Challenger in 68th House District pressures Loupassi on education, Medicaid expansion
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Levar Stoney to rally the city’s competing power centers together in pursuit of a shared goal: modernizing Richmond’s outdated school buildings.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.”