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Friday, March 14, 2014

Democrats vying for Moran's seat in Congress outline priorities

Four of the 11 candidates still in the running in the Democratic primary for the seat being vacated by Rep. Jim Moran in the 8th congressional district outlined their priorities at a meeting of the Brigades, a grassroots progressive political group, March 13. The four candidates profiled here are talk show host Mark Levine, Urban League President Lavern Chatman, Alexandria Mayor William Euille, and state Sen. Adam Ebbin.

Last month we reported on four candidates: former Lt. Gov. Don Beyer, Del. Charnielle Herring of Alexandria, the chair of the state Democratic Party; Del. Patrick Hope of Arlington; and former Navy pilot Bruce Shuttleworth.

The remaining candidates Del. Alfonso Lopez of Arlington and Derek Hyra, an associate professor at Virginia Tech and former chair of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, are expected to speak at the next Brigades meeting. A 12th candidate, Del. Mark Sickles of Franconia, dropped out of the race March 12, citing low poll numbers.

Beyer won the only straw poll conducted so far, but it was held at one of his auto dealerships in Alexandria. Chatman came in second. 

The Republican candidate is expected to be Micah Edmond, a military veteran and defense contractor. The Fairfax County Republic Committee Convention is March 29. The 8th District is heavily Democratic, so who whoever wins the Democratic primary is expected to be a shoe-in, but anything can happen.

Mark Levine, the host of the syndicated radio talk show “The Inside Scoop,” and former legislative aide to former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), refers to himself as an “aggressive progressive” and says he learned from Frank how to get things done—behind the scenes if necessary.

He told the audience at the Brigades meeting that he supported marriage equality in the 1990s, even before a lot of gay rights activists thought that was a feasible, and as a congressional aide, wrote the first bill in the nation to recognize the rights of gay married couples.

Levine also wrote legislation on domestic violence, which was passed with bipartisan support, and told the audience, “I can work with the Republicans when they’re being reasonable.” But when the “Fox News machine sets the debate,” that’s a danger to the country. “We need a challenge from the Left to bring the debate back to the middle where it belongs.”

Levine said one of his biggest accomplishments as a legislative aide was helping to defeat President George Bush’s faith-based initiative, which would allowed the government to discriminate on the basis of religion.

He called for economic policies to address the problem of college graduates “drowning in debt” by giving colleges more funds if they reduce tuition. He also said it isn’t fair that the wealthy don’t contribute enough to Social Security and said, “no one working full time should live in poverty.”

When asked about guns, Levine said requiring background checks and banning high-capacity magazines are the right things to do, both politically and morally. He noted that 90 percent of Americans, 80 percent of Republicans, and 75 percent of gun owners support background checks.

Lavern Chatman, president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Urban League, recounted her background as the first in her family to go college. She was inspired to become a community activist and “champion of progress causes” by her working-class parents who were active in the civil rights movement. Chatman has never run for office before but was inspired to take action after attending the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

She spoke about her work in support of voting rights, civic engagement, mentoring youths, and helping the disadvantaged. “If we can put a community organizer in the White House, we can put a community leader in the House,” she said.

Chatman’s priorities in Congress include “commonsense gun laws,” reforming Wall Street, and supporting equity and reproductive rights for women. She vowed to “stand up to the Tea Party or anyone else” who would cut Social Security or try to shut down the government.

It’s important to not only ensure equal pay for women, Chatman said but also to ensure “equal access to capital” so they can start their own businesses. She would also work on campaign finance reform and global warming.

William D. “Bill” Euille stressed his experience and “proven leadership” as a member of the Alexandria school board for 10 years, member of the City Council for nine years, mayor of Alexandria since 2003, and active service on several regional boards.

Euille grew up in public housing in Alexandria, where his single mother got him interested in volunteering and civic engagement and where he helped integrate the public schools.

If elected to Congress, Euille said he would continue to be an advocate for the military workforce and veterans, prekindergarten expansion, affordable housing, gun control, job creation through improving the transportation infrastructure, and women’s healthcare rights.  

As one who had felt the effects of discrimination first-hand, Euille said, “I feel the pain of others who have suffered discrimination.” He believes equity for women is critical because “when women succeed, our economy succeeds.”

He noted that he signed a “clean campaign pledge” promising no mudslinging in the campaign and urged the other candidates to sign it, too. Beyer has already done so. During the Q and A, Euille said he opposes Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s proposal to downsize the military, which would have a huge impact on the local economy.

Virginia Sen. Adam Ebbin of Alexandria, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus in the General Assembly, said so many candidates are using the “progressive” label, “you can call me a liberal.”

Ebbin served in the House of Delegates for eight years before being elected to the Senate in 2011. “I spent more than a decade in Richmond getting bills passed and standing up for Democratic values,” he told the audience. His most recent accomplishments include passage of a nondiscrimination policy, repeal of the hybrid tax, and expansion of prenatal care for  immigrants.

As the first openly gay member of the Virginia General Assembly, Ebbin has been a strong advocate for marriage equality. He promised to “stand up for people who don’t have the loudest voice or the largest lobby.” He is currently working to get Virginia to expand Medicaid to cover an additional 400,000 people, which would include 25,000 veterans and their spouses.

Ebbin’s priorities in Congress include “an aggressive responsive to climate change,” a significant raise for federal workers, raising the minimum wage, expanding the Affordable Care Act, and closing the achievement gap through universal prekindergarten. He supports universal background checks for gun purchases and banning assault weapons.

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