With early voting starting later this week, incumbent Ken Plum is facing off against his first Republican challenger, Matt Lang, in a decade for the delegate seat in the 36th District.
“A fresh set of eyes…and a different set of experiences,” Lang tells Reston Now about what he would bring if elected as the representative for the 36th District, which encompasses Reston to Leesburg Pike in Great Falls to Flint Hill Road in Vienna.
He also noted that he “wasn’t exactly comfortable” with much of the legislation being passed by the General Assembly recently.
“We’ve had a lot of people who have been in the same position for a long time… and I figured, ‘why not?,” he says about why he was challenging the long-time incumbent. “Someone needs to stand up.”
Lang announced his candidacy back in January, making him the first Republican to vie for the seat since Hugh Cannon in 2011. Cannon earned only about 36% of the vote and was easily defeated by Plum.
Plum says he believes he’s being challenged this year, both during the primary and the general election, because there’s a perception that he might be retiring soon.
“My suspicion is that there’s a thought in people’s minds that one of these days, I’m actually going to hang it up,” Plum tells Reston Now. “But I will tell you, I have no such plans currently.”
79-year-old Plum (he turns 80 the day after the election) has served as House Delegate for the 36th District since 1982. He’s the longest-serving member in the Virginia House of Delegates. In June, he handily defeated a primary challenge with more than 77% of the vote.
Plum reiterates that he’s not a status quo candidate, but someone that’s made a career vouching for change.
“I think people who review my record realize that I’m a change agent,” he says.
As examples, he cites his work and chairing committees that are pushing to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, reduce greenhouse emissions in the state, requiring universal background check for gun purchases, expanding voting rights, and abolishing the death penalty.
Plum also notes that while the Virginia Clean Economy Act was a huge step forward when signed into law in April 2020, amendments are already needed to broaden energy efficient programs and hasten the move to electric transportation.
If elected, that will be a major priority of his, he says.
“We’ve seen the most progressive legislation ever in Virginia’s history,” Plum says. “Passing laws that are most beneficial to all citizens.”
Lang says he felt compelled to run during the General Assembly’s 2020 special session, when he says a number of bills were passed “haphazardly and rushed,” particularly around law enforcement.
He is former law enforcement himself; he’s a Marine Corps veteran, once worked in the Fairfax County sheriff’s office, and now a security consultant.
“I looked at a lot of the people who work in the [House of Delegates] and realized a lot of these people are making decisions on things they don’t have a lot of experience in,” says Lang. “And I just don’t agree with that.”
He particularly noted the Senate Bill 5032, which eliminates a minimum term of confinement for those charged with simple assault on a law enforcement officer (as well as judges, others). However, that bill more or less died in the House.
Lang believes that lawmakers are not taking input from those who “are doing the job every day” and are losing the support of police officers due to that. This includes Plum, he says, who is on the Public Safety Committee.
“[Officers] are upset with the fact that they are not able to do their jobs the way they used to be,” he says about his conversations with law enforcement officers. “It’s not because they don’t want to do the job, it’s the fear that extreme oversight infers in the performance of their work.”
Both candidates understand that schools are going to be on top of voters’ minds this election, no matter if they vote on Friday or November 2.
Earlier this year, both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly passed a law that mandated in-person schooling for the upcoming school year. However, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) have had a host of challenges since school started a few weeks ago. Now, virtual options are seemingly back on the table.
“Our first priority is to keep schools open for [in-person] learning,” says Plum. “But we need to follow the medical experts about how you do that.” He admits that could mean returning to virtual for a period of time.
Lang, whose own children attend FCPS, says it’s been “a quilt work of policies” and believes it’s important for children to remain in-person at school. He doesn’t think FCPS should be going back to a virtual option.
He’s also not in favor of vaccine mandates, like the one instituted late last month for all FCPS student-athletes. He is vaccinated himself, though, and encourages all to get it if they want to.
“I don’t think that it’s fair to force people to get the vaccine,” he says. “There are a myriad of reasons, [could be] a personal choice, could be health-related, could be religious exemptions, you name it.”
When asked why voters should check his name at the ballot box, Plum says because he brings experience, know-how, and understanding to the table.
“I am a known quantity and have been around a long time,” he says. “I believe the values I possess are the values of this district.”
He also noted that he supports Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe for governor.
Lang supports the Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, but says he’d reach across the aisle if elected.
“Politicians used to work across the aisle routinely, but in the past, 15, 20 years, it’s become less and less common,” he says.”And that’s a shame.”
He insists that he will always make himself available, listen to everybody, and consider their positions.
“It’s like your family. If you have a large family, you’re not going to get along with everybody,” Lang says. “You have to come to some kind of compromise… otherwise, your family holidays are going to be chaos.”
Early voting starts in Virginia this Friday, September 17, and will continue until election day November 2.
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