support policies and legislation that brings everyone into the process and move Virginia forward  and look forward to demonstrating my values by supporting environmental protection, progressive tax reform, marriage and adoption equality, support for public education, density over sprawl, healthcare reform and looking out for our most-vulnerable citizens in our community and in the statehouse.

    I’ve always chosen jobs where I could be at the heart of and influence these issue debates. I’ve invested myself in these issues as an issue advocate and campaign worker. In fact, my choice to enter this election is because of the importance of these progressive values and my desire to step up and fight for them. This was not an easy move, or a career move, but it is the right one for me at this time for this seat because of these issues. And if chosen by the voters, I will fight for our shared community values for as long as it takes to accomplish the change we need.

    But I am in this fight alone. I am very proud to have earned the support of some of my Virginia political role models and solid progressives, including former Congresswoman Leslie Byrne, Arlington Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy, Arlington Treasurer Frank O’Leary, and immediate Past Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, Peter Rousselot. As a first-time candidate I am especially grateful for the support of these leaders.

    4. Who is your favorite and who is your least favorite Virginia politician and why?

    Of our current politicians – Congressman Jim Moran is my favorite. He always comes out for the community, seems to know every member of his district by name, provides great constituent services and appreciates his staff. He is strong on international and defense issues, but is also Congress’s biggest supporter of animal welfare issues, a cause that is good for animals and the health of Virginians and the environment, but is not the most popularly supported.

    Least favorite – Ken Cuccinelli, he and other Republicans are attacking everything that brought me to the Democratic Party and inspired my run as we need another strong voice to speak up in Richmond against these attacks.

    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 do support nonpartisan redistricting and would start working on changes immediately to be ready for the next national census while the lessons of this year are still fresh. I would introduce or support legislation like the bills which passed the Senate establishing a nonpartisan redistricting committee and would include requirements that the process be done openly. While we want as many Democrats as possible to keep and gain new seats, the current system is not the way to do it.

    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?

    I would have opposed HB 1998. Simple fast movement of cars should not be the main goal of our transportation plans. Public transportation and smart growth should be our focus. We need broad transportation plans that focus on density over sprawl and infrastructure that brings jobs to where people already live to decrease the need travel overall and increase the quality of life for Virginians.

    In order to address this escalating issue, I will introduce legislation that establishes the following: dedicated sources of funding for our mass transit option; in addition to changing the funding formula from a per gallon charge to a percentage of the entire purchase to keep up with the rising maintenance costs; and finally investing in technology that will help us use alternative user fee options such as VMT.  With your help we can keep Virginia roads free of tolls and open to everyone.

    On the Columbia Pike Streetcar, I support the idea of another public transportation option, especially in the 49th which only recently and only through redistricting gained a Metro station. I support the new businesses likely to move in with the new infrastructure and the jobs that its construction will create. However, we need to make sure such a major investment is implemented carefully while still maintaining the character of the neighborhood. I support the careful and thoughtful way Arlington and Fairfax counties and their partners are working together to plan the future of the Columbia Pike corridor and making it better for mass transit, cars, pedestrians and bicyclists.

    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?

    “Nay.” Programs that take advantage of the most vulnerable in a moment of financial crisis don’t need to be expanded-they must be more tightly regulated. We need to stop all forms of predatory lending and develop new financial services to help those in need who can’t access traditional credit sources.

    Now is not the time to play politics with peoples’ trust or well being. I will work for the people of the 49th District. With the short legislative session, you can’t blink-destructive policies have left the legislature before and it has impacted our area negatively.  I will work with every party to protect constituents in Arlington and Fairfax from ideologues in Richmond.

    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?

    I will push for legislation like the Clean Energy Future Act as a delegate, as I have as a citizen. A healthy environment for all of Virginia’s citizens is one of the most basic things that we need to work toward, and I especially support legislation like this that ties in the economic benefits and additional jobs that a clean energy economy will bring to the commonwealth. Virginia can be a leader and can show that green business can be profitable and good for workers.

    I do not support any of these and will support and introduce any legislation necessary to keep the ban on uranium mining, stop the potential disaster of offshore drilling, protect our soil and water from fracking, stop any new coal-fired plants and mountaintop removal mining while working to promote clean and renewal energy sources – especially offshore wind – and increased energy efficiency standards and practices.

    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?

    A. Yes

    B. Yes

    C. Yes

    D. Yes

    E. Yes

    F. Yes.

    Without any conditions.

    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?

    I am running to represent residents of the 49th District and will build upon the values of this area, which I have seen firsthand while volunteering. I will do everything in my power to represent those progressive values while in Richmond.

    But, I know that business doesn’t stop when I leave the capital. Grassroots support is really what moves Virginia forward and as Delegate, I would work for issues important to our area and use them to help others. But, as we have seen during the last legislative session, it even if the 49th District is blue, our values are still threatened in Richmond. We need a progressive team to defend those in the legislature.  

    After this election, I plan to launch this as a formal initiative to get more young progressives running and help them succeed. I’ve been fortunate in this area to have a lot of great current and former elected officials, community leaders, activists and campaign experts who have mentored me in this process and want to bring together others throughout the commonwealth to help recruit the candidates who should be the future of our party and help them run successful campaigns.

    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?

    Richmond is broken and needs major reform to make the legislative process fair and accessible to everyone. My work in federal government relations has given me unique insights into how business and government work together, for good and bad, and the checks that are necessary in the system. The wants of businesses are not necessarily incompatible with the needs of citizens – often they just want to provide jobs and be competitive – but sometimes they are. I know the process and how to promote the interests of people and good businesses. I have worked as the catalyst to find the common ground in what is good for both.

    I strongly support organizations like VPAP and Richmond Sunlight who do great work in opening up the system, but more does need to be done by the General Assembly itself. I am very happy that next year all votes – subcommittee to floor – will be available on the General Assembly’s website and would support other easy changes to increase transparency such as an online archive of session videos.

    I always lean towards shaking things up when change is needed – as it absolutely is here. The issues facing our commonwealth today are too important to be handled slowly.  I support significant campaign finance reform including contribution limits. I would support changing to a full-time legislature, to reduce the conflicts of interests members might have with outside employment, but also to the give the time required to form and pass good legislation to solve the commonwealth’s big problems.

    • Paba

      I have to say that I really hope that we continue to have a delegate that’s down-to-earth that we can be proud of like we have had in Adam Ebbin. Virginia has one of the lowest percentages of women in elected positions in the nation. With the retirement of two of the highest profile women in Virginia politics, it’s time we start bringing up the next generation of women leaders (especially since this governor, House, and, sadly, most of the Senate now, too, has been so anti-women’s health), and it sounds like Stephanie is a good person to start with.

    • Peter Rousselot

      Stephanie Clifford is a thoughtful and level-headed person who is dedicated to representing her constituents in the 49th Delegate District. She will always place her constituents’ concerns above her own personal ambitions.