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Sun Gazette: Legislators on Perpetual Search for Allies in Richmond Print


Created:  March 15, 2013


Arlington may still be – perhaps always will be – in the political doghouse in Richmond. But members of the county's all-Democratic legislative delegation say they are working with those from the other party and across the commonwealth to find areas of mutual support.

"At the end of the day, lawmakers make their decisions based on the relationships they have with other lawmakers," state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st) said during a post-session wrap-up sponsored by Leadership Arlington.

The event, which drew six of the county's seven General Assembly members, focused in part on how legislators use leadership skills to advance their agendas despite being in the minority in Richmond.

Favola, who just completed her second year as a senator after more than a decade on the County Board, said legislators can't expect to walk in off the street and begin seeing success.

"Being willing to accept half a loaf . . . is a really important principle," she said.

A thawing in the relationship between the Republican leadership in Richmond and the Arlington County government did come about during the 2013 session, as GOP leaders allowed a measure to move forward that restored Arlington's ability to levy a surtax on hotel stays in order to fund tourism.

That taxing authority had been stripped away several years ago, after the County Board sued state and federal officials over the HOT-lanes proposal for Interstates 95 and 395. Senior Republicans and Democrats in the legislature were outraged by what they perceived as the impudence of a local government, and stripped away both the taxing authority and some of Arlington's road funding in retribution.

Del. Bob Brink (D-48th), who along with state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd) shepherded the restoration of the taxing authority through the General Assembly, acknowledged that Northern Virginia in general, and Arlington particularly, are regarded with skepticism among some of his colleagues.

"There are some misperceptions, shall we say," Brink said.

Even as a newcomer to the legislature, Del. Rob Krupicka (D-45th) could see that there is room for improvement in the relationship.

"Fences were still broken," Krupicka said, speaking both about how Arlington is regarded in the General Assembly as well as Northern Virginia in general. "There's still some bad feelings."

Both sides in the situation have to deal with two political facts of life: Arlington is all but guaranteed to send Democrats to Richmond for the foreseeable future, and the legislature – at least the House of Delegates – is likely to remain in Republican hands for years to come.

As a result, the goal of the Arlington delegation is to find allies where it can.

"The most important thing we can do is find common ground," said Brink, who pointed to education funding as one area where different points of view can converge on an issue.

"Focus on what you can agree on, and leave the rest for another year," said Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th). "Put aside the politics for a while."

Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th) said he tries to remember that today's legislators are the descendants of Jefferson, Madison and other Founding Fathers from Virginia, and that he works across party aisles when he can.

As for Favola, if today she has to settle for half a loaf on certain issues, "I know that, one day, I'll get the full loaf," she said.

"In most cases, there's more commonality [among legislators] than not," Favola said.