Many primary races are more about style than substantive differences between the candidates. In the Virginia House’s 50th District, Tuesday’s primary between incumbent Del. Lee Carter and Mark Wolfe has two candidates who split on the benefits of recent economic development announcements.
Carter was elected in 2017 to represent the district, which includes parts of western Prince William County and the city of Manassas. He was part of a “blue wave” of Democratic delegates ousting longtime Republican delegates in the region.
Wolfe is a longtime member of the Manassas City Council — a former Republican who left the GOP in 2015.
“I tell people I’m socially progressive and fiscally a little more conservative, certainly compared to Mr. Carter,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe would support economic development deals such as the one that created a semiconductor manufacturer grant fund to offer incentives to Micron Technology to create new jobs in Manassas. That bill passed the House 91-5 and the state Senate 38-2.
The company announced last year it would spend $3 billion to expand its Manassas plant and hire 1,100 new employees at an average annual wage of at least $92,000. For its investment in Virginia, Micron is set to receive $50 million in fiscal year 2020 and $20 million in fiscal year 2021, if the company meets its promises.
Wolfe called the deal fabulous and said it secured the plant’s future.
“If we didn’t do it, we would’ve lost high-paying jobs, the single biggest taxpayer in the city and taxpayers would have had to cover that loss of revenue,” Wolfe said.
Carter was one of the five delegates to vote against the bill for Micron.
He said the economic development packages offered to Micron and Amazon for its HQ2 in Arlington “exposed the corruption” in those deals. Large, wealthy corporations don’t need incentives, he said. Carter sees the area’s crisis as one of decreasing affordability, not dwindling jobs.
“The first step is not continuing to make the problem worse, which is what our current economic development model does by just cramming more and more people into an already frankly overcrowded space,” Carter said.
Carter’s idea is to create a new economic development model with deals focused on offering incentives to employee-owned businesses and housing cooperatives.
Wolfe said economic development deals must make economic sense, fit into the community and be judged individually.
“If there’s a bad deal, I’ll be the first to say it’s a bad deal,” Wolfe said. “The Micron deal I think is a fabulous deal; it not only protects the jobs that are here, it also locks into the future of that facility for the next 20 or 30 years, and contributes to the growing tax base.”
Wolfe said he would push for gun reform. Gov. Ralph Northam called June 4 for a special session of the legislature to take up a handful of measures after a shooter killed 12 people in Virginia Beach on May 31.
“We have an epidemic,” Wolfe said. “We need to take some action. We have this problem, but do nothing to try to mitigate it.”
Wolfe said he also would push for legislation to address climate change, reform campaign finance laws and increase transportation funding, including for the mass transit such as Virginia Railway Express.
Wolfe said his experience on the Manassas council for 11 years has fortified his understanding of balancing a budget and making tough decisions.
“We compete for jobs and residents, because those employers are first drawn to the talent pool, which is why public schools and quality of life are so important,” Wolfe said. “We have to continue that effort. The job of government is never done, trying to make things better.”
Carter said he and Wolfe differ in different directions.
“Do you want someone to capitulate to Republicans and participate in the Republican vision of our economic future or do you want someone who’s going to play hardball and make hard demands and force people in Richmond to work on behalf of working people and make their lives better?” Carter said.
Carter has had a tough time getting his legislation passed in Richmond. All 15 of his bills introduced in 2019 and all 12 bills introduced in 2018 never made it to a floor vote in the Republican-controlled house.
He said his legislative record shows his willingness to fight for issues he believes in. He proposed legislation to repeal the state’s right-to-work law, which prohibits employees from being required to join unions. Carter also introduced bills to allow public-sector employees the right to strike and to legalize the possession of marijuana for those over 21 years of age.
As a socialist, Carter said he’s in favor of an economy that puts working people in control of their lives.
“If anything it’s gotten more popular since 2017,” Carter said. “I’m having a lot fewer conversations about what the word [socialist] means and more conversations about what it would look like on a day-to-day basis to have that sort of economy.”
In campaign filings for the first five months of the year, Carter reported raising $94,000, with $35,600 cash on hand going into the final days of the primary race. Wolfe reported raising $42,400, with $7,750 cash on hand.
The winner in the primary will face Republican Ian Lovejoy, also a Manassas City Council member, in November.