- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2011

Candidates in three of the most competitive and closely-watched 2011 state Senate races in Northern Virginia squared off Sunday, distinguishing themselves on such key issues as taxes, abortion and the potential consequences of Republicans taking full control of state government after Novembers elections.

“I am very concerned about the Republican agenda and the desire of some of the Republican leadership to erode a woman’s right to choose,” said Barbara Favola, the Democratic candidate in the 31st District race.

Ms. Favola, an Arlington County Board member, said legislation approved by the General Assembly this year directing the State Board of Health to regulate abortion clinics as hospitals has “nothing to do with safety or best medical practices and everything to do with denying women access to safe abortions.”

The new regulations, which apply to clinics performing five or more first-trimester abortions a month, mandate physical requirements that opponents argue will force the majority of the state’s clinics to close. Proponents say the changes are meant to ensure patient safety.

“Don’t kid yourself,” Ms. Favola told potential voters who attended the forum hosted by the Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria. “There is a big difference between Democrats and Republicans on key issues. I ask you to think seriously about this.”

Virginia Democrats right now hold a 22-18 majority in the state Senate, which means the Virginia GOP will need to pick up three seats to win the chamber outright and add to their control of the House and the governorship.

Ms. Favola is running against McLean businesswoman Caren Merrick, a Republican, for the seat held by retiring state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Arlington Democrat. Ms. Merrick had a busy Sunday of events across the district and was unable to attend, her campaign manager said.

Attorney Miller Baker, a Republican who is trying to unseat first-term state Democratic Sen. George Barker in the 39th District race, said that the Supreme Court has spoken on the issue, but that he still favored encouraging a “pro-life” culture. The historic Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973 voided state laws that limited women’s access to abortions in the first trimester and legalized abortion in the United States.

“We need to have a culture that encourages life with the understanding that we have a Supreme Court decision that is what it is, and within the confines of the law that we have,” he said. “I think everybody would agree — people who are pro-choice — that we ought to have a culture that’s pro-life.”

Mr. Baker also took issue with the willingness of Ms. Favola and incumbent state Sen. Linda “Toddy” Puller, 36th District Democrat, to consider increasing the state’s 17.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax to help pay for much-needed transportation projects.

“States like California and New York are killing themselves,” he said. “They are driving businesses out because of their high taxes and high regulatory policies.”

But his opponent, Mr. Barker, said there needs to be a long-term solution to fix the region’s ailing roadways.

“If we don’t at some address our transportation problems, funding for transportation and new construction is going to dry up, our roads are going to continue to crumble, and we’re going to be in a situation where it’s going to put a damper and ultimately thwart our economic development, which is critical to our quality of life here in Northern Virginia, but it’s also critical to the economic health of the entire commonwealth of Virginia,” he said.

Democratic candidates largely continued with their efforts thus far this year to characterize the Senate as a check on the Republican-controlled House.

“Having that type of balance in government makes a difference,” said Mr. Barker, noting he has backed legislation by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and has worked across party lines to get his through his own initiatives.

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