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Moderates Under Attack

By Greg L | 18 February 2007 | Prince William County | 13 Comments

How many Republicans on the Board of County Supervisors are going to face primary challenges? That’s becoming an interesting question as rumors about regarding PWCRC Chairman Tom Kopko likely challenging Marty Nohe in the Coles District contine to race around, and as there’s now a possibility that former PWCRC Treasurer Bob Pugh may challenge Wally Covington in Brentsville. At this point I’m starting to expect rumblings that Maureen Caddigan may get a challenger.

The obvious theme running here is that “moderate” incumbents, those who had been on the inside when former Chairman Sean Connaughton was running the show, are now on the defensive. Granted, they haven’t often been on the forefront of many of the issues that seem to be gaining all the attention these days, such as controlling growth, and fiscal conservatism, and often their voting records are more consistent with the Democrats on the board than the Republican chairman. There are reasons to take some of these incumbents to task. I’m just not entirely sure this is the way to do it, however.

Perhaps most importantly there’s the consideration of whether this is the battle that needs to be fought right now. I think just about everyone feels that if we’re going to engage in primary battles, the Virginia State Senate is where it’s most important to do so. The intransigence of the Senate far exceeds any complaints we can levy at some of the PWC BOCS members, and it will require a dedicated and focused effort which will not be delivered in the midst of an intra-party fight at the county level. I’d love to see the money that would be dedicated to fighting this battle instead directed to defeat folks like Chichester, which would yield far more significant results.

I think it’s also worth noting that many of these “moderates” have learned that the political landscape is shifting and are recognizing significant constituent concerns about taxes, development pressures, illegal immigration and other important issues. A quality county committee with stable leadership and strong membership can make a big difference in how local legislators represent our interests and to the degree we’ve actually engaged in these issues this year the record of success is pretty encouraging. Winning with strong arguments can work, especially when backed with the credible resources which can be provided, or witheld if necessary in those cases where a little more than solid ideas is needed to encourage a recalcitrant legislator. While that approach has clearly failed with the Senate, within the board it might actually work, although subject to the degree which the county committee actually can deliver on what it says it will do.

I’m always reluctant to consider casting off experienced legislators who would be clear favorites in a general election, even if they don’t entirely govern the way I might want them to. I can accept policy disagreements with the expectation that if my arguments really are as convincing as I think they are, those with whom I might disagree might end up realizing I was right and become more of what I would hope they could be. Only when that has entirely failed is it time to challenge them in a primary, in my view. We’ve clearly reached that point in the Senate, but on the county board I’m not convinced that’s the case.

I suppose soon we’ll see if I’m missing something here, as some announcements should be coming out fairly soon given the timeline for this election cycle.

UPDATE: Bob Pugh weighs in in the comments section with a pretty substantive explanation of why someone would challenge Wally Covington.  This is going to be a fascinating debate with really strong arguments on either side of the “should we or shouldn’t we primary” question.

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  1. anon said on 18 Feb 2007 at 11:25 pm:
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    “At this point I’m starting to expect rumblings that Maureen Caddigan may get a challenger”

    I thought I read somewhere (VV?) that she heard would have a challenger and so she decided to have a fundraiser.

  2. charles said on 19 Feb 2007 at 12:22 am:
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    Maureen is definitely having a fundraiser.

    And I don’t expect she will have a primary challenger. Of the three mentioned here, I’ll be she’s the last of the three who will have a challenger.

    And I’d be surprised if Pugh challenged Wally, but if he does, and I consider Bob Pugh a good man, I’ll strongly support Wally Covington, who is my supervisor and therefore someone I really CAN vote for.

    If I were a betting person, I would bet that Marty will be challenged, but not the other two.

  3. Mitch Cumstein said on 19 Feb 2007 at 10:42 am:
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    I find it interesting that you have, on several occasions, made note of the fact that Marty, Maureen and Wally often vote with Jenkins and Barg. And the inference appears to be that this makes the Republicans too moderate. I look at it differently. Jenkins and Barg vote with these mainstream Republicans because it is the only way to get things done, even if it means voting in a more conservative manner than they’d otherwise like.

    Governing a County, or any other jurisdiction for that matter, should not be about making the most conservative decision in every case. We need Supervisors, regardless of ideology, who make sound, rational and forward-thinking decisions based on what is best for the County. Ideology is fine, but it doesn’t pay the bills, protect our citizens or educate our children.

    These challenges are about a small segment of the GOP, the most conservative, small tent faction, trying to impose their collective political will on popular Supervisors who, quite frankly, don’t need their help in the first place. None of these three are in the slightest danger of losing the GOP nomination and these challenges will only serve to solidify and widen a rift that could easily be closed if some common sense broke out.

  4. Bob Pugh said on 19 Feb 2007 at 12:20 pm:
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    I have been considering a primary challenge against Wally Covington because he is the most pro-development supervisor our Board has seen since Ed Wilbourn, and his responses to serious problems facing Prince William County have been meaningless, headline-grabbing stunts designed to create a perception different from the reality of his record on the Board for the past three years. Wally went so far as to contribute $1,000 to Wilbourn’s campaign in 2003, the year he ran as an independent against John Stirrup (check www.vpap.org). My main constraints (the same reasons why I resigned as PWCRC Treasurer last year) are two baby girls born into my family last September 12, and building a new business that only finished its first year of operation in 2005.

    Wally, Sean and crew are not “moderates” as so many people like to describe them. A moderate is someone who tries to balance the interests of diverse groups in the community without veering to any extreme. The Board in recent years has sided overwhelmingly with development and landowner interests against the interests of the broader Prince William County community. The past several years have seen the most explosive growth in rezonings in our county’s history. According to the Prince William County Planning Office, the 1999 Board (the first year Sean was elected) approved rezonings for an additional 12,921 residential units and the 2003 Board (when Wally was elected) has already approved 10,092.

    Last year, Wally toured homeowner associations and civic groups in the Brentsville District touting the wonders of the proposed Brentswood development. He and Sean even went so far as to use maps and other visual aids provided by the developer. I saw this myself first hand. I tried to call and email Wally but he would not respond. Ultimately, a group of concerned citizens got together under the moniker, “Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth” to fight Brentswood, which would have crammed 6,800 residential units into 1,500 acres in the Brentsville District. Only after a massive public response against this behemoth did Wally say, finally, on the evening the public hearing was scheduled, that he opposed it. I spoke to Wally at a recent meeting and he admitted that Brentswood will be coming back (after the election).

    Wally’s notorious “moratorium” on residential rezoning, or whatever he wants to call it, is a sham designed to make voters think he is not pro-development. The only thing his resolution does is postpone Board consideration of new rezonings until just after the election. The development community has little problem with this measure because of the current slow housing market. Moreover, on the same evening Wally proposed his moratorium resolution, he voted in favor of adding 1,400 new residential units to the Harbor Station development, and at the previous meeting on October 24 he voted for 220 new residential units in the Caton’s Ridge development in Occoquan, both in opposition to then Occoquan Supervisor Corey Stewart. This performance reminds me a lot of “I actually did vote for it before I voted against it.”

    Wally wrote in the summer 2006 “Infocus” newsletter (before he was concerned about an election challenge) “Virginia property owners have a vested right to develop properties. Local governments cannot restrict this right for a greater public good or require property owners to construct adequate public facilities like schools, roads, and libraries.” He sees the “rights” of property owners and developers as superior to the rights of the rest of us who must pay the higher taxes to support the new residential developments, drive on crowded roadways, stuff our kids into trailers at school, and suffer overcrowding in our neighborhoods as illegal aliens turn formerly nice homes into boarding houses while they work on the residential construction projects Wally and company have approved.

    Wally’s bill for services provided to illegal aliens sent to Vice-President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is an embarrassment to the citizens of our County. Wally admitted himself in newspaper quotes that the measure is “symbolic.” What about taking substantive measures, such as working with zoning administration to develop procedures to combat overcrowding and its negative impact on the legal homeowners in those neighborhoods? What about developing procedures for County service agencies to be able to determine more precisely whether or not they are providing services to those who are truly eligible for them? A plethora of substantive, legal measures is at our disposal to address the illegal alien problem if only our elected officials had the backbone to use them. Instead, we get “symbolic” measures, headlines and meaningless invoices sent to national political leaders.

    Greg is correct that I have been considering challenging Wally. I disagree with him, however, that the place for challenges this year is not at the local level. The right place is anywhere an elected official is not representing the interests of those who elected him. I supported Corey Stewart, the true moderate standing up for the citizens of Prince William County, and conservation of our natural and historic resources, against big developers. His record on the Board demonstrates clearly where he stands without the need for “symbolic” gestures to mislead the voters. Corey needs a Board that will support him to make substantive changes in the way Prince William County does business. However, challenging Wally with all of the developer money that would be behind him, and the unfortunate misperceptions of reality he has created about his record on development and illegal immigration would be a seemingly overwhelming task.

  5. charles said on 19 Feb 2007 at 3:08 pm:
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    Pob Pugh said:
    He and Sean even went so far as to use maps and other visual aids provided by the developer.

    I wouldn’t have expected them to draw up their own maps. Stirrup has been using maps and other aids provided by Dominion Power to fight their plan.

    Wally wrote in the summer 2006 “Infocus” newsletter (before he was concerned about an election challenge) “Virginia property owners have a vested right to develop properties. Local governments cannot restrict this right for a greater public good or require property owners to construct adequate public facilities like schools, roads, and libraries.”

    Wally is absolutely correct. Property has vested rights, and the government shouldn’t be allowed to take those rights away without just compensation. That used to be a strong conservative position, and if government can’t do it’s job the answer isn’t to make a few individuals pay more for the privilege of using their property as the law has allowed.

    Thus the distinction between existing zoning and rezonings. I should be allowed to exercise my rights under existing zoning, regardless of the “impact” to other property owners, much less those who simply choose to drive near my property on roads my taxes paid for without having to “put up” with additional traffic from my legal use of the property I own.

    If I want to re-zone, I should be required to pay for whatever public harm is created by my re-zoning. I do NOT have the right to do whatever I want with my property, I have a right to do what the law states I have a right to do with the property from the time I purchased the property.

    The board approves rezonings because they can collect a lot of money that way, and use it to exercise power and gain “credit” for “helping people”.

    i have no problem with people of opposing viewpoints wishing to primary a sitting incumbent. I generally support primaries, it keeps everybody on their toes and ensures our representatives stay in touch with the voters.

    The argument against primaries is first, money — and I hate the idea that “spending too much money on election” is an argument used to keep us from having free and open elections that keep our representatives in touch with us.

    The second argument is that it weakens us for general election challenges. I think that is only true if campaigns turn falsely negative, like the Gill stuff here. If two candidates give their competing vision for what they would accomplish and how, and the voters in a primary choose the stronger of those two, it should strengthen us for the general election, because we will have hone the message and the plans.

    I still think Maureen will not have a challenger, and I’d put up even money Wally won’t end up being challenged when all is said and done.

  6. compassionate conservative said on 19 Feb 2007 at 5:10 pm:
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    Wally has been an outstanding supervisor. He has protected the rural crescent and increased the road infrastructure system in the Brentsville District. Bob is a good conservative and would be a strong candidate, but I do not think this willbe his year. Wally would crush in a primary.

  7. mom said on 19 Feb 2007 at 8:19 pm:
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    Mr. Pugh, you are absolutely correct so I won’t bother rehashing your comments. Rather, I will take issue with the usual group of BOCS apologists.

    Greg, the battle does need to start at the local level. Actions, or lack thereof, in Richmond should be taken in to account when developing the fiscal/physical plans for the county, a strategy that has been absent in recent years. If the state isn’t going to fund local infrastructure and the county doesn’t have the funds to complete it on its own, it has NO business unneccessarily increasing the pressure on the infrastructure and laying all of the blame at Richmond’s feet. The ugly truth of the matter is that rezoning is not a right but rather a function of local government which must consider the impact on all parties. Unfortunately recent boards have seen proffers as some sort of panacea which in reality merely mortgage the county’s future. That these “moderates” haven’t been at the forefront of controlling growth or fiscal conservatism should not come as any great surprise as they don’t believe in those ideals, campaign rhetoric aside.

    Mitch, your position is expected and still wrong. For the aforementioned reasons and a myriad of others including a lack of control over the County Executive’s spending habits, the recent board majority was engaging in anything but sound, rational and forwarding thinking policies. They rode the crest of the development wave as far as they could and now the county will have to pay the price. Why else would Lord Connaughton jump ship for a middling post under a lame-duck president (apart from the connections and eventually higher hourly rate he will earn in that niche of private practice). Funny how Lucy has also spied the iceberg and joined him in lifeboat. Proflicate spending has abounded in the county yet those that live in the western districts get a substanially lesser quality of police patrols and fire response than those in Dale City or Woodbridge and if everyone is so bloody concerned about education, why is the school administration building still in the budget while children learn in construction trailers, have exagerated lunch schedules, or use broken playground equipment. I thought it was all about the children after all, you pompous prick.

    Truth be told all three need to primaried as they have been little more than enablers whose cover has vanished with Connaughton’s departure, I will credit Wally’s handlers for him suddenly finding religion in a mad dash to distance himself from his record. Unfortunately poorly thought out moratoriums on rezoning, a sudden concern about immigrations and bills to the Feds don’t cut it in the real world and do little if anything to disabuse people of his past actions, ie: Brentswood, Wentworth Green, etc. Funny how he suddenly wants to preserve the rural character of the Brentsville district after years of plowing it under for housing. Why doesn’t someone look into the Fauquier properties of Silver Bell LLC and their proximity to the Buckland bypass, a project committee I believe he sits on.

    Please Mr. Pugh, challenge him and I will do all I can to aid you, be it time or money.

  8. anon said on 19 Feb 2007 at 11:36 pm:
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    It is darn near hysterical to see posts about Sean & crew and the explosive growth and rezonings “in recent years”.

    Can I ask you - where was your head during the 80s and 90s? Under a rock?

    Then we had low end, crap housing - witness Dale City townhouses, the garbage on South Rt. 1, etc.

    Sean was no savior, granted, but at least we climbed up out of the toilet that the previous administration had thrown us in.

    You haven’t seen developer-friendly until you’ve seen Kathy Seefeldt and crew. We sold our collective county soul for garbage housing, zero proffers, and woefully inadequate public facilities.

    Why do you think we are in the mess we are now? It surely isn’t 500K houses that created this mess. It was the glut of 50K townhouses and all of the associated expenses that we were more than happy to let the developers slide out of.

  9. Bob Pugh said on 20 Feb 2007 at 10:24 am:
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    From 1998 to 2003, before I left to start building my own business, I was the senior financial analyst for the Prince William County government working on fiscal impact analysis, proffer analysis, tax revenue forecasting and analysis supporting the Department of Economic Development, among other things. The County government hired me because I have the financial and economic experience to do that sort of work. I saw first-hand what took place under the latter part of the previous regime through Chairman Connaughton. In fact, I reviewed the economic impact report submitted by the developer of Southbridge. The report was a complete work of fiction. The numbers presented in the report claimed, among other things, that the Southbridge development would increase employment in the County by a quarter of its current level.

    I argued then, as did many others internally, that the Southbridge developers would not be content even with the rezoning they got at the time. Big developers’ modus operandi is to get as much as they can at any given time in slices and come back to the Board later for more after the public forgets about what happened previously. The 1,400 residential units at Harbor Station that Wally voted for on the evening he presented his moratorium resolution is such an extension of what we knew years earlier would be coming.

    I, and others, got nowhere with internal arguments because staff was told that the Board had already decided to approve these monstrosities. I had then, and still have now, great respect for the professionals in the Finance Department, Planning Office, Department of Economic Development, etc. However, when they are told that the Board has already made up their mind to accommodate the developers and nothing they do matters, staff has no further alternatives.

    Brentswood was no different. At one of the public hearings I distributed to the current Board members copies of the old Southbridge economic impact report to illustrate what was promised and what actually happened. The Brentswood developers were making outrageous claims about the benefit of their project to the community as well. Moreover, they had seen the Board from Seefeldt through Connaughton and Covington delivering just about everything developers asked for, and decided to go for broke with 6,800 residential units on 1,500 acres. That magnitude made organizing the citizens’ opposition easier.

    Wally has already acknowledged that Brentswood is coming back after the election. Most likely, the developers, and their attorneys and consultants will revert to the “salami” methods that have worked so well in the past of getting more digestible slices each time they go to the Board. The developers, and their attorneys and consultants will ask for a much smaller number of residential units, perhaps even fewer than 2,000 units, and come back two or three years later to get the rest of what they want.

    On the issue of property rights, Charles is correct that people have the right to do whatever they want with their property as it is currently zoned. The County has no right to take that away from them. The property rights issue gets more complicated when the landowner wants to change the zoning. If the new proposed use (for example, increasing residential density and sewering in the Rural Crescent as Wally wants to do) impacts others’ property rights, the community has a right to a say in the matter. One person does not have an automatic right to change the use of their property if it imposes a cost on someone else. If a landowner in the Rural Crescent get increased density and cashes in big time, I must subsidize their windfall by paying higher taxes to support services for the residents of that development, suffering increased crowding on roads and in schools, and tolerating illegal aliens converting homes in my neighborhood into boarding houses while they work on the projects. That infringes on my property rights.

    I left the County government both because I had an opportunity to start a business, and because I wanted to be able to speak out on these issues. If I had remained with County staff I would not be able to write this posting, help fight Brentswood, or counsel similarly-minded public officials from my experience. The more I, and others, can shed light on what’s going on, the better are our chances of electing people who will represent us rather than big developers and large landowners.

  10. CONVA said on 21 Feb 2007 at 8:58 pm:
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    If Pugh would exert the same level of effort as a County Supervisor as he did in his very short term as the PWCRC treasurer the board would very seldom see him at their meetings. His excuse is valid, but he knew that prior to running for treasurer and should have not accepted the nomination.

  11. The Skeptic said on 21 Feb 2007 at 11:02 pm:
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    Let me first state that I am a far right fiscal conservative and supported Corey’s position against the budget that has now created the 18 million + budget shortfall that WALLY and MARTY voted for, but I fear Mr. Pugh’s ideology has failed us.

    Just like Northern VA foots the tax burden for all of VA, getting back far less than our fair share, I suspect that eastern and mid county residents shoulder a higher percentage of the counties revenue than that of the Brentsville District.

    Mr. Pugh since this is your area of expertise as you claim please share with us the total in property tax revenue collected from Brentsville and compare it to the cost of county services it receives in return. Indulge me, please.

  12. Bob Pugh said on 22 Feb 2007 at 10:17 am:
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    CONVA - That’s a very fair criticism and I admit that I made a mistake in judging the amount of time I would have available when I accepted both the Treasurer and Finance Committee Chair positions at the same time. I support Tom Kopko strongly and when I realized that I did not have enough time to deliver the effort he needs, I resigned in favor of someone else who did. I have not yet decided whether to challenge Wally and the key factor in my decision is not to repeat the same mistake.

    My successor as Treasurer, Kathy Royse, has done an excellent job working with Tom and others on the Committee to develop the aggressive budget we recently put forward, which is aimed at promoting Republican values and electing Republican candidates. I kept the position as Finance Committee Chair and am leading the effort to raise money to support that ambitious agenda. Tom emailed the PWCRC membership on February 7 asking for volunteers for the Finance Committee and three others have already stepped forward. We’re holding a meeting next week to analyze the budget, create plans to raise the funds to finance the PWCRC’s efforts, and develop the first quarterly direct mail fundraising letter. We would welcome additional members to the Finance Committee so if you would like to join us and help please email me at finance@PWCGOP.org.

    The Skeptic - We should indeed know if Brentsville and other parts of the County have or have not received an equitable share of County expenditures in relation to the taxes they pay. I can’t answer your question because the County does not publish a breakdown of revenues and expenditures by district. I have not worked on staff since late 2003 and no longer have access to any internal information. Maybe one of the Supervisors can request that information for us.

  13. The Skeptic said on 3 Mar 2007 at 11:04 pm:
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    The reason the Moderates on the BOCS are under attack is because they clearly lack the foresight and fortitude to serve in County leadership and should be fired by the same constituents that voted them in.

    If I fail to perform my job adequately while at work then I can expect to be fired. It is the “Moderate” Supervisors who have failed us, not the Conservatives. We elected them to listen and act in representing the needs of the community, instead they choose to act on personal agendas.

    The at-large community of Prince William elected Corey Stewart not soley because he is a Conservative but because he listened to what they had to say. He is acting on seeking solutions that will improve our overall quality of life, reduce our taxes, better educate our children, reduce our commute times and keep our community safe.

    If ANY BOCS can’t get this job done then voters need to say Astalavista on election day! Primaries will offer a clear advantage to encumbents because of sheer name recognition alone. Your whining about being challenged will not be tolerated, this is the political process in America, take it or leave it! Your choice.

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