With about a week to go until the Aug. 19 special election, the candidates for the House of Delegates 48th District seat made their final pitch to voters at a debate Monday in Arlington.
Democrat Richard “Rip” Sullivan tried to paint his Republican opponent, Dave Foster, as an ally of unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli and suggested that Foster would support the positions of the General Assembly’s Republican leadership.
Foster, a former member and chairman of the Arlington School Board, is positioning himself as a moderate who can work across party lines, and someone who Arlingtonians already know and trust.
“The labels don’t stick too well for any of you who have known me,” he said.
The 48th District, previously represented by longtime Del. Bob Brink (D), includes portions of the McLean area and Arlington County.
On the divisive issue of expanding Medicaid coverage to single adults, Foster said he would support a bipartisan compromise that includes both reforms to the state’s current Medicaid program as well as an expansion that would allow the state to cover more people and accept available federal funds.
“It is important that they go together,” Foster said. “If we blow this, not only does the program become insolvent, but your schools, transportation and public safety … are all at risk.”
Sullivan repeatedly stated that he is the only candidate who “unequivocally” supports Medicaid expansion, describing Foster’s position as “full of hedges.” He said he would make it a priority to meet with Republican delegates who oppose expansion and try and persuade them to adopt the Senate-approved Marketplace Virginia plan.
“The health care system in Virginia is crying out for Medicaid expansion,” Sullivan said.
He said it is an economic issue, not just a policy debate.
“There is no hospital in Lee County, Va., right now,” he said. “What CEO is going to think about relocating her business to Lee County?”
With former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s corruption trial in the headlines, the candidates also differed on the subject of ethics reform. McDonnell and his wife are accused of taking lavish gifts from the CEO of a nutritional supplement company in exchange for promoting the business.
Sullivan said the General Assembly’s response did not go far enough in addressing the issues raised in the McDonnell case and he would like to see stricter ethics rules.
“I was underwhelmed with what happened in response to that and I think it needs to go further,” Sullivan said.
Foster said he would like to give the new policies a chance to kick in before proposing any changes. He said that transparency and reporting requirements are the most important factors of ethics policy.
“I believe in giving new regulations and enactments a chance before you jump on them,” Foster said.
Both candidates expressed support for a new redistricting process that would reduce “safe” districts, citing the district they are running in as a prime example.
Voters in the 48th have supported Democrats by margins of 60 percent or more in statewide and presidential elections since 2009, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. In last year’s race for governor, the district broke 65 percent in favor of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) — although Foster said he hopes to defy the odds.
The special election will take place Tuesday. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and registered voters will vote at their normal precincts. Their are eight Fairfax County precincts in the 48th.
The Fairfax County Board of Elections said that the state’s new voter ID laws will not be in effect for the special election.