Endorsement: Jaime Areizaga-Soto for State Senate

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    As always, in making an endorsement in a contested, Democratic primary, there are two main considerations. First, why one candidate? Second, why not the other?  In this endorsement of Jaime Areizaga-Soto for State Senate from the 31st district (Arlington, McLean, Great Falls, eastern Loudoun County), I’m going to focus mostly on the positives, as he himself has been doing in his campaign. Don’t believe that? Well, so far I’ve received numerous (15?) mailers from the Areizaga-Soto campaign, and of those, I’d say that 80% or so were purely positive. The other 20% were “negative” in the sense that they brought up unpleasant, but nonetheless relevant and important, issues about his opponent. We’ll get to that a bit later.

    But first, why Jaime Areizaga-Soto? First, by every indication — my conversations with him, his extensive Blue Virginia interview, his speeches and comments at debates and forums — Jaime is clearly a strong, passionate progressive, committed to: LGBT equality, environmental protection, high-quality education, fairness and opportunity, and progressive tax reform, among other issues.

    Second, Jaime is clearly a favorite of Blue Virginia readers (and progressive activists generally), having won our BV poll by a huge, 76%-24%, margin. As the editor and founder of this blog, as well as an active member of the progressive Virginia community since 2005, that means something to me.

    Third, Jaime’s got a fascinating background, albeit definitely not one of a career politician. Thus, Jaime has served as a Lt. Colonel in the Army National Guard’s Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG); as an Obama Administration appointee to a senior post at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), as a White House Fellow, as Policy Advisor to State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple, as Vice President of the Democratic Latino Organization of Virginia, and as an attorney at one of the world’s largest law firms. Just for good measure, he’s fluent in English, Portuguese, French and Spanish, graduating with honors from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and with a Masters in Latin American Studies from Stanford University. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s pretty darn impressive.

    Fourth, I must say, Jaime showed cojones – to use a word from one of the languages in which he’s fluent 🙂 – by bucking the tremendous pressure being put on by the “powers that be” to “clear the field” for the establishment candidate in this race, Barbara Favola. Several other potential candidates wilted before that same pressure, but Jaime stood strong, giving voters in this district the choice that would have been denied them. To me, that counts for a lot. Thank you, Jaime, for having the courage to take on the undemocratic party operatives trying to keep you from running!

    Finally, having gotten a read on his character over the past few months, I’ve concluded that Jaime will be a strong, independent, progressive voice for the 31st district in Richmond. I am also convinced that Jaime will not be going down to Richmond in order to be a rubber stamp for “leadership,” or a patsy of corporate lobbyists, or a puppet of Dick Saslaw. If all of the above weren’t sufficient reasons for me to endorse Jaime, this final point certainly seals the deal.

    So, why not Barbara Favola? Several main reasons. First, I’m not at all pleased with the heavy-handed tactics which were used by Dick Saslaw and others to, essentially, “clear the field” and annoint her the nominee, without we the people of the 31st district having any say. I don’t know about you, but I react viscerally to that, and not in a positive way. Also, what it indicates to me is a glaring lack of confidence in the candidate, that they even feel the need to “clear the field” at all. (Also, that most certainly is NOT what I think about when I hear the phrase “the Arlington way.” But maybe I’ve just been really naive about that over the years?) Of course, given that Barbara Favola has never won a seriously contested primary in her entire political career, those fears might not be unfounded.

    Second, I am deeply troubled by the financing of Favola’s campaign, and the ethical and policy questions it raises. True, people need to raise money – and lots of it! – to run for office these days. That’s fine. However, what I’m seeing with the Favola campaign is heavy donations from one group — real estate developers, at least one of whom (Preston Caruthers) has given overwhelmingly to Republicans, including many right wing ones, in his past. Caruthers alone raises a lot of questions. But then there’s John Shooshan, a major real estate developer who’s had tremendous amounts of business before the Arlington County Board for years. As I’ve noted previously, the Arlington County Board has an internal understanding that members will not take money from developers with business before the board, because of the “appearance of impropriety.”  

    Yet now, Favola is taking large sums of money from one of those developers, even naming him the chair of her fundraising committee. That’s troubling on several levels: 1) the aforementioned “appearance of impropriety;” 2) what it indicates about who might influence Favola, particularly with regard to development and environmental issues, if she makes it to Richmond; and 3) what it says about Favola’s ethical moorings, that she would not simply resign from the County Board or at least recuse herself from dealings pertaining to real estate development in Arlington.

    Third, I’m not convinced that Favola would be a strong progressive in Richmond. For starters, she has refused to state clearly and unequivocally that she’d vote against a socially conservative Democrat like Phil Puckett for Caucus Chair. In stark contrast, Jaime Areizaga-Soto states clearly:

    I will not support Phil Puckett or any candidate that is not a progressive for Caucus Chair. I was surprised to hear my opponent would not rule it out. Phil Puckett holds positions on choice, equality, and the environment that are out of sync with our Democratic values. I will always stand up for a woman’s right to choose and for a clean environment – including in intra-party battles for leadership. Any Democrat in this district that won’t make the same commitment is not well-representing the 31st.

    Needless to say, I prefer that response. 🙂

    Finally, I am concerned about Favola’s electability, given her unimpressive electoral track record, and also given her series of misstatements on the campaign trail thus far. Just to give one example, Favola’s been going around for a couple months now telling people she serves on the Arlington County “Board of Supervisors,” despite the fact that Arlington doesn’t have a “Board of Supervisors.” What on earth is that all about?  Also, in my interview with her, she mistakenly referred to Dick Saslaw as the “head of the caucus” (he’s actually Majority Leader), and called Saslaw “very progressive” (most definitely not true!). Later in the interview, when I mentioned this to Favola, she said that I was mistaken, that she had actually referred to Mary Margaret Whipple and NOT Dick Saslaw as “very progressive.” However, it’s right on tape; she absolutely did refer to Saslaw as “very progressive.” There are many other examples I’ve heard of, but that’s enough for now.

    Bottom line: I see Jaime Areizaga-Soto as a highly promising, passionate, progressive voice for the 31st State Senate district in Richmond. I do not believe he would be beholden to anyone there, except for the people of the 31st. I admire his courage in running. And I’m strongly endorsing him for the Democratic nomination on August 23. Go Jaime!