James Walkinshaw and Jason Remer Square Off in LWV Forum

IMG_0651Republicans running for county level positions in Fairfax this year have frequently claimed they want to defeat politicians who have a “radical agenda” and practice “partisan politics.” The statements are obviously designed to imply they’ll focus on things like fixing potholes and other non-controversial things that serve the community. This is a noble sentiment to promote, but it simply doesn’t gel with the policies they’re promoting or the rhetoric they’re using.

We’ve seen this happen at a variety of community forums hosted by non-partisan organizations like the League of Women Voters, including the one they hosted last night for candidates in Fairfax County’s Braddock District. Much like how Srilkha Palle couldn’t even make it through her opening statement without launching attacks at the Sully District forum, Jason Remer only made it 34 seconds before he started going negative.

In a district that is filled with people who work for the federal government, Remer decided his best move would be starting the debate off by attacking James Walkinshaw’s government service instead of talking about any sort of ideas he might bring to the table.

“Mr. Walkinshaw is a career politician having spent his entire twelve year post collegiate career working for one person, Chairman, or Congressman Gerry Connolly,” Remer said. He went on to claim James is just a “professional politician attempting to bring Washington style partisan politics to our county government rather than putting our county needs first and addressing what a county supervisor can and should do.”

Despite spending all that time demeaning Walkinshaw’s public service, Remer went on to claim he’s “a man of the people” who seemed to believe he should be praised for “serving on the Hill as a Congressional fellow.” But don’t worry, he suggested, his Capitol Hill experience is okay because he was “competitively selected.” In other words, he wanted to brag about his own time on Capitol Hill but claim everybody else serving there is a political hack who didn’t have to go through a competitive process before being hired.

In sharp contrast to Remer’s opening statement, Walkinshaw showed some bipartisanship. Republican John Cook currently represents the Braddock District on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and was at the forum even though he’s not running for reelection. James has a history of working with Cook to get things done for the Braddock community, so he literally started his opening statement off by calling for the audience to show some appreciation to the retiring supervisor.

“We have a lot of special guests, but I wanted to thank one — Supervisor John Cook. John and I are in different parties, but I’ve watched him over the last ten years and have deep admiration for the countless hours he’s devoted to our community,” Walkinshaw said. “So let’s give him a round of applause for everything he’s done.”

James used the rest of his opening statement to highlight how he not only has served as Gerry Connolly’s chief of staff for the last ten years, but has a history of being extremely involved in local level programs that benefit the community.

“I also have served of Fairfax County Council to End Domestic Violence,” James said giving an example of the work he’s done, “where I helped lead the effort to put together a county wide campaign to help victims of domestic violence to get access to the services that they need.”

He also highlighted his work “as a mentor to at risk youth here in Fairfax County through the County’s Befriend a Child program” and said he’s had his “feet in the mud, cleaning up our lakes and streams here in Braddock District” as a volunteer for Friends of Lake Accotink Park. His local environmental work also came up through his role as the vice president of his neighborhood’s civic organization, where they helped lead effort the community effort to save Lake Accotink.

One of the big issues being discussed in local races here in Fairfax this year is diversity and what our elected officials are doing to represent the best interests of people from all backgrounds, no matter what their racial or socio-economic background. With that in mind, one of the questions from the audience was about how the candidates would be interacting with minority groups in the community.

The answers to this question provided a great example of how the entire forum progressed. James gave an answer illustrating how he understood the big picture surrounding the issue and then gave a glimpse of what he’d actually be able to do as a supervisor. Remer, however, could only speak in vague generalities and couldn’t provide the audience with a clear idea of how he’d address the issue.

“My family came to Northern Virginia in the 18th Century,” Walkinshaw said. But “the amazing thing about Virginia and Northern Virginia is that any one of you in this room who just showed up yesterday is just as much of a Northern Virginia, a Virginian, and an American as I am. I get no special privilege just because my family’s been here for three hundred years. And that’s what I love about Fairfax.”

He went onto say that as supervisor, he would strive to ensure “Fairfax County’s a beacon of diversity and inclusion.” To help see to it that those values are upheld, he’d use his appointments to commissions and community boards in a manner that ensured they represented the diversity of the community. As the County moves forward with making important decisions, he’d also work to actively engage people whose schedule or circumstances prevents them from making it out to community meetings.

When it was Remer’s turn to answer the question, however, he literally wanted the audience to believe he’d be good at reaching out to minority groups because “last night [his family] had a meal with a Korean student that [his] son brought home from college.”

Similar situations happened in response to a variety of other issues. When asked if candidates would support having the Board of Supervisors submit a legislative agenda to the General Assembly that included support of reinstating laws that limit people to buying one gun per month, implementing universal background checks, and a ban on assault weapons, for example, Walkinshaw emphatically said yes and provided some context to his answer. Remer, on the other hand, gave an answer that seemed to do everything but say whether he would actually support that legislative agenda.

Another question was about how the candidates would handle issues relating to access to internet access for Braddock’s residents. This was one of the many times Remer proclaimed “I’m an engineer” and expected the audience to automatically assume he’d be a miracle worker on the issue while he rambled on in vague generalities.

Walkinshaw, however, used this as an opportunity to show he understood when and how county level officials could have their greatest impact on an issue. After stressing he’s fully aware of how access to affordable, high speed internet is incredibly important in today’s society, he drew attention to the implementation of 5G networks and land use decisions surrounding the required towers because this is one area the Board of Supervisors could play a major role in the discussion.

In other words, James showed how relatively obscure procedures he’s familiar with can play a role in broader issues like internet access.  Folks who don’t have his experience or familiarity with the county’s inner workings might not make the connection.

Finally, the last question of the forum was about “civil discourse.” This was a question that would very clearly provide candidates with the opportunity to show their ability to reach out to folks with differing opinions. Remer’s claims that he would be able to work with people on both sides of the aisle were viewed extremely skeptically, though, as he was the one who started launching attacks 34 seconds into the debate and actually hired the head of a hate group to be his campaign manager.

Since there was literally an overflow crowd at the event (people were standing in the halls trying to listen), voters were able to see a stark contrast between the candidates. While Remer was quick to launch attacks, tried to dodge questions, and was unable to provide details on how he’d move forward on crucial issues, James Walkinshaw highlighted how he has the background and knowledge necessary to hit the ground running as soon as he’s sworn into office. The forum made it clear James Walkinshaw’s the best candidate in the race for Braddock District Supervisor.

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