Chal­lenger in 68th House District pres­sures Loupassi on ed­u­ca­tion, Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - METRO RTD - BY GRAHAMMOOMAW

Both can­di­dates run­ning for a Rich­mond-area seat in the House of Del­e­gates agreed Wed­nes­day that the strug­gling city school sys­tem rep­re­sents an un­ac­cept­able gov­ern­men­tal fail­ure, but dif­fered on the best way to ef­fect change at the state level.

At a can­di­date fo­rum hosted by the Rich­mond First Club, Del. G. Manoli Loupassi, a Rich­mond Repub­li­can who has rep­re­sented the 68th House District for nearly a decade, went head-to-head with Demo­cratic chal­lenger Dawn M. Adams, a nurse prac­ti­tioner and state health of­fi­cial try­ing to flip the sub­ur­ban seat to Demo­cratic con­trol.

Speak­ing at the civic group’s monthly lun­cheon at Wil­low Oaks Coun­try Club, both can­di­dates quickly ze­roed in on ed­u­ca­tion as a top is­sue, with Loupassi high­light­ing his sup­port for a lo­cal bal­lot ref­er­en­dum on school in­fra­struc­ture and Adams ar­gu­ing

the GOP-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture has failed to ad­e­quately sup­port pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.

Loupassi, a crim­i­nal de­fense at­tor­ney who pre­vi­ously served on the Rich­mond City Coun­cil, said the bal­lot ini­tia­tive be­ing cham­pi­oned by Demo­cratic strate­gist Paul Gold­man presents an op­por­tu­nity for Mayor Le­var Stoney to rally the city’s com­pet­ing power cen­ters to­gether in pur­suit of a shared goal: mod­ern­iz­ing Rich­mond’s out­dated school build­ings.

“The power of the peo­ple be­hind him vot­ing on this is­sue will give him the strength and the power to force peo­ple to make de­ci­sions that they wouldn’t oth­er­wise make,” Loupassi said. “And it’s im­por­tant. Be­cause in this coun­try, ed­u­ca­tion is the equal­izer for ev­ery­body.”

Loupassi pre­dicted that the Novem­ber bal­lot ques­tion — which would force Stoney to cre­ate a plan to mod­ern­ize schools with­out a tax in­crease within six months — will pass eas­ily and said he’d push leg­is­la­tion to fi­nal­ize it. Un­der state law, lo­cal char­ter changes must be ap­proved by the Gen­eral As­sem­bly.

In re­sponse, Adams said she found it “ap­palling” that ed­u­ca­tion is not the top pri­or­ity, adding that “the fail­ure is much greater” than crum­bling build­ings.

“With all re­spect, my op­po­nent, our cur­rent del­e­gate, has had 10 years in the Gen­eral As­sem­bly to make ef­fec­tive leg­is­la­tion to im­prove our schools,” Adams said. “And that is not what has hap­pened. What has hap­pened has been pro­pos­als to voucher­ize our school sys­tem. A pro­posal which es­sen­tially creates two school sys­tems that we must now fund.”

The Gen­eral As­sem­bly has rou­tinely passed leg­is­la­tion cre­at­ing a sys­tem of ed­u­ca­tion sav­ings ac­counts that would al­low some par­ents to use state money to pay for pri­vate schools or home­school­ing. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has ve­toed the bills.

Loupassi noted that law­mak­ers ap­proved $1 bil­lion in ad­di­tional K-12 fund­ing in last year’s bud­get and have en­acted pay raises for teach­ers in four of the past five years. He also ticked off sev­eral other ed­u­ca­tion-re­lated bills he’s got­ten passed, in­clud­ing one to re­quire schools to give young stu­dents 20 min­utes of ex­er­cise per day and another to ex­pand the role of com­puter science in statewide cur­ricu­lum.

“I don’t want any­body leav­ing here think­ing that I don’t care about pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion,” said Loupassi, who also sought to high­light his record of work­ing to end driver’s li­cense sus­pen­sions for un­paid court fines and his ef­forts to equal­ize rep­re­sen­ta­tion on the Rich­mond Metropoli­tan Trans­porta­tion Author­ity to pro­mote re­gional col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Loupassi is one of sev­eral moder­ate GOP law­mak­ers fac­ing in­creased elec­toral pres­sure this year as Democrats try to use the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to flip seats at the state­house.

The 68th District, one of 17 GOP-held House dis­tricts car­ried by Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton in last year’s pres­i­den­tial race, cov­ers por­tions of Henrico and Ch­ester­field coun­ties and most of Rich­mond’s West End.

At Wed­nes­day’s fo­rum, the two can­di­dates took ques­tions from mod­er­a­tor Greg McQuade of lo­cal TV sta­tion WTVR, as well as a hand­ful of ques­tions from the au­di­ence.

Adams declared her sup­port for Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion early, call­ing it a “moral is­sue” and ar­gu­ing that Vir­ginia has missed out on fed­eral dol­lars that could be used to help needy peo­ple get health care. Fac­ing sev­eral ques­tions from the au­di­ence on Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion, Loupassi said the state would have to cut ser­vices else­where or raise taxes to af­ford it.

“Had it been such a great idea when they passed this at the fed­eral level, they could’ve just passed it and raised your taxes right then and there,” Loupassi said. “But they didn’t do that. They play a shell game and then they make me look like the bad guy ‘cause I won’t agree. I don’t agree to raise your taxes.”

The state’s next gov­er­nor will pre­side over the re­draw­ing of the state’s leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sional district boundaries af­ter the 2020 cen­sus. Both can­di­dates said they sup­port non­par­ti­san re­dis­trict­ing, a process long sought by anti-ger­ry­man­der­ing ad­vo­cates but blocked by Repub­li­can lead­ers.

Loupassi also was ques­tioned about his ab­sten­tion from a vote this year on a res­o­lu­tion rec­og­niz­ing the an­niver­sary of Roe v. Wade as a “Day of Tears” to mourn le­gal­ized abor­tion. Loupassi said he didn’t re­mem­ber the ex­act cir­cum­stances of why he missed the vote, but said he would have voted against the res­o­lu­tion.

Law­mak­ers are known to leave their seats at op­por­tune mo­ments to avoid tough votes, a prac­tice com­monly re­ferred to as “tak­ing a walk.”

“I know from just study­ing the Gen­eral As­sem­bly that peo­ple rally around the votes they want to make,” Adams said. “There’s back­room tex­ting. ‘Get out here and sup­port this bill.’ So I think when votes are im­por­tant, they’re cast.”

Loupassi

Adams

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