If you’re interested in the 35th Senate District Democratic primary race, this just-posted video of the April 7th League of Women Voters’ debate between the candidates is a must-see. Challenger Yasmine Taeb had the courage to challenge Senator Saslaw to his face about his conservative stances against clean energy, against campaign finance reform, against death penalty abolition, against strong regulation of predatory lenders and more.
If you only have two minutes to spare, spend it watching Yasmine’s devastating closing statement at minute 35:00, in which she does not pull any punches holding him accountable for his failures to uphold Democratic values, while outlining her own progressive vision for a “New Virginia Way”. (I excerpt her remarks at the end of this post.)
Following is my summary of the highlights and lowlights of the debate, organized by major issues – focusing most on those on which these two candidates diverge — with rough minute markers to help readers find statements cited.
And yes, there was a third candidate on the stage, Karen Torrent, but as she does not appear to have bothered to set up a website nor raise a single donation in the last quarter (not making this up), here I focus only on the positions articulated by the two genuinely competitive candidates in the race.
Of course, no need to accept my personal take on the debate when you can watch it yourself!
The most shocking moment for me was at the end (38:00) when Saslaw brags about laundering Dominion money to Democrats who’ve taken the No Dominion Pledge: “They also know that I got money from Dominion – they sure haven’t turned that down.” So…in his mind, it’s good (and oh so funny) for Democrats to be two-faced clean energy hypocrites?
Before that, asked if he would agree not to take money from a state-regulated monopoly (21:15), Saslaw demonstrates as usual that he is the rare Dem to openly and proudly oppose campaign finance reform: “The answer, in my case, is no. I’m taking corporate contributions. I think it’s quite insulting to think that somehow or other I’m controlled by that.”
Taeb, by contrast (20:50) replies “Yes, I would go further and say our campaign is not taking any contributions from any corporate PACs” – and that she supports legislation to ban political donations by state-regulated monopolies. In fact, the Washington Post recently reported that in the last quarter, their donor profiles match these philosophies, with Taeb pulling in almost 1,000 small dollar donations while Saslaw got over 99% of his donations from corporate PACs and other large sources.
Clean energy & climate change
The next most awful statement that Saslaw makes (IMHO) was his typically ignorant attack on renewable energy (32:00): “This talk about the Green New Deal – that’s fine if you don’t mind us being without electricity 16 hours a day, because that’s exactly what will happen.” Sadly, it seems that the Senator has not heard of new technologies like a smart grid and energy storage, which are facilitating the transition of the electric grid to smoothly accept a much greater percentage of renewables – contrary to the Dominion propaganda he shamelessly regurgitates. In fact, more than 100 cities worldwide now get a majority of their power from renewables – without any dire consequences.
Saslaw continues to claim credit for the clean energy provisions in last year’s electric utility regulation bill (SB 966) – without mentioning that this bill only got improved after the election of a large number of progressive legislators last year forced Dominion and its backers to moderate their longtime stances against renewables and efficiency. He greatly overpromises the results of a law that declares more renewables to be “in the public interest” but does not mandate them – even making claims that “by 2028, 50% of the residences in this state will be powered by solar or wind as a result of what we passed last year.” (22:35) Seriously, dude?
Taeb, by contrast, was quite clear about how we need to establish “a clean energy economy” in Virginia (24:34): “We need to break Dominion’s grip on Richmond. With politicians receiving buckets and buckets of cash from Dominion, we have a monopoly with unchecked power – I will fight to change that. The incumbent says that he takes money from certain corporate interests and it has absolutely no bearing on his vote. He is the top recipient of Dominion money, he supports construction of the pipeline by Dominion, and the bill he spoke of – there’s no mandate in it…We need a mandatory renewable portfolio standard.“
Asked about the challenge of maintaining affordable housing as Amazon moves into the area, Taeb (18:50) says that “housing is a human right”, affordability is key to maintaining diversity, and that one way to address this challenge is by repealing the Dillon Rule, which would empower localities to increase revenue for affordable housing.
Saslaw, by contrast (19:35), essentially defends the Dillon Rule (which requires localities to beg for permission from Richmond to pass all manner of local laws), saying it’s not stopping localities from providing affordable housing, and that 80% of the people Amazon will be hiring already live here, so no biggie…
The bipartisan (as opposed to non-partisan) redistricting bill that passed the General Assembly needs to be passed again in the next session to take hold, so asked if she’d support it, Taeb (11:15) says yes, even though she preferred the Virginia2021 legislation, whereas the bill the General Assembly passed, while an improvement, does not create a truly independent redistricting commission.
Saslaw, by contrast (12:30) says the Virginia2021 bill had no chance of getting through the General Assembly, and he claims ownership of and credit for the bill that did pass. (Actually, at his January Town Hall, he said that he could vote for either bill and he referred at that time to the one that ultimately passed as “George Barker’s bill”, but hey, whatever.)
On primary education, Saslaw (14:00) claims credit for the recent 5% teacher pay raise, “largely the doing of me” and says he’s always endorsed by the Virginia and Fairfax Education Associations. Taeb, by contrast (16:00) says that, considering that Virginia is ranked 32nd in teacher play, that pay raise was not enough; rather, we need to raise the revenue for greater raises by closing loopholes that allow two-thirds of corporations in the Commonwealth to pay no income tax.
On funding higher education, Taeb notes (25:58) that she is among the many students saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars of school debt. She suggests we look at innovative solutions in other states, including North Dakota’s public bank and the Connecticut and Rhode Island education loan authorities.
Saslaw responds (27:10) that the money for the North Dakota bank comes from the proceeds of drilling for oil – because doing nothing about climate change is hilarious, remember? He again claims credit for the legislature’s work, this time for putting $55 million into the budget to hold tuition to the current level.
Taeb says (29:40) “This issue is personal for me”, as a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who lost her former classmate, Coach Aaron Feis, in the mass shooting there. She notes that she has worked, as an elected member of the DNC, with Tom Perez to pass resolutions to get weapons of war off the street, take guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, etc. She says that this is another instance where strengthening Virginia’s campaign finance laws would make a big difference, in this case by weakening the NRA.
Saslaw (31:00) brags about his F grades from the NRA and support for bills to raise the age to own a gun, to take away guns from domestic abusers, ban bump stocks, etc., though none have been able to get through the General Assembly under Republican rule.
Saslaw’s top line message, emphasized in his opening statement, is that he is about “getting things done”, not what he calls “fashion statements”. (Why he settles on that particular word choice is not clear, though I’m sure it’s not a sexist dig at a young female opponent, so just put that thought out of your mind…)
He also spends a lot of time claiming credit for pretty much everything good in Virginia – besides the items already mentioned, also Medicaid expansion, the Fairfax County Parkway, Route 28 improvements, the great taste of Virginia hams and (double-checks notes) personally designing and building Monticello.
And he says in his closing statement that replacing him with a first term freshman legislator would therefore mean a great loss of effectiveness – although I’d argue that replacing a more conservative Dem with a much more progressive one, while letting one of the outstanding experienced Democratic Senators waiting in the wings take his place as Leader, is a more likely path to achieving progressive goals like building the clean energy economy that he scorns.
Taeb says in her opening statement (4:21): “I never forget I’m only here today because this country gave me a chance…I became a human rights attorney because I wanted everyone to have the same opportunities I did…That’s why I got into politics and became the first Muslim woman elected to the Democratic National Committee. I wanted to make our party more progressive, open and inclusive. And that’s also why I’m running for State Senate.”
She contrasts the “Old Virginia Way, a politics whose time has passed” with a “New Virginia Way”: “We need leaders who are closer to service workers than payday lenders, closer to immigrants rights groups than tobacco companies, closer to green energy leaders than to Dominion lobbyists. The New Virginia Way is how we won in 2017 and it’s how we’re going to win In 2019.”
In her powerful closing statement (35:00) she says: “Democrats can do great things when we fight for everyone to have a seat at the table. I wouldn’t be running for this seat if I trusted Senator Saslaw to fight passionately for all Virginians. Unfortunately, his record has broken our district’s trust too many times. While racial justice groups have fought to end the death penalty, he bragged about being one of the people who helped bring capital punishment back to Virginia…He’s called the Sierra Club crazy. He took thousands from predatory lenders, while as one consumer advocate put it, ‘entrenching the grip of loan sharks who are feeding off our working families.’”
“I think our district, the most progressive in the Commonwealth, deserves a Senator who fights for a New Virginia Way, with economic policies friendly to working families, a green energy future, campaign finance laws that restrict Dominion cronyism, a serious legislative response to gun violence, an unwavering backbone in defense of our public schools and a spirit of raising leaders who are as diverse as our Commonwealth. I believe I have the experience, the background and tenacity to be that Senator. I’d be honored to earn your vote, and I look forward to continuing to fight to build the progressive, inclusive Virginia I know we can all become.”
So it should be pretty obvious who I think won this debate hands down – and who deserves to win the 35th District Senate primary on June 11th. if you agree, please go to www.yasmineforvirginia.com and give Yasmine Taeb your support to win.