Torian Participates in Candidates Forum

By: Keith Walker

State legislators and candidates met for a couple of hours Saturday in a friendly forum hosted by St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Woodbridge.

Questions from moderator John Horejsi, the coordinator for Social Action Linking Together, or SALT, centered around business subsidies, education, predatory lending and other subjects.

Participation on the panel was fluid, with some candidates leaving early while others arrived late. Most were around long enough to contribute at least some of their thoughts during the forum sponsored by Virginia Organizing, Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizers, Prince William Education Association and Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants along with SALT.

Horejsi led off by asking the candidates how they would work with others across the aisle if voters sent them to the General Assembly in Richmond.

Esteban Garces, a candidate for the 2 District in the Virginia House of Delegates, said that his work as a community organizer has taught him to work and play well with others. He said “coalition building” is a “necessary skill” for a legislator to have.

“You have to be able to meet in the middle,” said Garces, a Democrat who faces Republican Mark Dudenhefer in a race for the open seat.

Former Del. Jeff Frederick, a Republican running against Sen. Linda T. “Toddy” Puller for the 36th Senate seat, said the key to governing effectively is honesty.

“In politics, there’s way too much intellectual dishonesty. There’s way to many efforts on trying to score political points by one party or another,” Frederick said.

Puller, who has served nearly 20 years in the Virginia General Assembly as a delegate and as a senator, said the General Assembly is pretty good at working together and reminded the crowd of about 30 that Richmond was not the nation’s capitol. She said that she was ready to work with members of the other party.

“What you have to remember is that we are not Washington, D.C.” said Puller, who reminded the audience that she has worked with governors of both parties to get things done.

Del. Luke Torian, D-52nd, said he would go so far as to vote against his party if a vote with Republicans was warranted, as it was when he voted for Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Omnibus Transportation Bill.

“Although my party really wanted me to vote against it, it would not have been the right thing. It was a bipartisan bill that passed with votes in the high 80s in the House. Sometimes that’s what you have to do,” Torian said.

Roy Coffey, a Democrat who is running against Republican Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter for the 31st seat in the House of Delegates, said he was running because governing is about cooperation.

Coffey said that he spent a lot of time in Richmond when the General Assembly was in session to advocate for issues facing Prince William County and learned that legislators can’t get things done alone.

“It takes a coordinated, cooperative effort,” Coffey said.

Horejsi asked the panelists how they felt about subsidies for industries in the commonwealth, including coal, aviation, wine, film, shipbuilding and rail.

Coffey said that while he was not yet a part the legislature, subsidies sounded like “earmarks” to him. He said legislators should concentrate on spending money on people rather than industries.

“I think one of the things that’s important to do, especially in these economic times, is to review the priorities of the people of Virginia,” he said.

Puller said that many of the subsidies have been in place for a long time and many are there because the industries that receive them create jobs across the state, sometimes in regions that might otherwise be impoverished.

“I don’t think you’re going to see these things going away. They do bring help to those parts of the state that need that kind of help,” Puller said.

Cleveland Anderson, a Republican running against Torian, said he thought that once programs get started they’re hard to stop.

“Once something is put into place, it’s hard to go back and change it. It’s hard to go back and investigate it. It’s also hard to take money from someone,” Anderson said.

Sen. George Barker, D-39th, said that most of the subsidies the industries receive are in the form of tax credits, and that the General Assembly is currently in a review process to see if the industries are creating enough jobs to justify the breaks they receive.

Frederick said his three terms in the House of Delegates taught him that “the budget process” in Richmond was “very closed and very private in a lot of ways.” He said constant review was necessary.

Several of the candidates talked about whether children of illegal immigrants should be allowed to attend college in the commonwealth and be eligible to pay state tuition.

Puller said she thought they should.

“I think we should want these children to have a higher education so they can get a better job and have a better life and pay their taxes,” she said.

Coffey agreed.

“The more we do for them to make them productive members of society, the closer they get to the American Dream their parents came here for. If we don’t give them that opportunity, then why are we here. That’s what we stand for. Children should not be punished. Children should be allowed the opportunity to get an education and become a more productive member of society and make a better life for their family,” he said.

Frederick said the immigration system was broken and the states needed to “encourage” Congress to fix it.

Garces said that the children of illegal immigrants should be welcomed.

“A lot of these kids come here through no fault of their own. They grow up in this society, and red, white and blue are their colors. This is their home and this is where they need to be embraced,” Garces said.

On a question about restoring voting rights to convicted felons who have served their time, most on the the panel agreed that the right should probably be restored.

Garces said the process of regaining voting rights is too cumbersome.

“Once someone has paid their debt to society, we need to do everything possible to make that person whole again, and we could start by shortening the process. There’s an application that has to be submitted to the state. There’s a a waiting period. If you’ve paid your debt to society. It should be done,” he said.

Anderson said he thought that once the debt is paid, it’s paid. Punishment shouldn’t extend past the prison sentence.

“If you’ve done the time, you’ve done the time, and I think at that point it’s time that you restore all rights,” he said.

Puller agreed.

“Once the prisoners have done their time and filled all their debt to society, they should be able to have the privilege to vote again,” she said.

Del. Richard L. “Rich” Anderson, R-51st, said he too would favor restoring voting rights, but it shouldn’t be automatic, just faster than it is now.

“While I do not believe in instant restoration of voting rights for convicted felons, I believe that we need to do what we have been doing here in Virginia and that’s to accelerate the process and remove barriers,” said Anderson, who is running unopposed. “We need to improve this process.”

Senior reporter Keith Walker can be reached at 703-369-6751.

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