Last Wednesday (April 8), I sent Blue Virginia interview questions to all Democratic candidates running for the 45th House of Delegates district (Alexandria, south Arlington) seat being vacated by Del. Rob Krupicka. The candidates are Larry Altenburg, Craig Fifer, Julie Jakopic, Mark Levine and Clarence Tong. I told the candidates that I’d post their interviews in the order I received them. The first one I received back, this morning, was from Larry Altenburg. Thanks to Larry for his prompt response, and here are the Qs & As. Finally, please note that the primary for this nomination will take place on June 9.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, and specifically, what in your background and/or temperament makes you the best qualified of the Democratic candidates to represent the 45th House of Delegates district in Richmond.
Answer: I wish to serve the people of the Commonwealth and the 45th District for two key reasons – my 9 year old daughter Abigail and my 6 year old son Avery. They, and all children, deserve to live, learn, grow, and play (and eventually work) in the best place in the world, and Virginia should be that place. By addressing three key focus areas – education, economic development, and transportation – their quality of life can be dramatically improved.
As a parent, I have a direct and vested interest in improving Virginia’s educational programs from the elementary school through Virginia’s public universities. I also have a keen interest in assuring the safety and security of our children’s schools.
As a business executive I am responsible for building cost-effective programs and delivering high quality products to my customers. I have years of experience supporting federal and state customers as a business leader in my field, and I can bring a keen sense of how the Commonwealth can bring best business practices into how our government operates, as well as help improve Virginia’s economic development to become more successful in the global economy.
As a community activist deeply involved in transportation and land use related issues, and my educational background in Urban Planning, I can lead the effort for smart investment in our infrastructure that enables better mobility in and around Virginia’s major cities.
With my experience in government and community activism, coupled with my years of business experience, I will bring a unique perspective to the General Assembly that enables coalition driven approaches and consensus built solutions.
2. What three issues are you most passionate about and why? What specifically have you done to further those issues? What would be the first bill you’d introduce in the House of Delegates?
Answer: As mentioned in the response to question 1, education, economic development, and transportation are my three key issues. I have been an active volunteer with the local PTA for 4 years, including supporting my wife who serves as the Mount Vernon Community School PTA President. I also am a Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching leadership curricula to undergraduate students enabling them to bring business acumen to government programs.
I am a business executive currently responsible for over $250 million in business, with over $500 million led over my career. My focus has been in homeland security and national security issues, program, and products, and I have years of experience working with state and local governments to build cost-effective programs that work. I have created hundreds of jobs here in Northern Virginia and elsewhere in the country that have directly supported our economic growth and prosperity.
I am also a degreed urban planner, with specific focus on building sustainable and resilient communities. My career has included numerous efforts to ensure safe and secure transportation. My community involvement, specifically when I was on the board and President of the Del Ray Citizens Association, I focused specifically on enhancing all modes of mobility around the region.
Our students deserve to be safe and secure in their classrooms. While I support our 2nd Amendment rights, we must enact common sense gun laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. As Delegate, one of my first acts will be to introduce legislation to ban firearms from all Virginia schools except those carried by law enforcement officers. Additionally, I will seek to reinstate the “one handgun a month” law, close the gun show loophole, ban automatic weapons, and restrict gun ownership by convicted domestic abusers. Virginia needs common sense gun laws; the time to act is now.
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?
Answer: I would describe myself as a pragmatic Democrat. I recognize that the American people, and particularly many Virginians, have grown tired of the partisan bickering, and want to find common ground to move our nation and government forward and solve problems together. My career and volunteer history has been to build coalitions to create solutions.
Since I have been focused on non-partisan homeland and national security related issues throughout my professional life, coalition building regardless of political affiliations has been a hallmark of my career.
As I am seeking the Democratic nomination, I would highlight that I was a political appointee with the Clinton Administration, serving as a Special Assistant for National Security Programs at the US Department of Energy. I was also appointed as a senior staff member of the Presidential Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection. I was on the campaign staff for Clinton/Gore 92, Clinton/Gore 96, and Gore/Lieberman. I have supported Democratic campaigns in the 45th District since moving here on the late 1990s, having volunteered for Mark Sickles’ and Rob Krupicka’s campaigns for Delegate, numerous Democratic Alexandria City Council campaigns, and several Democratic mayoral campaigns. I also advised on a recent Democratic congressional campaign in the 8th District.
4. Who is your favorite and who is your least favorite current Virginia politician and why?
Answer: My favorite Virginia politicians are those willing to work together to solve problems. My least favorite are those entrenched in ideology who only wish to fight rather then come to a consensus agreement.
5. If you had been in the House of Delegates at the time, would you have voted for a) HB 2313, the comprehensive transportation package passed in 2013; b) repeal of Virginia’s estate tax, which is costing our state around $130 million a year in order to benefit a few hundred of the wealthiest Virginians; c) the 2011 redistricting bill HB 5001, which gerrymandered the state and helped to lock in a Republican majority in the House of Delegates for the rest of the decade; or d) the 2014 and 2015 ethics reform packages, which many (myself included) have criticized as extremely weak, possibly even a step backwards in the case of the most recent “reforms.”
Answer: a) yes – while imperfect, it was a strong step forward. We need to continue addressing the transportation needs of the Commonwealth, addressing the major shortfalls in funding compared to our needs as well as reconsidering the elimination of the gas tax that only shifted the taxation burden from the consumer in one area to several others (including wholesale fuels taxes and increased sales taxes).
d) yes – Frankly, I would rather some ethics reforms instead of no ethics reforms. We need to address government ethics head on to bring credibility and confidence of the people back to our government.
6. What is your vision for Virginia’s energy future? Do you support any of the following: offshore oil drilling, natural gas “fracking,” new natural gas pipelines (e.g., Mountain Valley Pipeline, Atlantic Coast Pipeline) 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
Answer: Virginia enjoys some of the most beautiful environmental resources in the world, and we should be proud and protective of our environment. The federal government’s standards need to meet the broader needs of the nation, and in some respects are less than what Virginia might need and in others more than Virginia might need. We should do our level best to ensure the sustained quality of Virginia’s environment and protect it for generations to come.
Virginia has tremendous opportunity to invest in clean and sustainable energy, creating new jobs in a growing economic sector. By investing in this area and redistributing the coal tax credit that costs Virginians millions of dollars each year for a negative return on our investment, we address multiple important issues – economic development, climate change, workforce retraining. We need to aggressively address climate change nationally and regionally, and by investing wisely in clean energy, we can lead the way.
I would support legislation that develops a consensus-based approach to addressing our carbon production and reducing the negative effects of emissions while also building our sustainable energy capabilities and jobs.
If offshore drilling could be done in an environmentally responsible manner with assurances that Virginia and our neighboring states would never suffer an environmental catastrophe, then I would support offshore drilling. However, until such assurances and accountability can be established, I would not want Virginia to run the risk that the Gulf States did with the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Since the negative environmental effects greatly outweigh the benefits achieved by hydraulic fracturing, I would support a full ban on fracking in the Commonwealth. I support the continued moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia. I support a ban on mountaintop removal coal mining, and I support a ban on new coal-fired power plants. Further, Virginia’s coal production tax credits have cost the Commonwealth more than it has brought in from taxes on these companies, with little trickle-down to the employees in Virginia’s coal-rich counties. I would eliminate the tax credit and divert the funds to invest in workforce retraining and educational programs that would enable continued growth in a broader global economy without bolstering an industry in decline with taxpayers’ dollars.
7. 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; c) allowing gay couples to adopt; d) closing the “gun show loophole” and taking other commonsense gun measures; e) raising the gas tax and/or instituting a carbon tax (revenue-neutral or
Answers: a. We need to completely reassess and reform Virginia’s tax system, with particular focus on the state tax expenditures. I will support a bipartisan effort to address the needs of the Commonwealth with a much more simple and common sense tax regime.
c. Yes – gay couples should enjoy equal rights as heterosexual couples.
d. Yes – Our students deserve to be safe and secure in their classrooms. While I support our 2nd Amendment rights, we must enact common sense gun laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. As Delegate, one of my first acts will be to introduce legislation to ban firearms from all Virginia schools except those carried by law enforcement officers. Additionally, I will seek to reinstate the “one handgun a month” law, close the gun show loophole, ban automatic weapons, and restrict gun ownership by convicted domestic abusers.
e. 1- Yes – reinstating the gas tax that was eliminated in the 2013 transportation bill and only shifted the tax burden to higher wholesale fuel taxes and increased sales taxes); 2 – No – I would support legislation that develops a consensus based approach to addressing our carbon production and reducing the negative effects of emissions while also building our sustainable energy capabilities and jobs. Cap and Trade legislation is preferable to a Carbon Tax, especially since it would address climate change on a regional basis with our neighboring states in the mid-Atlantic region. The Carbon Tax would likely get directly passed down to consumers with little appreciable effect on climate change.
8. Given that the 45th 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 45th district for statewide and Congressional elections. Do you agree with this vision for the Delegate from the 45th district, and if so, what exactly is your plan to accomplish it?
Answer: I agree that all elected Democrats should help enable the election of other Democrats; however, I believe the first obligation of an elected official is to represent the interests of their constituents wholeheartedly. We should be enabling the election of Democratic candidates who can work across the aisle to solve problems together.
We must find areas of common ground to solve the problems of our nation and Commonwealth that know no party affiliation. I will fully support all efforts to build a collaborative House of Delegates, with Democratic candidates able to lead the way.
9. Do you agree or disagree that Richmond is broken – for instance, the tremendous influence of money, lobbyists and corporations (e.g., Dominion Virginia Power, car title/payday lenders) on legislation – and needs major ethics reform? More broadly, if elected to the House of Delegates, would your general attitude be more “go along, get along” with this system or to “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?
Answer: Richmond is broken since Democrats and Republicans aren’t working together to find solutions to our most basic problems and I am committed to working with anyone and everyone who is committed to finding collaborative ways for Virginia to move forward. The people of Virginia have had enough of partisan bickering and need more Delegates who can work collaboratively to find common ground and identify solutions to our most important problems and issues facing the Commonwealth today.
The Delegate from the 45th District should be a strong advocate for bipartisan and collaborative leadership, and I will be that advocate and leader.
I fully support comprehensive ethics and campaign finance reform. As an Eagle Scout and a parent, I have a deeply seeded obligation to maintain strong ethical principles and moral values, and I will carry that commitment to Richmond.
10. Please tell us how you would stand up to party leadership, and even to a Democratic governor, if you believed that they were wrong about an issue and/or that it would hurt the 45th district.
Answer: I am not shy about speaking out against efforts I believe are misguided or harmful. For example, as President of the Del Ray Citizens Association, I led the efforts to prevent the closure of an historic fire station, and found a compromise solution with city officials that enables key rescue and emergency medical services to continue to operate from the facility, addressing the community’s greatest need. By working closely with city staff and elected officials who originally wanted the station closed, I was able to find common ground that benefitted all stakeholders involved. I will bring a similar collaborative leadership style to Richmond if elected as the Delegate from the 45th District.