Home 2015 elections Video: Democratic Debate for the 45th House of Delegates District

Video: Democratic Debate for the 45th House of Delegates District


Here’s video from last night’s Democratic debate for the 45th House of Delegates district, held at the Alexandria Country Day Schoool. The candidates are Julie Jakopic, Mark Levine, Larry Altenburg, Clarence Tong and Craig Fifer. The first video is a question about the ethics issues raised by the resignation of (former) Del. David Englin and the egregious behavior of (former) Del. Joe Morrissey. More video – opening and closing statements, questions on taxes, Medicaid expansion, voting reform, police misconduct, local government, education, transportation, the environment, etc. in the comments section. Also, I may or may not end up grading this (depends how much time I’ve got today), but my initial impression was that the top three in this debate were (in no particular order) Mark Levine, Craig Fifer and Julie Jakopic, all of whom deserve “A” grades. I like Larry Altenburg and agree with much of what he has to say, but we are definitely not in sync on tax policy or on the importance of a delegate from this district helping to elect Democrats across Virginia (he thinks the latter is NOT the job of the delegate from the 45th; I strongly disagree). As for Clarence Tong, he’s a good guy, very smart, and we agree on the vast majority of issues, but he’s clearly not particularly comfortable with debating (or public speaking generally, for that matter)…

P.S. In the question on ethics, Jakopic ripped Joe Morrissey as a “pedophile” who “harassed that employee,” and said there’s “no excuse” for having him as an elected official. Tong said it’s right to have a “high expectation” for our elected officials. Fifer said incarceration should be incompatible with service in the General Assembly, also finds it “a lot more offensive that the voters keep electing Joe Morrissey and some lawfully serving Republicans with terrible ideas.” Altenburg said “criminals should not be serving…in legislative office,” legislators should be “role models,” it’s reprehensible that people keep electing criminals. Levine says non-criminal behavior should not force someone against their will to leave office, that ex-felons should have a chance to serve, that non-violent drug crimes don’t “bother me.”

  • Tong: “We have to keep the public pressure and use legislative mechanisms to make sure legislators are accountable for their votes on Medicaid expansion,” we need to win more votes/allies to get this through.

    Fifer: “Medicaid expansion is absolutely a no-brainer, and it is a travesty that Republicans will not accept free money to cover people who don’t have insurance; it’s immoral…have to keep public pressure on,” need to gain more seats in the House of Delegates, so it’s “incumbent”/”urgent” on the delegate from the 45th to help elect more Democrats around Virginia.

    Altenburg: “If anyone sits up here and says that it’s the most important thing for us to do is to fight for other Democrats to get elected elsewhere in the state, I’d say that they’re giving up their responsibility as the delegate from this district.” (wow, I couldn’t more strongly disagree with this line of argument)

    Levine: “One of the best ways to help the people of this district is to elect more Democrats in other districts across the state, that would help out the people right here in the 45th a lot.” (BINGO!)  Need to approach Republicans privately, “break bread” with them, ask them “why do you refuse $1.8 billion, you’re supposed to be a fiscal conservative…there is no logical reason to oppose Medicare (sic; should be Medicaid) expansion…I am not afraid to call out Republicans…fiscal conservatives have no reason to oppose Medicaid expansion.”

    Jakopic: It “is the responsibility to serve this district by helping change the Senate.” Also need to come up with strategies regarding what to do “in the interim.” Need to “address issues of women’s health.” Need to talk to Republicans’ constituents.

  • Levine: Ethics bill was “awfully weak tea,” a “1 or 2” on a scale of 1-100. Calls the ability of corporations to give unlimited political contributions “crazy,” “if that’s not a recipe for bribery, I don’t know what is.” “Corruption in Virginia is pretty damn legal.” “I would ban all corporate giving…would work to overturn Citizens United.” Corporations expect to get something back from their contributions. We need to limit corporate giving as much as possible under the constitution.

    Jakopic: “I absolutely agree…we can’t send corporations to pre-K.” Need more disclosure. Says Phil Puckett (and his daughter) was “bribed” if he left before voting on Medicaid expansion, “that kind of patronage has to stop.”

    Tong: Campaign finance reform that limits corporate contributions, has committed not to take contributions from Dominion.

    Fifer: Says “bribery is a crime”, it’s not “appropriate” to accuse people of crimes. The “problem is the opposite – not enough in Virginia is a crime; most of what we call corruption in Richmond is legal influence peddling.” “We can do a lot better to tighten those restrictions…need to hold [members] accountable.” “I also think that we create an environment that makes it extremely difficult for good people with normal jobs and normal incomes to serve in Richmond; and so when you pay $17,640 a year, and you expect them to take off from work for two months…when somebody offers them a free dinner, it’s very enticing; that doesn’t make it right…but we’ve created a system that makes it very difficult for good people to serve and avoid these temptations.”

    Altenburg: “There’s no excuse” for what’s gone on in “that cesspool” Richmond. Have to go down there and “fix it.”

    Levine rebuttal: Says it’s “legal bribery,” but it shouldn’t be legal. “How about we ban the giving of any for-profit corporation that has business before the state in the last five years?” (YES!!!!)

  • Levine: Need to expand Medicaid (he incorrectly called it “Medicare” again), that’s “easy money.”

    Jakopic: Need to “think about what our priorities are,” Northern Virginia needs to get more of its tax dollars back.

    Tong: Depends on our priorities, needs.

    Fifer: The question is not should we have taxes, it’s how to apply them in a way that’s “strategic and fair.”  Progressive income tax would raise taxes on those who make a lot of money.

    Altenburg: Need to determine what our spending priorities are first, need to get a “return on our investment,” doesn’t want to spend money “just for the sake of spending.”

  • Levine: Make tax code “more progressive.” Would like to raise tobacco tax, gas tax, estate tax. “We do need more money, we do more taxes.”

    Jakopic: Virginia tobacco tax should be raised to be consistent with other East Coast states. Look at tax benefits we give corporations, like to coal companies.

    Tong: Get rid of tax breaks to fossil fuel industry, promote more incentives for renewable energy, energy efficiency.

    Fifer: Virginia makes it very difficult for localities to have any flexibility in the way they raise taxes.

    Altenburg: “We do need holistic tax reform…but…frankly, don’t you think we pay enough taxes?”  (hmmmm….)

  • Altenburg: Non-partisan redistricting “essential.” Eliminate voter ID, “voter fraud” is “de minimis at best.” Make it easier for people to vote.

    Levine: As voter protection attorney, “these things are very personal to me.” Non-partisan redistricting: absolutely, “we’ve got to stop gerrymandering.” Paper ballots. “Same-day voter registration.” “Weekend voting…Tuesdays… most of us don’t live on farms anymore.” “No-fault absentee ballots.” Let’s move our elections to even years like the rest of the nation except for New Jersey.

    Jakopic: “Non-partisan redistricting is a must.” We also need to talk about “access to voting.” Make it easier for seniors to vote…way too hard right now. There’s no voter fraud. Get rid of ID laws. Regularize how we do voting across the state.

    Tong: If people can’t participate in voting for their representative, they don’t have a voice. Repeal voter ID law. Increase opportunities for early voting, in-person absentee voting. Gerrymandering has to go. Campaign finance reform.

    Fifer: Strongly support redistricting reform, member of One Virginia 2021 which promotes that. Also restoration of voting rights, reform sentencing guidelines.

  • Levine: Has walked through raw sewage while canvassing during heavy rains. Need to keep extra water from going in sewers – permeable pavers, rain barrels (“cheap solution”). They’re doing this in Montgomery County, MD.

    Jakopic: Part of a much bigger infrastructure problem, need to invest adequately.

    Tong: These problems could get worse due to climate change, sea-level rise, the burden shouldn’t be solely borne by local communities.

    Fifer: “I too oppose raw sewage flowing into our rivers” (good line!). Utilities largely regulated by state government, localities have very little ability to regulate them, need safeguards to ensure safer, more reliable, cleaner utilities. Need to keep pressure on utilities to serve the public from which they benefit.

    Altenburg: Need a long-term investment strategy for infrastructure. We have a signficant deferred maintenance issue.

  • Altenburg: Too much “teaching to the test.” Provide teachers the resources they need, don’t just focus on Standards of Learning.

    Levine: Biggest complaint I hear are about SOLs. “These tests are not for the kids, they’re not made for the kids, they’re made for the state.” Univeral pre-K, get Republicans to support universal access to pre-K. Make higher education more affordable.

    Jakopic: “Pre-K starts the tone for everything that happens afterward.” SOLs – it’s teaching to the test, also that when the test happens is flawed. Need to talk about capacity.

    Tong: Education the key to social and economic mobility, need to expand pre-K and early education. Need to fund schools adequately. Prioritize higher education affordability in Virginia.

    Fifer: Proud product of Virginia’s public schools. Problem isn’t with the schools, it’s that the state “has never fulfilled it’s obligation to fund the schools.” “We get the short end of the stick” in Alexandria. Money “has to come from somewhere” – income tax in Virginia is “very flat,” needs to be made more progressive.

  • Fifer: State has not lived up to obligation in area of public safety.

    Levine: Relaxing Dillon Rule would help people in Northern Virginia in many, many ways (e.g., raising the minimum wage). Republicans claim to believe in local control, local government, so “put money where their mouth is…let us do what we want.”

    Altenburg: Dillon Rule affects everything we do.

    Jakopic: Not a big fan of the Dillon Rule. “There is actually almost nothing that the Dillon Rule can’t enable to Richmond to tell us we can’t do.”

    Tong: Approval from General Assembly is a “high bar,” we shouldn’t be “burdened in that way.”

  • Tong: Need to look at underlying issues – tension between law enforcement and the community; economic issues.

    Fifer: Root causes of the problem come from “toxic relationship between local police and the community.” Need transparency, accountability.  Supports body cameras, deal with records in a way that protects privacy, etc.

    Altenburg: Underlying racial discrimination a huge problem that we “don’t talk about.” “Militarization of our police force” is not what we should be doing. Wants his children to be able to “free range” around Del Ray without being incarcerated by police. Need to trust each other.

    Levine: This is sadly nothing new, what we have now is cameras so we can see what’s going on.  Supports police body cameras, need to protect privacy as well. Have to regain trust…”community policing.”

    Jakopic: Worries about her biracial grand nephew. Two issues: race and socioeconomics. Children should not be growing up afraid of the police. Issues in low-income communities like losing license because you can’t pay to renew it, then get arrested for driving to your job without a license (and we “wonder why [people might be] angry?”)

  • Jakopic: McAuliffe has done “amazing job” of bringing jobs to Virginia. In Northern Virginia, we are highly dependent on federal government. Need to support innovation.

    Tong: Expand economic opportunity for all Virginians, build clean energy future in Virginia – good for environment and economy.

    Fifer: Virginia has to be attractive to businesses, but the way Republicans have gone about this is to oppose all taxes, rights of workers to bargain collectively, environmental regulations (YES!), but top corporations are not “fooled by that,” because they know what their workers are looking for in a place to live. “We saw what happened in Indiana…businesses started fleeing.” Part of Virginia being business friendly is the way we treat our workers: raise minimum wage, paid sick leave, end discrimination against people…

    Altenburg: Fortune and Inc have rated Virginia #1 “business friendly” and that’s “something to be proud of,” but “we’re doing down” due to reliance of federal money, sequestration, etc. We need education reform, much stronger education system. Need to fix transportation system, which is gridlocked right now.

    Levine: Paid family medical leave, raising minimum wage, allowing workers to organize HELPS our business climate, makes workers want to be here. The blue states are richer than the red states, because “they give their workers rights.”

  • clark

    thanks for covering this, much appreciated

  • Altenburg: “One of the biggest failings of that bill…was the elimination of the gas tax, because it wasn’t really eliminated, they just shuffled those taxes around.” (hmmm)

    Levine: Alexandria and Arlington pay a lot more in than they get back…be “very parochial” and make sure we get “our share” of transportation dollars.

    Tong: Transportation bill was “very positive thing,” for instance enabled the Potomac Yard Metro stop to be implemented; we need more transportation options – bus, bike, etc.

    Jakopic: “We need regional solutions.” “We need to think about creative solutions” to our transportation challenges, improve public transportation such as the Blue Line (“Metro needs a dedicated funding source, period”)

    Fifer: The transportation bill was a “big step forward” but wasn’t “such a great bill,” “tended to perpetuate the same types of investments in road bill…that are not sustainable;” “we need a sea change in the ratio of spending on” roads vs. transit. “We need to invest in alternative strategies” like telework.