Virginia Election Round-up: Don’t Overlook Stafford County

As of 8:15 a.m. today, it looks like Jim Webb will be the next U.S. Senator from Virginia, assuming that he holds his razor-thin lead after a recount. When Virginia elects Democrats to the Senate, it elects conservative Democrats — at least they’re conservative by the standards of the national Democratic Party. Somehow, I’m not expecting Webb to rack up a really high score from the Americans for Democratic Action.

While electing a populist Democrat who likes guns and excoriated liberal elites before he started taking money from them, Virginia voters also passed a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage with 57 percent of the vote.

Although voters approved $51 million in road improvements in Loudoun County and another $370 million for roads in Prince William, voters in Stafford County rejected a proposed $238 million bond issue that would have funded local roads and park/recreation facilities. Northern Virginia voters approved a slew of other bond issues, mostly for schools. (See the round-ups in the Washington Post and the Free Lance-Star.)

If there’s a seismic shift in underlying political sentiments here, I don’t see it. George Allen fell victim to an increasingly unpopular war and a string of verbal gaffes. At the same time, cultural conservatives won the big culture-war issue of the day, same sex marriage, by a wide margin. And voters in fast-growing Stafford County voted against bankrolling a major road-building program. Stafford residents may dislike traffic congestion, but it appears that they dislike the prospect of spending public money to fix it even more.

From my obsessed perspective as a transportation policy wonk, I find the Stafford vote the most interesting. If Gov. Timothy M. Kaine thinks that voters will rise up in 2007 and throw out legislators who thwarted his plan to raise taxes, he needs to re-think his logic. They certainly aren’t going to evict House Speaker William J. Howell, who happens to represent Stafford County!

In Loudoun and Prince William, voters did approve a number of transportation projects — but they were specific projects that voters could appraise the need for. Voters were not approving a $1 billion a year in taxes for state lobbyists and politicians to divvy up.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


16 responses to “Virginia Election Round-up: Don’t Overlook Stafford County”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    There’s a “back story” to the defeat of the transportation bond referendum in Stafford.

    In Spotsy, Voters were convinced that the BOS was serious about managing growth and their
    referenda was promoted as “catch up” – AND the list of roads to be improved were all well
    known as heavily traveled roads.

    In Stafford… voters are not convinced that the BOS is serious about managing growth and many
    suspect the improved roads would only be used as improved venues for new development.

    Some of this was confirmed when Stafford was caught using CMAQ funds to improve a road that
    went to swaths of undeveloped land. CMQA funds .. are for congestion mitigation – and they
    were being used to improve a rural road.

    Further, all but one of the previous BOS came out against the bonds.

    In Spotsy’s case.. they went to extremes to meet with citizens and answer questions .. they even gathered input
    from citizens about which roads to improve.

    In Stafford.. it came across as “here’s the list” … “take it or leave” .. and voters did .. leave it.

    I think this goes to point out that whether it’s VDOT or a county like Stafford …that voters are paying
    more attention than many think they are….

  2. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Stafford v. Spotsylvania. It sounds quite comparable to Arlington v. Fairfax. Arlington has a long history of listening to, and working with, citizens. All we hear in Fairfax is a lame excuse — the Dillon Rule prohibits the supervisors from doing anything with land use expect approve whatever is requested. Even though some of the leading Virginia land use cases come from Fairfax County.

  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Jim: You are right about no seismic shift. Some long term trend lines in world view and political perspective continue along, interestingly enough, geographical fault lines. South more Conservative. North and Coasts more Liberal. West more Libertarian.

  4. Not sure if you can use the Stafford bonds as much of a test against anything. They were bad packages and not sold well by the county to the voters.

    The parks bond had an aquatics/recreation center in the plan, but no clue where they were going to put it. What the hell kind of plan is that?

    The road package wasn’t much better – it targeted a number of, while dangerous, under used roads for improvements.

    The sell job the county put forth was one mailer an ad or two in the Free-Lance Star and a few signs. Those efforts didn’t give the voters much of a reason to vote for debt. Next time maybe one of the Supvs. who supported could actually visit voters and let us know why we need them.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    we pretty much agree.

    The electorate is suspicious about how the money would be spent.

    The County did not do enough to allay those concerns.

    With that much doubt … many could not tap the “yes” square on the screen.

  6. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Sounds like the 2002 sales tax referendum all over again! There’s little trust of elected officials on any issue that smells of a land use development connection.

  7. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Come on< Jim, even you have argued that the $1 billion a year is grossly inflated, based on past history. We are not going to add women to the work force, again, etc. The fact remains, that those most affected by congestion agreed to raise the money to provide at least some relief, and, that is in addition to what they will still ahve to contribute to the pooll to divvy up. I don’st see this as voters unwilling to pay for what they get. Stafford County is still deluding themselves that they will be able to escape the effects of growth by simply not supporting it on one hand and outlawing it on the other. It won’t work.

  8. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “There’s little trust of elected officials on any issue that smells of a land use development connection.”

    Why is it that development is a bad word when it comes to roads and a good word when it comes to Metro?

  9. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Ray – You haven’t been reading my comments re the Silver Line on A Dog with Five Legs.

  10. Ray Hyde Avatar

    The silver line IS a dog with five legs.

    It cannot possibly work, as planned. I t will result in more congestion and crowding on the orange line, more congestion in the tunnel, and more expenditures to take people to places where the jobs are leaving.

    Pull the plug. Or else make it rail to Dulles and not Rail to Tyson’s.

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    rightly or wrongly most folks think that VRE and Metro are “worth” it – at least in terms of them being “get to/from work” methods.

    On the road bonds question – take a look at the 300 million Prince William Road Bonds:

    Approve Votes %
    Yes 69,779 82
    No 15,435 18

    and remember – these are the SAME folks who shot down the 2002 VDOT Road referenda – AND these folks are literally within a few miles of Stafford Citizens. It would be hard to believe that citizens in the two adjacent counties
    are THAT different in their attitudes – and they are not.

    If you look at the precinct totals for Stafford – the Northern Precincts voted in FAVOR of the road bonds but the southern ones – went against it. Even then… it was a 51/49 split.

    Ray is right… about people’s attitudes. The growth is going to happen. Folks know this.. but their vote is one of displeasure with how the county is dealing with the IMPACTs of growth – the same issue that TMT alludes to.

  12. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Ray, I think Larry put it better than I did in my original post. People are more willing to trust their local elected officials to spend money on local projects than they are willing to pay taxes to Richmond where god-knows-what happens to it after the lobbyists and politicians get through with divvying it up. As a Richmonder, I still marvel that the rest of the state isn’t up in arms over the bail-out of the Rt. 288 fiasco, or the Pocahontas toll road fiasco.

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry’s explanation on the North Stafford bond vote may not be totally on spot because not all of the northern precincts voted for the bonds. Rural northern precincts did not vote for the transportation bonds.

    The division between those who voted for/against seemed to more on a rural/urban divide, rather than just north south. It may be that a perception existed that tax increases wouldn’t be worth the proposed transportation investment.

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m skeptical on one aspect.

    If you look at the projects… there is a passel of rural roads.

    In Spotsylvania.. when they did road bonds.. there was quite a dust-up on whether rural roads would get “their share”.

    The bonds… were approved roughly 60/40 even in the rural districts.

    Why did this not happen in Stafford when there were so many rural road improvements in their bond also?

    If you can explain that… then I might buy it…

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    The bond referendum in Stafford County was
    defeated because of opposition in Southern
    Stafford County to the big ticket recreation
    projects and the county to taking on debt to
    pay for roads that is the responsibility of the

    The vote has nothing to do with the governor’s
    efforts to solve our transportation problems,
    nor Bill Howell’s standing relative to the 2007

    You are off the mark about this matter by a mile
    or so ….

  16. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Anonymous 8:05. I concede the point. I wrote hastily without a full command of the facts. I am chastened.

Leave a Reply