For a growing number of Lee and Mount Vernon District Democrats, the incessant commercials for car title loans are like fingernails scraping on a blackboard. The car title lenders — who loan at interest rates of 100%-200% or more annually and cheat low-income residents out of their assets, continue to spread up and down Route 1 and other corridors in our district like a cancer eating away an area otherwise poised for a remarkable future of growth.
There is growing buzz that 2015 will be the year that these voters finally voice their concerns in the most logical way possible — to defeat one of the industry’s biggest cheerleaders, our local Delegate Mark Sickles. One of the largest recipients of campaign contributions from car title lending industry, Delegate Sickles parrots the increasingly untenable view that these loans somehow help the people that receive them, when the evidence clearly shows that this industry preys on low-information consumers in the worst way possible.
The 43rd district contains some of the most upwardly mobile people of Virginia in the vibrant and growing neighborhoods Kingstowne, Huntington, Rose Hill, Van Dorn, and others. People are renovating homes, moving into fresh new condominiums and high quality new apartments, and building new homes in this district at a pace exceeding that of almost any part of the state. The absolute last thing that these civic-minded residents want are the bright blaring signs of predatory payday lenders spreading through their neighborhoods.
The playbook for primary campaign against Del. Sickles would practically write itself. Focus on the large contributions from payday lenders to Sickles campaign, then to some of his particularly ridiculous statements about the “valuable service” these loans offer to borrows, and then cut to real-world examples of how these lenders with their 200% interest rates are increasingly causing our lower-income neighbors to lose the transportation that takes them to their jobs and thus their livelihood. A downward spiral for some of the most vulnerable members of our community, facilitated by their own representative in the General Assembly’s support of legislation that paved away for the rapid expansion of title lenders in our district.
Delegate Sickles’s anemic run for Congress this year underscored how vulnerable he is if he actually has to run in a contested race. Some who care deeply about this issue are seriously considering a run. Let’s hope they do.