Story by Chris Graham
Maxine Hope Roles knows that she is facing an uphill battle in her 26th Senate District challenge to incumbent Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain.
But the Democrat thinks enough people are fed up with politics as usual to give her a fighting chance.
“I know that I have a really tough battle – because I know that there are people who are just extremely loyal to the Republican Party. But I believe that there are enough issues today that are totally affecting the people – and I think that they may just go ahead and part with the party and decide to vote for the person,” Roles said in an interview on “The Augusta Free Press Show” this week.
The issue that she is hearing about the most right now on the campaign trail has to do with the so-called abusive-driver fees that were enacted by the Virginia General Assembly as part of the much-ballyhooed transportation compromise earlier this year.
The fees will hit Virginians who are convicted even of misdemeanor driving offenses hard – and many have been registering their displeasure with the scheme, even as Republicans in the majority of both houses of the state legislature have been doing what they can to distance themselves from the controversy.
“A lot of the Republican Party is claiming that they just didn’t know. Well, they had to know. They had the paperwork in front of them that they are entitled to read. And if they choose not to read it, and only vote by what somebody says, that’s a problem – because that’s not what they’re there for. And if a part-time General Assembly does not afford them the time to do the job that they need to do, then maybe we need to revisit that as well,” Roles said.
Roles addressed another transportation issue – this one closer to home – regarding Interstate 81, pushing the inclusion of rail as a solution to the congestion woes on the 325-mile stretch of highway that bisects Western Virginia.
“I think that using the rail system would be a definite plus for us. One, it would take away the truck traffic, which is a good portion of the congestion that we’re seeing on 81 right now. And also it would go along with everything else that we’re talking about in terms of respecting our history – and rail was a big part of that history. I think that we could utilize our railways here and also increase tourism at the same time and increase revenues,” Roles said.
Another approach to solving transportation problems has to do with growth and development more generally.
“We need to start doing some kind of intelligent development,” Roles said. “It’s funny – neither one of my grandmothers drove a car. And they lived in these areas where there were these big, huge apartment complexes, and there was something like a mini-mall, if you want to call it that, that was in walking distance. And they used to take their little shopping cart, and they did their grocery shopping – they could go to the bakery, get their hair cut.
“There were things within walking distance that they could go to – and they did not need to utilize a vehicle,” Roles said. “We could do something in that respect today – where we have developments that circle some kind of a small shopping plaza that allows people to be able to go there without necessarily having to use a vehicle.”
The next step for Role is focusing on getting her name and positions on the issues out there so that people know that they will have an alternative this fall.
“Republicans for too long have figured that they could basically live on their power – and that they didn’t have anything to make them accountable for what they do. But now things are starting to backfire – so they’re going to have to become accountable, and they’re going to have to answer for the way they’ve done business down in Richmond,” Roles said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.