Breaking down the race in the 27th Senate District

The Top Story by Chris Graham

karen.jpg03_t.jpgThe 27th Senate District promised to be a wide-open affair even before moderate Republican Sen. Russ Potts announced his retirement plans.
But now with Potts out of the picture, the battle between his successor as the Republican standard-bearer in the district that stretches from Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley into Northern Virginia, Jill Holtzman Vogel, and Democrat Karen Schultz is being viewed as one of five or six contests statewide that could determine who controls the Virginia General Assembly next year.

“The Republicans are in a majority in this area, and it’s their race to lose – but I do think the Democrats have a good candidate, are running a very respectable race,” said Bill Shendow, a political-science professor at Shenandoah University.

“This could well be a competitive area – and it could very well be a bellwether district. Because if it’s a close race here, it could be indicative of maybe some of the other districts across the state,” Shendow told The Augusta Free Press.

Indeed, internal polling done by both parties seems to suggest that the race will be a toss-up heading into Election Day – which could explain why Vogel and Schultz have been bringing out the heavy ammunition the past couple of weeks.

A Schultz press release issued last week called on Vogel to return her share of the money that her husband’s lobbying firm earned from lobbying for pro-amnesty immigration groups – in light of the GOP candidate’s stance against amnesty for undocumented aliens. The Vogel campaign, for its part, has issued releases this week calling on her to return money from various Democratic committee donors that themselves have accepted contributions from Dominion Virginia Power – which is in the process of building a controversial high-voltage power-transmission line that will cut through the heart of the 27th – and raising issue with a Schultz campaign mailer on gun rights.

Shendow, for one, isn’t surprised to see the rancor on the increase.

“The reason is there’s not so much a difference between the candidates on issues – but I would say there’s a difference in priority on issues,” Shendow said. “The Democratic candidate has taken the party line of emphasizing transportation, education, health care – more traditional issues. The Republican candidate is speaking to these issues – but has endorsed the party-caucus plan to emphasize illegal immigration.

“It will be interesting to see how those two emphases play out on Election Day – as people with more traditional concerns, the people in the center, the independents, might side with the Democrat in the race, while if the immigration issue turns out to be the hot-button issue, and it is very divisive, it certainly will mobilize the more conservative people in the district and may attract others who are very much concerned about the issue,” Shendow said.

  

Immigration

“I have taken a tough position from the beginning – and it really comes down to the rule of law, and enforcing the rule of law,” Vogel told the AFP in an interview this week.

“People who are here illegally, and who are engaging in or participating in criminal activity in our community, have to be stopped. And unlike my opponent, who has said that this is not a state issue, and that she supports a process whereby the state actually assists people who are illegal aliens to become citizens, I think that is all wrong and completely backwards,” Vogel said.

“What we ought to be doing is we ought to be rewarding people who are legal citizens. We should provide only legal citizens state resources and state tax dollars. And we should by all means enter into a partnership with the federal government so that our local law enforcement has the ability to crack down on those who engage in criminal activity – to process them and begin the deportation process,” Vogel said.

“My opponent and the governor are against that – they’re against 287(g) – and I think it is both shortsighted and a real risk for our local communities, where in Virginia we happen to be number two in the country for the presence of MS-13, which is one of the most violent gangs in the world. And so I think that at the legislative level in 2008, we have no choice but to act on illegal immigration,” Vogel said.

Schultz clarified her stance on immigration in a separate interview with the AFP.

“We must combat the problems of illegal immigration in Virginia,” Schultz said. “The financial burden, as well as the safety of our Commonwealth, is at stake. We must be fair, but we must be strict. This is a country of laws, and they must be followed.

“Our federal government, frankly, has failed us, and has left us to deal with this problem. I have been on record that we must crack down on businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants, and we must provide those businesses with tools that they need to check the legality. The federal government must provide the resources to our local law enforcement to crack down on illegal immigration and our gangs. That’s my stance,” Schultz said.

   

Power lines

“I am clearly on record for opposing the construction of power lines through the Shenandoah Valley – and I denounce this new designation by the Department of Energy that frankly would make it easier for power companies to move ahead with this power-line proposal. I think that environmentally it is an irresponsible thing to occur for this area – and I am firmly again on record for being against this,” Schultz said, answering a question on the Dominion issue and the separate issue of a federal designation of a Northern Virginia energy corridor announced earlier this week.

Vogel called the federal designation “a second blow.”

“The first blow was when the State Corporation Commission approved it, and now the Department of Energy’s approval of this as a National Interest Corridor is a second and really terrible blow – and a tragedy for our race and our district is that this goes directly through the heart of the 27th District,” Vogel said. “And when you consider all of the natural resources, all of the land that has been placed under easement and open-space protection, it basically eviscerates so much of what was costly, well-considered local land-use planning as well as easement programs that I was part of when I served on the board of trustees of the Virginia Outdoors Foundation when we protected so much property.

“So what this means in terms of, one, Dominion Virginia Power’s heavy-handedness, and two, the real impact on property rights, property value and on open space is just terrible,” Vogel said.

“I got involved in this right at the inception of this fight. I set up some local groups to fight Dominion, and I testified before the State Corporation Commission and then subsequently testified before the Department of Energy on this. I’ve worked with Congressman Wolf on this and Del. Athey and others – and I think our position on this is, we will not rest until this is finished, and until these power lines are kept from this district,” Vogel said.

Speaking on the matter of the release of an energy plan by Gov. Tim Kaine last month, Schultz said, “Virginians deserve better – and in Virginia, we have some wonderful businesses, we have some wonderful mines, we have people who are doing research to look for those alternative energy patterns and energy sources. I would look forward as state senator to encourage those kinds of explorations and applications – not just doing the research, but applying it to our state.”

“We look forward to making sure that we give incentives to green building. We want to make sure that we can work more efficiently so that the demands for energy are down. So I think there are ways we can all work together and keep that dialogue – making sure that we fight this power-line proposal as well as explore the alternative energies and better ways of being efficient with our energy,” Schultz said.

  

Transportation

“So many people that live in the 27th District commute – and I think that one of the most important things that I can do as a representative is to make sure that we get more of our fair share of state dollars,” Vogel said.

“Right now we don’t, because of the funding formula. Places where there is more congestion, and frankly more traffic problems, don’t always get the resources that they need. So that’s my commitment – one, to address the funding formula, two, is to work with Congressman Wolf to develop a regional transportation plan that would coordinate with federal, state and local planning and planning projects,” Vogel said.

“Also I supported the 2007 transportation compromise, which will bring over $2 billion to our region. It was not a perfect plan, but it was a good first step – with the exception of the abusive-driver fee component of that. I think it was a fair way to get us going. I do, however, support the repeal of the abusive-driver component – mostly because you can’t raise revenue based on criminal activity, based on breaking the law. That’s not a sustainable form of revenue – and certainly it’s unfair when it’s applied disproportionately between people who live in-state and those who live out-of-state,” Vogel said.

“I’ve been a member of this community for 30 years – and I’ve seen the growth and the stress that have been put on our transportation infrastructure,” Schultz said. “We do need a sustained funding source that will adequately support our transportation needs. We’ve got to work together with intelligence, with purpose, and be advocates of smart-growth planning. And I will fight to improve access for Metro, bus-transit, ride-share programs – and frankly communities that can be built with less cars in mind.

“We have to make sure that our seniors have access to public transportation so that we can make sure that the quality of life is held high,” Schultz said.

“I’m also on record as being adamantly against the abuser fees. That was a bad idea in terms of funding transportation. Promoting safety on our roads and funding badly-needed transportation projects are separate issues, and should be treated accordingly,” Schultz said.

  

The forecast

The Schultz-Vogel race will be closer than past ones in the district if only because the moderate Potts was a strong force at the polls in November in the 27th because he enjoyed healthy support from independents and Democrats.

“Another factor is that the Democratic candidate is well-funded and is competitive with campaign funds,” Shendow said. “And there is change occurring in this district – maybe not as rapidly as certainly over the mountain in Loudoun and Fauquier and Fairfax. But there are new people coming in, and it’s not the same profile as it once was. I still think it’s a predominantly red district – particularly at the national level, a little less so at the state level, and even lesser so at the local level.”

“In Fauquier, I would imagine Jill Holtzman Vogel would run well, because that is where she’s from,” Shendow said. “In Loudoun County, I am getting a sense that that is a particularly interesting area – that there are moderates there who are upset with the course. Not that they were big Tate supporters, but they were just not happy with the way the primary unfolded, and some of the issues that were raised and how they were raised.

“Here in Winchester and Frederick County, I would think that Karen Schultz would run fairly well in Winchester – if she doesn’t, she’s in big trouble – and in Frederick County, which is more conservative, more traditional Republican, there’s more of a religious-fundamentalist influence there, if she could run close in Frederick County, then she may well be in the race,” Shendow said.

“The unknown is what kind of majorities Jill Holtzman Vogel will be able to build in Fauquier – and the trend in Loudoun County. Is there anything happening there? I have a sense that there very well may be,” Shendow said.

  

Listen

Listen to a special edition of “The Augusta Free Press Show” devoted to the 27th Senate District race.

  

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.


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