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Del. Scott Faces 1st Debate & GOP Challenge Since ’01

scottdebatepic932For the first time since 2001, incumbent Democratic State Del. Jim Scott sparred with a Republican opponent. Running unopposed for every election since 2001, this fall Scott is challenged by the GOP’s Christopher Merola, and faced off with him in a debate at McLean’s Alden Theatre Tuesday night.

For the first time since 2001, incumbent Democratic State Del. Jim Scott sparred with a Republican opponent. Running unopposed for every election since 2001, this fall Scott is challenged by the GOP’s Christopher Merola, and faced off with him in a debate at McLean’s Alden Theatre Tuesday night.

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GOP candidate Chris Merola (left) and State Del. Jim Scott debate in McLean Tuesday night.

The debate, sponsored by the McLean Citizens Association, also pitted Republican challenger Barbara Comstock against Democratic incumbent Margi Vanderhye of the 34th District.

Del. Scott, who represents the 53rd District, last faced a GOP candidate when Falls Church City councilman Dave Snyder, challenged him in 2001. Scott won with 56.6 percent of the vote.

Now, conservative challenger Merola is vying for the seat Scott has held for 18 years.

During Tuesday night’s debate, Scott criticized Merola’s “Transportation Trifecta” plan to create more revenue for the state, calling the plan’s methods “a bunch of bake sales.”

Merola motioned to Scott and said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Scott, and I’m not going to make a personal attack here, but the budget crisis has occurred for years under Mr. Scott’s reign.”

Scott has held political office for a combined 30 years, serving on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors before winning the delegate seat in 1991.

For the seasoned politician, however, “no challenge is insignificant,” Scott told the News-Press last week.

“I won the 1991 election by one vote. After a recount, it was then that I earned the nickname ‘Landslide Jim.’ So, I’ve learned to never take anything for granted,” he said.

Scott said he is campaigning to solve Virginia’s transportation and education problems, and to fight GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell’s conservative platform for the state.

“McDonnell wants to undermine key services, like public education, safety and health care by taking money from the general fund,” he said.

Scott said he proposed before and did so again this fall for an inflation-adjusted gasoline tax. “The price of gas would not have gone up immediately,” he said. “If we had switched from taxing pennies on gas by the gallon to a percentage, we would not have lost so much revenue to inflation.

During Tuesday’s debate, Scott stated that Gov. Kaine, a fellow Democrat, had “exhausted all the spending cuts we could make.”

“The truth is we’re going to need to find more revenue, and that means we’re going to need to raise taxes to keep Virginia’s colleges first rate.”

Scott also said, in Northern Virginia, “the housing situation merits serious attention.” He has advocated affordable housing since his time on the Fairfax Board of Supervisors beginning in 1971.

Scott said the Democrats will need a majority in both houses of the General Assembly before key reforms can make it past any Republican opposition. “This is the year we can overcome partisanship that has stymied reform,” he said.

Merola said Scott’s plan for finding revenue through tax hikes would “ask more from small businesses, families, individuals who are already paying so much.”

He added that Scott supported “nefarious amendments that have hurt small businesses” and alluded to “forced unionism.”

Merola, who, despite this being his first attempt at office, is no stranger to political campaigns.

The Pennsylvania native and six-year resident of Northern Virginia decided to run for Scott’s seat when he moved to the 53rd district in March of this year, he said.

“I did research to find out who my local officials were, and I saw that there was no Republican challenger for Jim Scott,” he said.

Before moving to Virginia, Merola served nine years in the Pennsylvania National Guard while attending college. Now, in his “day job,” he works as a political director for Political Media, Inc. in Washington, D.C.

Merola said Scott’s record reflects “a knee jerk reaction to spend sky high and raise taxes.”

“Scott has been in office for over 30 years,” he added. “Politicians become sedentary and want to keep the status quo. It seems cyclical, and there should be some challenge.”

“My policies won’t harm consumers and businesses, making life much more difficult during these times,” Merola said. “A lot of the spending in Richmond isn’t necessary.”

Merola described himself as a “constitutional federalist” and a Reagan-style social conservative, and said on Tuesday that “he would never raise taxes as a delegate.”

Merola said he agrees with Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell’s push to privatize Virginia’s Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) agency, which is the only legal vendor of hard liquor in the commonwealth.

Merola said the privatization of the ABC would amount to a boost to the state’s general fund.

According to Merola, the state would benefit from retail tax revenue and the sale of licenses to private vendors. “We need Virginia to get out of the Prohibition Era,” he said.

Scott rebutted Merola’s claim that the ABC sale could raise up to $500 million. “The Washington Post hit the nail on the head and said that the privatization of the ABC wouldn’t amount to anything, and you know that,” Scott said.

Merola also said forming public and private cooperatives to tackle the transportation problem in Northern Virginia is necessary, as is off shore drilling and other energy initiatives.

He said that environmentalism was a priority “as long as it is consumer-driven.”

On the issue of gay rights, Merola told the News-Press he believed “it is an issue of Tenth Amendment and up to the states and people to decide. Decisions come from the ballot box, and not from judgments passed down from the courts.”

Unlike past civil rights issues, including judicial solutions to school desegregation and anti-miscegenation laws, Merola said gay marriage goes against “6,000 years of human history, where the right of marriage belongs to religious institutions.”

Scott, who has been a lifelong advocate for civil rights causes since his days in the student legislature at Chapel Hill, said he views “sexual orientation as the next battle toward equality in this nation.”

He added that sexual discrimination laws were “long overdue” and hindered by Republicans in Richmond.

“The governor’s executive order on non-discrimination was ruled as unconstitutional by McDonnell in his role as attorney general,” Scott said.

He added that McDonnell has opposed gay rights legislation both as an attorney general and as a delegate.

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