FREDERICKSBURG — In what is expected to be a close race, Virginia’s lieutenant governor’s campaign pits a veteran state senator against a former federal prosecutor.
The differences between the candidates in the Nov. 7 general election, Democrat Justin Fairfax and Republican Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, run along traditional party lines. In this race, the key talking points have focused on health care, education, the economy and transportation, the last of which is a hot-button issue for Fredericksburg-area voters.
Stephen Farnsworth, a University of Mary Washington professor who specializes in political science and international affairs, said both candidates have run “professionally executed” campaigns that have been “relatively scandal-free.” That is a contrast to Vogel’s nasty primary campaign in which one opponent, state Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania County, accused her of spreading unfounded rumors about him. Vogel denied the accusation.
Farnsworth described both as “conventional candidates” for their parties. Both have connections to the Fredericksburg area: Vogel’s district includes parts of Stafford, Culpeper and Fauquier counties; Fairfax said he has relatives on his father’s side of the family in King George County and Colonial Beach.
Vogel, who has represented the 27th District since 2008, pitches herself as being able to navigate partisan politics while also embracing traditional conservative values such as gun rights. But she has broken with her party on other key issues such as redistricting and bills banning discrimination against gay and transgender people.
Vogel says partisan politics is a problem with many important issues, including health care. “I will work with anyone who will work with me,” she told The Free Lance-Star’s editorial board.
As a working mom, the 47-year-old Fauquier resident espouses her support of women and children, but also has endured heavy criticism for a 2012 bill that would have required vaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. She has aligned herself with President Donald Trump and has hired two of his former campaign advisers.
Vogel is a Shenandoah Valley native and the daughter of a longtime Republican donor, Holtzman Oil founder William B. Holtzman. She has worked for the Republican National Committee, was a lawyer for President George W. Bush’s Energy Department and started a law firm in Warrenton.
Fairfax charged onto the political scene in 2013, when he lost a surprisingly close attorney general primary to Mark Herring, who went on to win that election.
The 38-year-old Annandale resident grew up in Washington, D.C., and worked as a Senate Judiciary Committee staffer and clerked for a U.S Eastern District of Virginia Court judge. He served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and was the deputy coordinator of the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force.
He is an attorney with a private practice and runs a dental practice with his wife, Cerina.
Virginia’s lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate and is first in line to succeed the governor if the governor dies or can no longer serve. The lieutenant governor votes on legislation only to break ties in the Senate, which is a stronger possibility with Republicans currently holding a slim 21-19 majority.
If she wins, Vogel would be the first woman elected to the position in Virginia; Fairfax would be only the second African-American to hold the post in the commonwealth.
Fairfax has said Virginia’s economy is heading in the right direction and that he would focus on promoting small businesses and improving educational and apprenticeship opportunities for “middle-skill” jobs such as welders, mechanics and truck drivers. He also wants to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Vogel is against raising the minimum wage. She said the way for people to earn more would be to create better opportunities for two-year technical training and education. Such educational opportunities, she said, would help business owners find employees for such jobs as mechanics and nursing.
Vogel also said there needs to be more educational competition and innovation with less teaching to Standards of Learning tests, and that teachers deserve better pay.
Transportation is a key difference between the candidates.
Fairfax said he believes that transportation is crucial to the state’s economy and criticized Vogel for voting against a 2013 bill that directed millions toward statewide transportation projects.
“You can’t vote no on that [transportation] bill and then say we need to invest in infrastructure,” Fairfax said in a recent interview with the FLS editorial board. “People are tired of that.”
He said he would “entertain” a bill creating a regional transportation authority if localities want it. Such authorities have helped the Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia regions use special taxes to raise millions for transportation projects in those areas.
Vogel said such authorities are passing the buck and that there is money in the state budget to pay for transportation projects. The money has to be used better, she said.
The candidates also differ on health care, with Vogel calling this potentially the biggest issue in the state.
She said the Affordable Care Act has negatively impacted patients and doctors alike and she defended Virginia’s decision not to expand Medicaid under the law, saying the cost eventually would explode the state budget. A government-run health care system, she said, would be a “disaster” and she criticized Fairfax’s support of single-payer insurance, saying it would be too expensive.
Vogel said she doesn’t have the answer for the health care issue, but said competition is needed and that states need to work with the insurance industry, which she believes has too much power.
Fairfax said he believes Virginia should have expanded Medicaid to provide needed health care for some 400,000 state residents who lack insurance. Other states that did so still have 90 percent of the costs covered by the federal government, he said.
Criminal justice, gun laws
Both agreed that the state needs to reform its criminal justice system, specifically on how it deals with non-violent offenders and those with mental illness or addictions.
Vogel also said marijuana laws should be changed to allow CBD oils for medicinal treatment. She said industrial hemp should be legalized, explaining that it is a big business opportunity.
The candidates differ on gun laws.
Vogel is an advocate for gun rights and opposes restrictions. One of her campaign mantras has been that she won’t take away anyone’s rights.
Fairfax supports universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.
Controversy over clients
Both candidates have been criticized for clients they have represented as attorneys.
Fairfax’s clients have included a student loan company that settled in a case in which it was accused of improperly claiming taxpayer subsidies; a food vendor that also settled a case in which it was accused of overcharging D.C. taxpayers; and a fraud case involving defendants, including a Florida congresswoman, accused of misusing scholarship funds raised for underprivileged students.
Vogel describes herself as an ethics lawyer representing nonprofits and charities, but she has been criticized for her firm’s connection to the conservative billionaire Koch brothers and for ties to super PACS and “dark money” groups that raise untraceable funds for political candidates.
Her firm also was accused of helping to hide campaign contributions from large donors in a 2012 election controversy in California, according to a Washington Post story. No one involved was charged with a crime, but those involved were fined $1 million. Vogel’s campaign spokesman told The Post that Vogel played no role in the case.