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Monday, October 17, 2011

State senate candidates Marsden and Flanary clash in debate

State Sen. Dave Marsden (37th District) and his challenger Jason Flanary clashed over transportation, spending, education, immigration, and other issues at a debate Oct. 16 at Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church in Burke.

Flanary, a Republican, called for government to “be run a little more like a business” and said “we need more business leaders in government.” Flanary is a former Marine who was on the security detail at Camp David when Bill Clinton was president and now works for a market research company.

Marsden, the Democratic incumbent, told the audience, “My life has been spent in public service and service to the community.” A long-time Annandale resident, he has been a probation officer, youth athletic coach, director of the county’s Juvenile Detention Center, and head of the state Department of Juvenile Justice.

The newly redrawn 37th District extends from Springfield to Centreville and includes most of Annandale.

Here’s how the candidates responded to questions from the audience on key issues:

On transportation:
Marsden opposes the idea of having Fairfax County take control of roads. Under the state’s funding formula, the county would get a little bit more money from the state, but would have a lot more infrastructure and maintenance costs, he said. “It’s a very, very poor investment for Fairfax County. In theory it works well, but the money is not there.”

Marsden said he supports mass transit and criticized Flanary for saying in a previous debate that funding mass transit is “throwing money down the drain.”

Flanary indicated his statement had been misinterpreted and what he really meant was that he is concerned about Phase 2 of the Dulles rail project. Mass transit has to be part of the process, he said, as well as HOV and HOT lanes, and bikes.

Flanary called congestion the number-one transportation problem and suggested resolving it by opening up the HOV lanes and allowing cars on the emergency lanes on Route 66, better synchronized traffic signals, and extending the turn lanes slightly so more people can get through a traffic light.

“How many people honestly believe you can solve this by timing the spotlights?” Marsden asked the audience. He agreed congestion is a problem, but said “there are no simple solutions.”

On the environment:
Marsden said he worked for years to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by getting phosphates out of fertilizer and said he supports efforts to encourage more wind, solar, and geothermal energy projects.

Flanary said he wants to “make sure businesses play a more proactive role in recycling.” He supports offshore wind energy, but in response to a question about uranium mining and mountaintop removal, he acknowledged he doesn’t know that much about those issues.

“Mountaintop removal is wrong,” Marsden said. He also opposes uranium mining, calling it “hugely risky.” It would create enough waste to fill 10 supersize Wal-Marts, he said.

On the budget:
 Marsden said is proud that the legislature was able to weather the economic downturn without raising taxes.

Virginia has been named the best managed state because of its partnership between the state and local governments, Marsden said. “We balanced the budget without cutting taxes,” but as a result, a lot of areas, like transportation, are underfunded, he said. “In a few short years, we’ll be in a maintenance-only situation with no money for new construction.”

Flanary said it’s important to have more business people in government with “real-world experience in meeting budgets and making payroll.” He said the state is “wasting tax dollars” on ineffective programs and called for more transparency because “we don’t know how well our tax dollars are being spent.”

Flanary criticized Marsden’s support of a new $300 million building for the state legislature. He said the building would have sat empty 10 months of the year and that the asbestos in the existing building is not a safety hazard. 
Marsden disagreed. “Asbestos is coming through the vents,” the building is used heavily all year, and it has major structural problems, he said. “This building would be condemned if the General Assembly didn’t own it. This is a very serious problem and it has to be fixed.” The project was eventually voted down.

On education:
Flanary criticized Marsden for failing to support a bill that would have required parents to be notified when their child is accused of violating a policy that could result in suspension or expulsion.

Marsden agreed that parents should be notified before children are interrogated by school officials. But he defended his vote against the bill, noting that this issue should be addressed through local policy, not a “one-size-fits all” state law.

Marsden agreed with a question from the audience that called for Virginia residents to get preference when applying to state colleges. Flanary went a bit further, proposing that state colleges reduce the number of out-of-state students by 5 percent and increase the tuition for out-of-state students by 5 percent.

On immigration:
Flanary said he opposes granting in-state tuition at state colleges to people who are not here legally and that the state’s first obligation is to citizens and taxpayers.

Marsden criticized Flanary’s support of legislation that would bar undocumented people from going to a state college. “That sends a message that no one cares about you, so go join a street gang,” he said. Marsden also opposes policies that would ban undocumented children from community centers or sports clubs. “Is that the kind of Virginia we want? That’s wrong.” He said it’s the federal government’s responsibility, not Virginia’s, to address immigration policy and check people’s status.

Strict laws on immigration like those passed in Prince William County and Arizona are “problematic,” Marsden said. Allowing the police to question a person’s immigration status “terrorizes people,” he said, and results in people not calling the police when they’ve been victims of a robbery, rape, or other crime.

On marriage equality:
Flanary supports the Virginia law that forbids same-sex marriage, noting “I believe marriage is an institution between a man and a woman.” There are many more important issues, he added.

Marsden said, “I see no reason why people should not be allowed to marry who they want,” although it should be up to churches to decide whom they should perform marriage ceremonies for.

Wrapping up
In his closing statement, Marsden said he had worked in the private sector for nine years and understands budgets from that perspective. “I’ve been successful in every aspect of government and business I’ve been involved in.”

Flanary, in his closing statement, made a reference to Bernie Madoff in asking the audience to “look at what someone says compared to what they do” and to take his word rather than the word of “someone who threatened to kill his wife.”

It wasn’t readily clear what he was talking about, but Flanary later clarified that he was referring to a situation when he was working as a consultant for Morgan Morris who was running for the House of Delegates in the 6th  District in 2003.

According to an Oct. 16 article in the Washington Post, Morris had fired Flanary, accusing him of copying a radio ad from someone else’s campaign, while Flanary blamed Morris for the gaffe and claimed he left voluntarily. It later came to light that Morris had been convicted in 1989 of making threatening phone calls to his ex-wife. Flanary said Morris “had a history of integrity problems.” 

Following the debate, the Annandale blog asked several people chosen at random what they thought of the candidates.

One person who chose to be anonymous said, “I liked Flanary better than I expected,” although she didn’t like his lack of a position on mountaintop removal and said “I don’t see how the HOT lanes help congestion.”  Flanary’s closing statement, however, was “dirty politics,” she said, because Marsden didn’t have a chance to respond, and “my opinion of him [Flanary] went way down.”

Nancy Davis also said she supports Marsden but noted, “both were very well spoken.” Daniel Michael said he will vote for Marsden, calling Flanary “extremely weak on the environment.” He also wondered whether Flanary might have been modifying his positions to appeal to a liberal audience.


  1. Economics 101- Resources in this world are limited, like: time, money, jobs, land, natural resources, etc. Marsden chooses to provide already limited resources to law-breaking illegals over US citizens. Is he suppose to represent the law abiding citizen or not? My parents worked hard to EARN their citizenship in this great country just like many legal immigrants. Laws should be enforced, and our already limited resources should be provided to only our law abiding citizens.

  2. Check out the Flanary Files website for details on Flanarys background and ethical lapses.