[Sun Gazette editorials represent the viewpoint of Sun Gazette Newspapers, which provides content to, but is otherwise unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]
Former Arlington County Board member and state delegate Albert Eisenberg used to cut through the verbal clutter of interminable meetings with the deceptively simple yet quite effective query: “What is the problem we are trying to solve?”
Our political corollary, when applied to challengers taking on elected officials, is: “What has the incumbent done, or not done, to merit being replaced?”
When it comes to the two contested legislative races on the ballot in parts of Arlington next month, the incumbents – state Sen. Barbara Favola in the 31st and Del. Alfonso Lopez in the 49th – are being challenged by those who, while new to the campaign trail, do have experience in the civic realm. (On the issues, with very few exceptions, the policy positions of incumbents and challengers are interchangeable, straight from the progressive playbook.)
In the 31st state Senate race, eight-year incumbent Favola is being challenged by Nicole Merlene, a member of the Arlington Economic Development Commission and previously vice president of the Arlington County Civic Federation. In the 49th House District, Lopez, who also has served eight years, is facing a challenge from Arlington County NAACP president Julius “J.D.” Spain Sr.
Merlene has taken Favola to task for accepting contributions from Dominion Energy, which these days is a third rail of politics (see what we did there?) among the progressive wing of the Democrats. And Merlene has rapped Favola for representing, as a consultant, clients that have business before the county and state governments.
On the first charge, Favola indeed has taken some Dominion dough, but it is such a pittance that we wonder why she bothered to cash the checks in the first place. And on the second charge, what the incumbent is doing may raise some eyebrows but is not egregiously out of bounds, given that the General Assembly is a part-time post. The charges may have some merit in the abstract, but are not political punches that have knocked Favola down, let alone out.
In the 49th House District, the undercurrent from the Spain campaign seems to be that Lopez is not providing sufficient care and attention to his African-American constituents, and more broadly, his constituents in general. Perhaps there is a kernel of truth to that, in the abstract, but unless there is a true groundswell of discontent that we have not picked up on, it is unlikely to be the route to victory against a well-known, well-funded incumbent.
Like every politician we know, Favola and Lopez are not without flaws, in personalities or policy positions. But on balance, neither Merlene nor Spain has made the case (to us, at least) that the incumbents need to be sent packing.
Therefore, we support BARBARA FAVOLA for renomination in the 31st Senate District and ALFONSO LOPEZ for renomination in the 49th House District on June 11.
Merlene and Spain may end up being viable political candidates in coming years. And their presence on the 2019 primary ballot has forced incumbents to defend their positions, a discussion that benefits the community.