Story by Chris Graham
Carolyn Frank recognizes that she is facing an uphill battle.
But win or lose, her campaign for the 26th House District seat “sends a message to Richmond that people are not satisfied with the status quo.”
“They want different things coming out of Richmond. They want the issues solved,” said Frank, a Harrisonburg City Council member who is challenging incumbent Matt Lohr for the seat representing Harrisonburg and most of the northern half of Rockingham County.
Frank, an independent, has raised just over $2,000 for her campaign, a small fraction of the $70,000-plus that Lohr, a Republican, has raised to date, according to finance reports filed with the State Board of Elections last week.
The former Harrisonburg mayor – Frank was the first woman to serve in that role in the city’s long history – has been focusing her efforts on retail politicking, meeting and greeting voters one at a time.
One thing she has heard on the campaign trail early and often is how displeased voters are with the abusive-driver fees enacted by the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year.
“I guess the legislators were just shocked that the people would stand up against this, and that they’d be so vocal about it. I’m proud of Virginians for doing that – because I think the fees were abusive, and they’re going to be hard to collect. I’m just proud of Virginians for having a voice and standing up. We’ve already seen some backpedaling on it, and I think we’re going to see more,” Frank said in an interview on last week’s “Augusta Free Press Show.”
“One thing about Virginians is I think we like to step up to the plate and pay our fair share – and this is probably a regressive tax. It hurts the poor man a lot harder than it would hurt someone with plenty of money. I think we’ve got some pretty stringent penalties for people who drive drunk or have multiple driving infractions against them. So having three years where you have to pay a fee in addition to what is already on the books that you have to pay, it’s a bit much,” Frank said.
Frank supports the full repeal of the driver fees – and has suggested making up for the $65 million in revenues estimated to come from the application of the fees by raising the state gas tax.
“No one likes additional taxes. I don’t either. But at the same time, we have to pay the bills – and we pay them through taxes, fees and fines,” Frank said.
“If we can get other people to help pay some of these costs, that’s good, too – like we have a lot of students from out of state who come here to Virginia to school, and we have a lot of tourist attractions. So my suggestion is – a penny on the gas tax would probably raise $44 million, and it would cost an average family locally $6 a year. I would rather pay that than be stuck with $3,000 in abusive-driving fees,” Frank said.
One advantage that Frank sees to that idea – “the gas tax doesn’t expand government.”
“The remedial fees are going to increase our workload at DMV, and we’re going to have to hire more people, and more people in our court system. You don’t want to have to tax people or fine people and expand government,” Frank said.
With the gas tax, “The system is already in place – because we’re already paying taxes on our gasoline now,” Frank said.
Frank will be talking up this idea as she meets more voters across the expanse of the 26th.
“It’s difficult, expensive and disruptive to your life to run for office. It requires a lot of work. Sometimes you even get personal abuse. But I really enjoy serving people locally – and I think I have made a difference,” Frank said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.