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Friday February 3, 2003
2023 General Election: Yes, Your Vote Counts | Candidate Profile: Ben Litchfield | Reader Poll: The Best Restaurant in Fredericksburg | Local Author: Howard Owen
2023 General Election - It Matters
by Martin Davis - F2S Editor
Do you believe your vote matters? In theory, the vast majority of us say yes, whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, according to Pew Research. And of late, our actions have matched our claims.
Since 2016, Virginians have consistently been near, or over, the 50% rate in registered voters actually voting in November general elections. And in the presidential elections of 2016 and 2020, 72% and 75% of registered voters cast ballots. This per the Virginia Department of Elections.
Let’s hope that this turnout rate will continue, because prior to 2016, voter turnout in off-year elections - especially those in the year before a presidential election - can be described kindly as “poor.” Just 29% in 2015, 28% in 2011, and 30% in 2007.
The 2023 general election is every bit as consequential as the 2022 midterm election, which rattled Republicans and emboldened Democrats, and both parties are nervous marching into November. There is too much at stake, and a return to historic lows in off-year election turnouts could mean a disproportionately small number of voters will have a disproportionately large impact in November and for years to come.
That’s because in 2023, every single seat in the General Assembly - House and Senate - is up for grabs, with a significant number of these seats having no current incumbent. That’s due to the recent redistricting. And at balance is no less than the future of the commonwealth itself.
If Republicans take the House and Senate, Gov. Glenn Youngkin will be poised to run off a string of electoral victories that will deny women the right to control their own health care, radically rewrite the state tax code, stop meaningful gun reform, remove the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and more.
The consequences are every bit as significant locally.
The Spotsylvania School Board that has made this once proud district the butt of jokes around the state and nation will either be empowered to continue its destruction of public education, or deposed so that adults who understand the importance of public education can begin the hard work of rolling back the damage caused by former chair Kirk Twigg and current chair Lisa Phelps.
In Fredericksburg, a new mayor is to be elected following the steady leadership of Mary Katherine Greenlaw. She’s overseen unprecedented growth during her tenure. But with growth comes significant issues, and her successor will need to be someone ready to build on Greenlaw’s successes.
And in Stafford, the School Board and the Board of Supervisors hang in the balance. Facing continued growth that is straining schools, infrastructure, housing, and much more, the 2023 election is going to have a lot to say about how successful this county will be in the near-term.
The key to voters getting involved and turning out at the polls is their understanding what’s at stake (see above), and who’s up for office.
S2F is committed to ensuring that our readers know the candidates and what they stand for. Beginning today, we are publishing answers from candidates for the new Senate District Senate race to a survey we sent.
We approached the announced Democrats first. Currently, there are two announced candidates - Ben Litchfield and Luke Wright. Another individual is expected to announce in mid-February, and we will extend these questions to that individual at that time.
Because Luke Wright has not yet responded to our questions, we begin with Ben Litchfield.
Information is power. So is voting. Learn the candidates, so you can make your voice heard in the primaries this summer, and in the general election this November.
Senate District 27 Race
Q&A with Ben Litchfield - Democrat
F2S: Give us a sense of your background in politics and how that will help you in the Virginia Senate.
Litchfield: Politics is about building relationships. I have spent the past five years developing connections locally and in Richmond to enable me to effectively serve our region.
I am the former Chair of the Stafford County Democratic Committee and a current member of the Seventh Congressional District Democratic Committee. In these roles, I have cultivated relationships with lawmakers across the Commonwealth that I can leverage to push forward legislation in the General Assembly to address our region’s growing infrastructure, transportation, education, and economic needs.
I also used my time as Chair to advocate for issues that I felt were in line with the principles of the Democratic Party including the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, protection of LGBTQIA+ rights, worker protections, and preserving abortion access. As a result of this advocacy work, I built key friendships with grassroots organizations that I would also rely upon when developing good laws.
F2S: What are the legislative priorities you would bring to the Senate?
Litchfield: Our legislative priorities include, but are not limited to, addressing economic issues such as job creation, transportation, education, and climate change:
I support increased investment in job training programs including the G3 Program and Virginia Fast Forward that provide skills-based training in high-demand fields such as information technology, skilled trades, health care, and teaching. Virginians lose over $1 billion in lost wages by not having the skills employers need and, as a Commonwealth, we cannot recruit new businesses to locate here if we do not have workers trained to perform in-demand jobs.
I support a comprehensive solution to our transportation concerns including expanding public transit options such as FXBGo!, Virginia Railway Express, and Amtrak service; funding road improvements and expansions; growing our local job market so that area residents do not need to commute to Richmond or Washington, D.C. for work; and providing more incentives for employers to expand remote work opportunities. According to one study, local motorists are expected to lose $2.3 billion in wasted time, fuel, and carbon emissions if we do not address our traffic problems.
Strong public schools are also essential to a vibrant local economy. Employers look at the strength of the public schools system when determining whether to locate an office, branch, or plant in a region. Meaning, if we want to attract new business to our region, we need strong public schools. Studies also show that strong public schools are essential to creating economic opportunity and breaking generational poverty. Therefore, if we want to attract new jobs, grow local talent, and provide meaningful economic opportunity to our friends and neighbors, we need strong public schools.
Climate change is also increasingly becoming an economic problem. According to one study, the largest companies in the world value their climate-related risk exposure at more than $1 trillion.
F2S: One of our four vision points is the idea that "There's nothing that's wrong with America that can't be fixed by what's right with America." With that in mind, tell us one problem here in the 27th that can be fixed by what's right within the General Assembly.
Litchfield: Utility regulation reform. Over the next few years, ratepayers across the Commonwealth will see their electric bills increase because of a number of expensive projects undertaken by Dominion Energy. There is an increasing sense in the General Assembly that more must be done to promote competition and reform the current practice of allowing Dominion Energy to pass costs directly to ratepayers in the form of rate adjustment clauses (“RACs”). A growing bipartisan group of lawmakers have shown a willingness to do something about high costs and I plan to join them.
For example, just this session, Republican Senator David R. Suetterlein of Roanoke introduced a bill to allow the State Corporation Commission, as an alternative to approving a RAC, to authorize an electric utility to recover proposed costs through increasing utility rates for generation and distribution services if that method would better serve ratepayers while providing the utility with a fair rate of return. Although that proposed legislation did not address the broader issue of an electric utility passing all of the “risks” of its business onto ratepayers while passing the “rewards” onto shareholders, it was a positive development.
Similarly, Democratic Senators John Edwards and Scott Surovell introduced a bill to make it easier to create shared solar facilities and allow ratepayers to purchase electric power through a subscription to shared solar facility. This bill would make it easier for ratepayers who live in apartments or who lack the means to purchase their own solar panels to purchase their electric power from renewable sources. The bill would also create a working group to develop incentives for investment in shared solar which could be a game changer in the deployment of renewable energy sources reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and promoting competition.
F2S: Finally, name one or two issues where you can see working across the aisle to make things better for Virginia.
Litchfield: Tax reform. Republicans have introduced measures to provide tax cuts for Virginia residents and business. I agree that most Virginians are paying too much in taxes and would support working across the aisle to deliver meaningful tax reform. However, in doing so, I think it is important that any tax reform needs to address how we plan to pay for social programs such as strong public schools, funding transportation improvements, and keeping our government running. I would be much more comfortable I with adopting a progressive taxation system which has higher-income families paying a greater share of their income in taxes than lower-income families. Virginia currently has a de facto “flat tax” which places more of the economic burden on lower-income families.
Campaign finance reform. Virginia has some of the most permissive campaign finance laws in the United States permitting candidates to raise unlimited amounts of money from individual sources such as corporate and single-issue political action committees (“PACs”). Although those groups have every right to support the candidate that most aligns with their values, the lack of meaningful contribution limits mean that those groups have a larger impact on our elections than ordinary, working families who lack the means to donate large amounts of money to the candidates they support. Effectively, the lack of contribution limits means that PACs have more free speech rights than working families which strikes me as undemocratic.
Each year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduce legislation to limit contributions to candidates for statewide office and the General Assembly. In 2022, for example, Senators Chap Petersen and Morrissey, and Delegates Tim Anderson, Rob Bloxom, and Schuyler VanValkenburg each introduced individual bills that would have addressed some aspect of this issue. Similar measures have been introduced in the 2023 legislative session.
Last week we asked what types of stories you most wanted to read. The results were clear: Highlights of government meetings won 57% of the votes, followed by opinion (26%), Analysis (13%), and interviews (4%)
This week’s poll focuses on your favorite restaurant.
A reader noted that we called Foode Fredericksburg’s best. This person took exception and suggested we poll the readers. So that’s what we’re doing today.
Results announced next Friday.
Local Author: Howard Owen
Editor’s Note: Howard Owen is a newspaper man, and a talented novelist. His 22nd novel is now out, and we asked Howard to write about his newest book, and himself. You can purchase his newest book, Dogtown, on Amazon. To purchase his other titles, visit his author’s page.
Dogtown, the latest Willie Black mystery is out. This is my 22nd novel and the 12th mystery starring Willie Black. My novels have been published by Random House and Harper Collins and, for the Willie Black series, by the Permanent Press.
I’ve been writing fiction since the tender age of 40, a side hustle to my job as a newspaper editor. The first nine books were literary novels, but then somebody asked me to write a detective noir short story, and Willie Black was born. I started writing this series of mysteries about the time I turned 60, and Willie has become almost like family. He’s a night cops reporter in Richmond because I know night cops reporters better than I do police officers and detectives. And, I know Richmond. Write what you know.
Here's what the Associated Press reviewer said about Dogtown:
“As always in an Owen novel, the writing is tight, the dark story is leavened with humor, and Willie’s oddball collection of friends and ex-wives are as engaging as ever.”
Here's a brief synopsis of Dogtown:
When a blue-collar guy “without an enemy in the world” shows up brutally murdered down by the railroad tracks in Dogtown, everyone in Richmond is mystified. Then an elderly couple, also seemingly blameless, are slaughtered in their upscale home a couple of days later, and Willie Black starts to suspect something other than coincidence.
After Richmond’s nosiest night cops reporter starts digging, a young girl barely escapes abduction and then a respected doctor is murdered. The city slips into panic mode. Gun sales are rampant.
When the cops arrest an obvious suspect, everyone’s relieved, but Willie becomes convinced that there’s still a maniac on the loose. He does what he does best. He keeps digging.
What’s the link connecting a week’s worth of mayhem? When Willie unearths the truth, the state’s parole board and the city’s mayor will have some explaining to do.
Willie Black drinks too much, smokes too much and marries too much. He’s a man with bad habits but a good heart. He never quits, but this time his tenacity could cost him more than he could bear.
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