Don Beyer campaign photo

Bob Brink, left, is shown in a 2014 photo with Lynda Johnson Robb and Don Beyer. (Beyer campaign photo)

Regrets? They’ve had a few. But in some cases, too few to mention.

Candidates for the Democratic nomination for 8th District U.S. House of Representatives were asked not once but twice during a May 30 debate whether there were political positions they had taken that they now believe were wrong.

It was a change of pace from traditional questioning, and opened up a window into the psyche of those who seek to succeed U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8th).

Some took the bait, others did not.

“You learn as you go,” acknowledged Patrick Hope, who said he has come to regret earlier support in the General Assembly for mandatory-minimum sentencing and for state tax credits.

“I’ve taken thousands of votes in the General Assembly,” Hope said. When you change your mind on an issue, he said, “you try to keep going.”

Adam Ebbin also voiced regret for his support in the legislature for mandatory minimums, while Don Beyer said his opposition in the 1990s to same-sex marriage has evolved.

“I was wrong,” Beyer said. “I think I’m smarter now. I value consistency [in thinking], but I more value growth.”

A crowd of 250 turned up in Ballston that Friday night, their last chance among umpteen times that the candidates for Moran’s seat gathered to square off. Democratic voters will have their say in a June 10 primary; if past history is a guide, the general election will be a mere formality in the heavily Democratic 8th District, which includes all of Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church and portions of Fairfax County.

In the debate, sponsored by the Arlington County Democratic Committee, each of the seven was allowed to ask the other contenders one question.

Two candidates – William Euille and Mark Levine – said they hadn’t taken any policy positions they later reconsidered. Each professed consistency on all policy issues through the years.

Euille, the mayor of Alexandria, did acknowledge considering a run for General Assembly years ago as a Republican, but said he opted not to do it and came to regret even thinking about it.

Lavern Chatman said her husband’s fatal illness led her to change her mind and support the use marijuana for medical use, while Derek Hyra said he is sorry he voted as a member of the Alexandria Planning Commission to support a massive redevelopment project that moved out low-income residents.

Hope, who in recent weeks has lobbed attacks at Beyer, suggested Beyer should disavow his support in the 1990s for reform of federal welfare programs, a cornerstone of the Clinton administration.

“It hasn’t done what we thought it would,” Hope said.

Beyer didn’t flinch. “I’m proud of the fact we tried to make welfare better,” he countered.

Beyer also took incoming flak from Levine, an attorney and radio talk-show host, who criticized the former lieutenant governor’s support for changes in estate taxes. Both Beyer and Ebbin said they believed estate-tax rates should be reasonable, not excessive.

For Hope, the debate meant a return to the campaign trail after breaking and cracking ribs while campaigning door-to-door a week before.

Moran announced in January he would retire after 24 years in office. The resulting scramble ultimately led to about a dozen prospective candidates jumping into the Democratic primary, before several dropped out.

The winner of the primary will face Republican Micah Edmond and several third-party candidates, but the outcome is likely not in doubt. Moran in recent races has run up 60 percent or more of the vote.

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