With many eyes on the primary contest for President, there is a major battle between Democrats and Republicans in our backyard: the contest for the Virginia state legislature. One major battleground is the 40th House district, where Democrat Dan Helmer is challenging 18-year incumbent and Republican caucus chairman Tim Hugo.
The 40th district includes Clifton, Fairfax Station, and Centreville in Fairfax County and areas north of I-66 including Catharpin in Prince William County. Following the Democratic wave of 2017, Hugo is the only Republican left in the state legislature from Fairfax County; Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump 51-43% in the 40th in 2016. In 2017, Democrat Donte Tanner fell about 100 votes short of beating Hugo.
Hugo led an effort in 2011 to try to punish Arlington County for opposing new carpool/toll lanes (HOT lanes) on I-395. He blocked a bill renewing Arlington’s hotel tax add-on and also introduced other bills to strip counties who oppose HOT lanes of other funding or take away money from Arlington in other ways.
Helmer, an Army veteran, was a candidate in the 2018 Democratic primary to challenge GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock. The winner, state senator Jennifer Wexton, went on to beat Comstock that fall.
We sent both Helmer and Hugo our 2019 questionnaire. Helmer responded, while Hugo did not. Below are Helmer’s responses.
The general election is November 5. The deadline to register to vote is October 15; Virginians can get more information about voter registration and absentee balloting here. Our Elections Committee will be deciding whether to make endorsements in this and other contested races this fall.
How do you see the transportation network changing to deal with growth in the region and increased numbers of trips? Specifically, what role do you see for transit, bicycling, and walking in the transportation network?
Dan Helmer: Traffic in Virginia is among the worst in the nation due to a failure to invest in our roads, mass transit system, and pedestrian infrastructure. In order to deal with growth in the region and increased number of trips, we must invest in improved roads, mass transit, and bike and foot paths. I see the transportation network expanding and developing to become more reliable and efficient for all commuters. While working to improve the roads is incredibly important for commuters, placing an emphasis on these forms of mass transit will work to reduce traffic congestion and pollution.
Do you support adding transportation revenue to replace the loss to Northern Virginia from the 2017 Metro funding increase deal? If so, what new sources of revenue would you support and what types of projects would you like to see prioritized for the funding?
Dan Helmer: Much of the funding for the Metro deal is sourced from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. This has pulled funds away from the regional projects slated to aid in transit, improved roads, and bike and foot paths. Many of the proposed projects to alleviate congestion and improve mobility will have to be delayed or never addressed due to a lack of funding. Adding transportation revenue to replace this loss would help provide regional funds to prioritize projects that would decrease the costs of commuting and work to minimize traffic. A possible source of transportation revenue to replace the lost funding could be a slight increase in revenue from hotel stays. This would increase revenue to be used for regional transportation projects while defraying costs and preventing increased taxes on residents. It is important to prioritize regional projects with this funding for common-sense infrastructure investments. Two-thirds of the secondary roads in Northern Virginia are in poor condition and many intersections must be redesigned for safety. Preventing excess and off-peak tolls on 66 and fixing Route 28 are also incredibly important projects. These must be prioritized to improve the commute and reduce the traffic faced by commuters.
Given the growth in jobs and population in the region, what legislation would you champion to support the provision of more affordable housing in your district? How would you address housing supply across the cost spectrum?
Dan Helmer: One problem with housing in the Commonwealth is that affordable housing is often a long commute from well-paying jobs. A possible way to alleviate this would be to increase high-density zoning near mass transit stops. Legislation that supports this would allow hard-working residents to live in affordable housing while also being able to commute to well-paying jobs. Another main issue is the incredibly high eviction rates in Virginia. Legislation to extend the time tenants have to pay their rent have been previously introduced but expanding these provisions would allow for more residents to be able to afford housing. Housing supply across the cost spectrum could be addressed by re-evaluating zoning policies to ensure that affordable housing is available across various zones.