Your 56th District Candidates

Having followed the two Democratic candidates running for the open 56th district House of Delegates seat for the past few months, I’ve had a chance to listen to them speak at several Indivisible Louisa and Louisa Democratic Committee meetings. Watched them demonstrate their poise, passion and willingness to be forceful advocates for social and economic justice in public forums.

So here’s an examination of their positions just before the primaries.

Most of you reading this already know they participated in two “Meet the Candidates” forums with the six Republicans candidates running for this seat. The first of these meetings was held at the Mineral VFW last month, and covered by our local paper the Central Virginian. And while their take of what happened that night may have gotten many of the details, it was noticeably light on the nuances, something which caught the attention of the Democrats attending that evening.

Two weeks later, they printed all of the candidate’s responses to five questions about how they would represent the people of Louisa County in the House of Delegates. Given the space restraints on any detailed responses, its worth noting that Melissa Dart’s and Lizzie Drucker-Basch’s answers were well formed and nuanced. So without further ado, here’s the first question;

Why do you want to represent Louisa County as a delegate?

 Melissa Dart

In traveling around the 56th district, I’ve heard many concerns about educational funding, access to affordable health care and environmental quality. And many people I’ve spoken with have been affected by the General Assembly’s refusal to expand Medicaid. I will do everything within in my power for all families [in the 56th] to have access to the healthcare, education and resources that they need to support themselves and their families

And at the second candidate forum held at Goochland High School last week, she added “With everything happening in our world and our community, I’m compelled to speak for everyone, but most of all, for those who are not in a position to speak for themselves.”

Lizzie Drucker-Basch

People are more important than party, and I will bring common sense solutions that will improve people’s quality of life. As a small business owner and a background in social work, I firmly believe that you can serve the community while running a successful business and the two are not mutually exclusive!

For years, the 56th District has been largely ignored, and it’s time to start to legislate quality of life issues such as adequate funding for accessible health care, education, clean drinking water and air, broadband for everyone, particularly in the rural areas.

Also at the second candidate forum, Lizzie followed up on those remarks with the observation “We can’t do this in sound bites, we have different ideas…. But what we need to focus on most are the values that we have in common.”

And now the second question; Which regulations would you change to strengthen the state’s job and business climate?

 Melissa Dart

We need to lower barriers for small businesses, and level the playing field between them and large corporation, especially when it comes to taxes.  Remarks she expanded on at the second candidate forum, where she talked about removing corporate loopholes, ensuring that everyone pays their fair share.  And continuing with her interview with the CV she elaborated on the need to devote resources to retraining workers in new and emerging technologies and jobs if we are to be successful now and in the future.

And at the second candidate forum, she talked about the myth of environmental regulations keeping businesses from prospering, saying “I don’t accept that,” and without sensible regulations to protect the air we breathe, our water, and the food we eat, what would be the true cost ?

Lizzie Drucker-Basch

When talking with the CV, she said we should examine regulations on an individual basis, asking are they effective and achieving their purpose? And recognize that small businesses have more financial and practical difficulties with implementing regulations than large corporations, and that we need to consider the consequences of those regulations. She also added that she I believes in continuing the Governor’s work in expanding Virginia as a pro business state.

(Editor’s Note: since the Great Recession in 2009 Virginia has slipped from first place to thirteenth)

The third question; What will you do to improve the quality and access to health care in Louisa and the surrounding area?

Melissa Dart

It’s time for increased transparency so patients can make the best choices about where they receive care, most insurance plans encourage doctors and hospitals to treat illness rather than maintain health. It’s time for the state to encourage [insurance] contracts which keep Virginians healthier and keep more of their money in their pockets.

Lizzie Drucker-Basch

Consumer protections from insurance companies, there should be no discrimination because of pre-existing conditions and putting people in high risk pools. And by keeping people insured and maintain their health, and not have to rely on emergency rooms and clinics to manage their health care needs.

Followed by question number four; What changes do you seek to school programs for children in grades K-12?

Melissa Dart

At the Goochland forum, she talked about her concerns for education in the Commonwealth [and the nation] with Betsy DeVos in charge of the Department of Education, and Congressional Republicans ready to support her in diverting Federal monies to charter schools. And since public education is already under funded at the state level, the House of Delegates should be careful not to divert addition monies from Virginia’s public schools.

It needs to be said that her response came on the heels of one of the strangest sequences of questions from the audience for the candidates, a chain of events which started with Dr. Dhakar who was asked about his faith, followed by Melissa about her religion.  Questions that were so out in left field, that Lizzie remarked later at another meeting “I was floored when I heard them.”

To their credit, both candidates handled those questions well, with the Dr. Dhakar saying he believed in karma, while Melissa talked about the need for a true separation of church and state, irony’s which from all appearances were lost on the audience. 

In her interview with the CV, she talked about a need for schools not to just prepare students for college, but also offer skills training, and vocational programs, particularly those with apprenticeships. She also talked less emphasis on teaching to the test [coincidentally mandated by the General Assembly, via the dreaded SOL’s] and returning the freedom and flexibility that teachers need to teach our children.

Lizzie Drucker-Basch

 We are still funding the state education system at 2009 rates, and despite having a constitutional duty to fund K-12 education. The General Assembly has been playing shell game with lottery, literary, and general funds to coble together enough money to paying for educating the children of Virginia, deeds which have reduced funding by approximately $628 per student.

What I am charging hard for, is to make sure we exceed those [pre 2009] levels, since we are now funding our schools at pre-recession levels

It’s worth noting that in the second candidate forum at Goochland High School earlier this month, when talking about how our public schools deserve proper funding just  how hard she was grilled by several Republican poltroons armed with disingenuous questions along the lines of “since throwing money at the problem isn’t working, why should we spend more?” And when she responded by pointing out those questions were based on a false premise, that the state is already spending less on public education, and fully funding Virginia’s public school system is a constitutional requirement. When the real question should be, why aren’t we fully funding our public schools?

Afterwards she added state funding doesn’t include any funding for administrative staff, forcing localities to make up the difference. Given the resulting silence, it wasn’t clear if the flacks were suffering from cognitive dissonance, or didn’t get the response they were hoping for.

Apparently short circuited by the argument that investing in our children through a high quality public education system is worthwhile, and for decades it has proven to be one the best ways to secure our future.

And perhaps better left unsaid given the audience, was the obvious reality that Republicans in the House of Delegates have been systematically under funding our public school system for over nine years, and that these actions are a strongest indication of the lengths they are willing to go to serve their free market ideology, oblivious to anything, except keeping their wealthy benefactors afloat while robbing from future generations.

And finally, What infrastructure projects would you prioritize?

Editor’s Note: This question more than any other highlights the stark contrast between these two ladies and the depth of the Republican candidate’s ignorance and hypocrisy, where they all spouted variations of the free market will take care of everything. With some like Graven Craig being so ideologically “pure” that he’s even against private/public projects like Louisa’s broadband initiative. Meanwhile Melissa and Lizzie clearly recognize the importance of communications infrastructure for education and a prosperous economy.

 Melissa Dart

We need to bring access to that last mile of connectivity to all parts of the state, especially rural areas like Louisa County. The lack of broadband is an issue which affects our ability to earn a living, our children’s education and even public safety.  Plain and simple, rural communities need access to these technological resources to compete in today’s economy.

We need broadband now, whether through Public/Private partnerships or some other means it has to happen.

 Lizzie Drucker-Basch

We need reliable, affordable broadband, and LTE, an abbreviation for (long term evolution) of high speed data service, a topic which cell phone users accessing the internet are painfully familiar with.  Access to broadband is a business and economic imperative, and an investment in our children’s education. The General Assembly needs to come up with initiatives and tax incentives for localities to promote broadband growth in rural areas like Louisa County, and that Louisa’s own broadband BB initiative should be supported by their delegate.

And finally, given what’s at stake, it’s appropriate to paraphrase from a blog run by one of Lizzie’s staff ­—the Republican party is on a dangerous trajectory, I am afraid to think of what will happen if they get their way with public education. What is important for us now, is that we act. Get your friends out to vote, and most importantly, don’t forget to vote on June 13th.

Jon Taylor