Hart ready to make noise in 26th
Lowell Fulk was Al Weed. Gene Hart wants to be Tom Perriello.
“Lowell Fulk’s runs in 2003 and 2005 laid the foundation for what we can do this year. We couldn’t be successful if Lowell hadn’t run and lost in 2003 and 2005,” said Hart, 46, a Harrisonburg attorney and presumptive Democratic Party nominee in the 26th House District who will challenge Republican incumbent Matt Lohr in November.
Fulk is the chair of the Rockingham County Democratic Committee who challenged long-time State Del. Glenn Weatherholtz in ’03 and then Lohr in ’05 and came thisclose both times to turning the seat representing a portion of the county and the entirety of the city of Harrisonburg blue. “Lowell reinvigorated the Democratic Party in Harrisonburg and Rockingham, and those races and those losses were necessary for us to get to where we are now,” said Hart, like Fulk a centrist Democrat whose campaign is focused in ’09 on crafting solutions on issues like education and particularly transportation that have been held up by the partisan gridlock in Richmond the past several years.
“The key thing for me wanting to run is the growing frustration over the last six to eight years with the lack of progress on getting things done on transportation,” said Hart, citing as the key impact locally the fight over transportation funding that is most visible in Rockingham County in discussions around the new Rockingham Memorial Hospital on Port Republic Road.
“Because of the lack of foresight from our legislators, we’re going to have some really backcountry roads trying to get there,” said Hart, a resident of the western half of the district west of the city of Harrisonburg, who adds that his neighbors joke that if they need to go to the hospital, “they hope it’s bad enough to have to have Pegasus take them to UVa., because they’ll get to Charlottesville quicker on Pegasus than they’ll get to RMH.”
“The frustration is that things don’t really seem to get done down in Richmond, certainly not things in our region. And our legislators seem to be a large part of the problem,” Hart said.
He’s right on there. Local Republican legislators seem more concerned with the relative pittance that is the $12 million needed to keep rest areas on Virginia interstates open than the billions they’ve left on the table in recent General Assembly sessions that will back up traffic to RMH and in Northern Virginia and Richmond and Hampton Roads.
They also paradoxically have backtracked on the Standards of Learning education reform that was championed by disgraced former governor and United States senator George Allen. Lohr himself backed a legislative effort championed by Valley school systems to have the state relax SOL accountability measures in the face of reduced funding from the state for local school budgets.
“They did that without seemingly any controversy, which was somewhat surprising for Republicans who say that money doesn’t equal performance, but they certainly were willing to say here to say that if we’re not going to give you as much money, we shouldn’t hold youi to the standards that we’ve previously set,” Hart said.
“To me, a better idea would have been to keep the standards in place to see how close the schools would have come to meeting them,” Hart said. “That way we could know if money and resources really do matter after all. Implicitly I think they’ve acknowledged that by saying, If we’re not going to give you as much money, then we can’t hold you to the standards that we’ve set,” Hart said.
– Story by Chris Graham