See below for video and a few takeaways from Monday evening’s Fairfax League of Women Voters County Board Chair and School Board At-Large forum. The candidates for Chair are Democrat Jeff McKay and Republican Joseph Galdo. The candidates for School Board At-Large are Democratic-endorsed Abrar Omeish, Rachna Sizemore Heizer, incumbent Karen Keys-Gamarra and Republicans Vinson Palathingal, Priscilla DeStefano and Cheryl Buford. Now, here are a few takeaways.
- First off, Democrats really need to show up for these forums. If not, then we’ll keep getting what we got Monday night at this forum – the appearance (in this case, you can hear it in the hooting, hollering, etc.) that Republicans have a lot more support than they actually do in this “blue” county.
- Second, all the Democratic candidates did well, while the Republicans…well, check it out for yourself. In the County Board Chair debate, it is actually painful to watch the Republican, Joseph Galdo, struggle to think of anything to say, let alone say it articulately. Perhaps the most glaring example of this came around 33 minutes in, when the candidates were asked about what Fairfax County can and should do about the climate crisis, including getting off of fossil fuels. Keep in mind that Galdo served as “a senior member of the staff of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Utility Technologies – the office responsible for the renewable electric power technologies (wind, pv, geothermal, etc.), energy storage, power transmission and distribution technologies and high temperature superconductivity programs.” Which makes Galdo’s struggles to answer this question even more baffling. But check it out, as Galdo started and (mostly) stopped for over a minute…apparently at a complete loss for words. To the extent Galdo *does* end up responding to the question, he said some nonsense about how we supposedly need to use solar energy “in the right way” (huh?!?) and that we supposedly need “clean fossil fuels” (again, HUH???) to “complement solar.” No clue whatsoever what he’s talking about. As for Jeff McKay, his answer was clear and on-point, that we’re in a “climate crisis and we just adjust all of our thinking in Fairfax County to be able to respond to that.” McKay also, correctly, noted that we need to elect people to the legislature who will “unleash us from the stranglehold of Dominion Power to allow Fairfax County to do the things it needs to do to combat climate change.” On that answer alone, Jeff McKay is the clear choice for Fairfax County voters.
- Jeff McKay emphasized, correctly, that “experience absolutely matters” in such a large, complex county as Fairfax. As for Galdo, clearly he doesn’t pass that test in any way, as he has no relevant experience to be considered a serious candidate for County Board Chair. As a Facebook friend of mine who attended the debate wrote, “Jeff Mckay is an experienced leader who understands how the county and state government work. Joe Galdo literally sat dumbfounded by the questions unable to even formulate a response.” McKay urged, in his closing statement, “let us not embrace attacks, ugliness, divisiveness and hatred; we’ve seen that at the national level, we cannot let that happen in Fairfax County.” Sadly, what we’ve mostly seen from Republican campaigns this year is the very attacks, ugliness and divisiveness that McKay referred to.
- Speaking of divisiveness, ugliness, etc., the School Board At-Large forum, basically had the Republicans repeating their false claims about how supposedly terrible the current School Board is, about the supposed horrors of “ramrod[ing]” school boundary adjustments “off of racial and socioeconomic” criteria, etc. Note that Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Brabrand discussed the latter issue the other day, and completely debunked Republican “misinformation that is unfortunately circulating in our community about school boundaries.” As Brabrand explained, “busing students out of their neighborhoods or open boundaries is NOT a part of the boundary review process being presented by my office, nor is it on the table for consideration.” Brabrand further explained: “There’s overcrowding at several FCPS schools. There’s a recognition that the current level of bond funding is not sufficient to address capacity demands. Our renovations are currently on a 37-year cycle and major maintenance is often not able to be done in a timely manner. We have in FCPS, an overreliance on trailers. Over 750, although our strategic plan goal is to reduce that number significantly. We also have planned growth in specific areas of the county. And the demand for additional pre-k classrooms.”
- On LGBTQ students, while Democratic candidates spoke about the need to respect and care for all children, Republican Vincent Palathingal said something about having more “bisexual bathrooms” (huh?!?) and that “I don’t believe a person with male organs being in a female bathroom.” Alrighty.
- On the “achievement gap,” the Republican candidates basically offered nothing specific on the subject, other than bashing the current School Board for not magically fixing the problem, as well as references yet again to school boundaries. Lame.
- On what should be done about school shootings, Republicans not surprisingly recommended having more armed School Resource Officers (SROs) and “armed guards” in schools, while Democrats focused on providing resources to address students’ mental health needs and to help teachers evaluate whether a child is a threat and to get them assistance “right away.” As Democrat Rachna Sizemore Heizer put it, “No, we do not more guns in our schools…period, end of conversation…And SROs do not necessarily make schools safer…[they] increase the school-to-prison pipeline, which makes the achievement gap worse.”