The two contenders seeking the 34th District House of Delegates seat on Nov. 7 are highlighting their community contributions and contrasting each other’s policy positions.
Incumbent Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34th), who has served for three General Assembly sessions, favors more investment in schools and colleges, reducing the wage gap for women, shoring up crumbling infrastructure and “reasonable regulations” to reduce gun violence.
Murphy said her reputation in the community is solid.
“It’s going really well, a lot of positive feedback from people at the door,” Murphy said. “They love what I’m doing. They appreciate that I’m out there fighting for them . . . I’ve got a very strong voice and I use it for the people of this community.”
Cheryl Buford, who is vice president of non-profit-group evaluation company Social Capital Valuations LLC, said her governing philosophy differs sharply from Murphy’s.
“Kathleen is very liberal politically and I am right-of-center,” she said. “I got enthusiastic about politics back in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan, and I think generally that small government and less regulation is a recipe for economic growth and human flourishing.”
Buford supports widening the American Legion Bridge, improving oversight of the Metro system, reducing regulations on businesses, combating gangs and taking a multifaceted approach – not just law enforcement – to address the opioid epidemic.
“We can’t incarcerate our way out of the problem,” she said.
Buford grew up in a suburb of Kansas City, Kan., and taught school for 10 years at the beginning of her career, primarily in suburban Chicago.
The Republican candidate later worked for the Rice Center, United Way of America and World Vision, and was associate director of program analysis with the U.S. Department of Education. She also recruited volunteers for Camp Chain Bridge, a program that helps disadvantaged children in Vienna.
The first-time candidate has found running for office challenging.
“I tell people it’s kind of like having a baby,” Buford said. “You don’t really know what it’s like until you get into the fray.”
Murphy was president of a consulting company before winning office in 2015. She previously had served as an international-trade adviser at the U.S. Department of Commerce, worked on congressional affairs for the U.S. Agency for International Development and was a senior staff member for U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-Texas).
Murphy has had fewer legislative successes than some of her counterparts in the Republican majority, but still has scored some wins. A bill she passed last year allows parents of middle- and high-school students to see how many pupils are in their classes.
Murphy, whose brother was shot to death during a robbery, this year also secured passage of a bill that prevented people under protective orders in domestic-abuse cases from being allowed to possess firearms. Another of her successful bills made a second domestic-abuse conviction a felony, permanently preventing offenders from owning guns.
Buford said too many of Murphy’s bills, perhaps 20 percent, focus on gun control.
“Losing a brother is devastating, but I’m not really sure it warrants all the attention she’s spent” on that issue, Buford said.
Murphy opposes tolling on Interstate 66, which will begin in December, because it may lead some drivers to take neighborhood roads instead. She also has spoken with Maryland legislators about ways to relieve traffic congestion at the American Legion Bridge.
Both candidates favored obtaining additional state funding for Northern Virginia infrastructure improvements, plus more dollars for education. Buford would like to see more experimentation in education, giving teachers and principals more freedom, but holding them accountable for the results.
“We err on the side of micro-managing,” Buford said of the current system.
Vienna-area resident Susan Gates, a longtime friend who has observed Buford’s participation with local schools, said the Republican candidate is well-read and has strong character. Buford also has a passion for non-profit groups, she said.
“She would like to see non-profits be empowered and rely on civil society, with individuals grouping together in voluntary associations and working together with governmental programs for mutual problem solving,” Gates said.
Del. Mark Keam (D-35th) said Murphy is sincere about building relationships with colleagues, and has reached across the aisle to find common ground with Republican legislators on issues of importance to her.
“She has earned a well-deserved reputation as a hard-working and pragmatic legislator who has made allies in both parties,” Keam said.
The 34th District, which contains some of the McLean and Vienna areas, all of Great Falls and a small slice of eastern Loudoun County, has bounced between the two major parties in recent years.
The late Republican Vincent Callahan held the seat for 40 years, then Democrat Margi Vanderhye served for one term before being ousted by Republican Barbara Comstock, who served for five years before being elected to Congress in 2014.
Murphy squeaked by Republican Craig Parisot in a 2015 special election to fill Comstock’s unexpired term, then defeated Parisot again by an even slimmer margin in that year’s general election.
Murphy and Buford will face off at a Great Falls Citizens Association debate on Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Grange, 9818 Georgetown Pike, and again at a McLean Citizens Association forum on Oct. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at Longfellow Middle School, 2000 Westmoreland St. in McLean.