Four candidates for General Assembly make their pitches at Cornerstones forum

House of Delegates candidates answered questions on a range of issues that they could face in Richmond, giving voters a firsthand look at their viewpoints.

The nonprofit Cornerstones hosted the forum online with 36th District candidates Matt Lang, a Republican security consultant and veteran, and incumbent Ken Plum, a Democrat who has held the office since 1982.

For the 86th District race, the forum also featured candidates Julie Perry, a Republican high school history teacher, and Irene Shin, who won the Democratic Primary in June to take the nomination away from incumbent Ibraheem Samirah.

Candidates fielded questions from panelists and the audience in the hourlong event. A recording of the forum was slated to be posted on Cornerstones’ website.

Extending child care subsidy

Panelist Nasia Ashkir noted a federal subsidy for child care will end in December, and she asked if candidates would support extending it with leftover American Relief Act Money.

Plum shared his support for doing so and noted that he wrote about the issue for a column this month. He cited research showing how kids who received pre-school education have been linked to less societal costs, mainly in the area of crime.

Lang also said he’s support such an extension and would want to look for how to fund it once the federal aid runs out in ways that don’t raise taxes.

“Like Del. Plum just said, children are the future,” the Reston resident said. “Their education and their foundation is going to be our success down the road.”

Addressing affordable housing

Pastor Stephen Smith-Cobbs, who served as the forum’s second panelist, noted how $4.3 billion in flexible funding is available through ARPA but hasn’t been spent so far in affordable housing.

“Many people who work in Fairfax County simply can’t afford to live here,” Smith-Cobbs said, asking what candidates’ plans were for increasing the stock in affordable housing.

Both Republican candidates noted concerns with long-term assistance.

“If we help them forever, they’re never going to have the incentive to want to try their best and shine in society,” Perry said, adding that everybody can live the American dream.

Shin, the executive director of the nonprofit Virginia Civic Engagement Table, which looks to support progressive organizations, said she would support fully funding the Virginia Housing Trust, saying it incentivizes developers to make affordable housing.

Lang also said that increasing the supply of rental units or homes could help reduce the sales of existing homes, and lowering prices of other things, such as fuel taxes, would help put more money in people’s pockets.

His opponent said Cornerstones serves as a model for how to go forward by providing comprehensive services, such as child care and job training. Plum also said he expects the governor’s upcoming budget proposal to increase affordable housing investments, such as by working with organizations, setting up land conservation trusts and pursuing other efforts to leverage public money.

Assisting workers, business

Panelist Danny Vargas, stressing the need for livable wages and other quality of life factors, asked how candidates would work in the General Assembly to support the needs of the workforce and employers to get people back to work.

Shin said she would seek a faster route to raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, which currently isn’t slated to happen until 2026 and also requires further legislative approval. She said she’s also in support of introducing and championing bills that would expand paid sick leave for workers and paid medical leave for workers.

“Let’s bring vocational programs back to high schools,” Perry said, noting the need for plumbing and welding jobs as well as electrical and mechanical trades. She criticized the push for four-year degrees.

Plum said chambers of commerce spoke out against bills he introduced to raise the minimum wage and noted that exceptions could be made for smaller businesses.

“Fifteen dollars an hour seems to be a little bit excessive for somebody who’s running a small business, paying their employees,” Lang said, adding that it could affect their pricing. He also questioned if a business would relocate based on the change.

Supporting, advocating for bills

A question from the audience and a final question targeted what candidates thought was the single-most-important bill passed in 2020 and what’s the one bill that they would want to introduce in the upcoming session.

Republican candidates countered that they were unsatisfied with bills signed into law. Democrats cited several examples each, approaching the question with a similar evasion.

Looking forward, Lang said he would want a bill that helps police do their jobs while Plum focused on addressing climate change.

Perry said she would want to emphasize America’s history in schools, and Shin said she would want to implement universal pre-kindergarten for families.


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