Northern Virginia has several primary contests for state Senate and House of Delegates races. In the 49th House district in Arlington and Fairfax, we endorse Alfonso Lopez for renomination in the Democratic primary. In the 31st Senate district in Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun, we endorse Democratic challenger Nicole Merlene. In the open 13th Senate district in Loudoun and Prince William counties, we endorse Ron Meyer for the competitive Republican primary.
We are not endorsing a candidate in the Democratic primary for the 35th Senate district (Fairfax, Alexandria, and Falls Church).
Alfonso Lopez for 49th House district (D)
The 49th House district runs along Columbia Pike from Pentagon City to Bailey’s Crossroads and then through the edge of Fairfax County up to Seven Corners. The incumbent, Alfonso Lopez, has been a steadfast advocate for his community and strong on the housing and transportation issues we focus on.
He was instrumental in Virgina’s recent housing trust fund bill and major transportation bills this last session including on bicycling. He fought against taking Metro funding from NVTA and finding an alternative revenue source. People along Columbia Pike know they can call Lopez about problems with VDOT or other state agencies.
I have always been a strong supporter of smart, transit-oriented growth to make our community more urban, walkable, and accessible to everyone. The availability of safe and reliable transit is a real issue of equity for our community. Nearly half of all trips taken via transit in our region are taken by people with an annual income of $30,000 or less. Owning a car is extremely expensive. Investing in transit, walking, and biking infrastructure expands opportunity and makes our community more accessible for all.
Lopez is also the House Democratic Caucus whip, meaning should Democrats take the House, he is likely to play a significant leadership position.
His challenger, Julius “JD” Spain, also said many things we agree with in his questionnaire, but was less specific, and his experience is less substantial. Ultimately, we recommend voters renominate Alfonso Lopez because of his excellent track record delivering for the people of his district.
Nicole Merlene for 31st Senate district (D)
In the 31st, stretching along the Potomac River through Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun counties, Nicole Merlene is challenging incumbent senator Barbara Favola in the Democratic primary. We recommend a vote for Merlene.
While she is a relative newcomer, her questionnaire responses showed a strong grasp of the issues. Merlene is a renter and lives car-free, two qualities which have little representation in Richmond. Her questionnaire responses refer to the challenges many renters face, and she praised measures like accessory apartments and development incentives that yield affordable units with minimal or no taxpayer cost.
After talking about her renter and car-free status at a debate, an anonymous Twitter account attacked Merlene, calling it “poor personal decision making” to rent and not drive. That’s a remarkably narrow view of the range of life choices people can make. In this day and age with car-sharing, ride-hailing, and other services, many people can get around fine, even in car-dependent areas, without owning cars, and we don’t see this as a barrier to representing the people of this district.
Merlene responded with a three-part video series which is extremely knowledgeable and thoughtful about transit and housing affordability. (Maybe from reading Greater Greater Washington, we might hope!)
On transportation, she wrote in our questionnaire, “Investments in sidewalks, protected bicycle lanes, bus-only lanes and intelligent curbside management are orders of magnitude cheaper than highway-widening projects. Often, they cost no more than a new layer of paint. Over time, these projects bring enormous returns on investment.”
We don’t agree with her statements criticizing variable tolls on I-66, a measure which opened up previously carpool-only roads to solo drivers for a (sometimes high) price that is funding many transportation initiatives. However, we even more dislike how incumbent Favola’s website proudly touts that she got I-66 widened, against the wishes of Arlington County and which will surely induce more driving and more greenhouse gas emissions.
Favola’s long track record has included many valuable contributions, including pushing VDOT in a positive direction on local roads. But her long track record also has examples of ethical lapses, such as when she opened up Arlington to predatory towing while taking contributions from towing companies, accepted controversial foreign trips, and more.
We think the 31st district is ready for a change and Nicole Merlene would be a great choice.
Ron Meyer for 13th Senate district (R)
In Loudoun and Prince William counties, Republican senator Dick Black is not seeking re-election to the 13th Senate district.
Current Delegate John Bell is the only Democrat remaining in the race for his party’s nomination. (Bell and former Democratic opponent Jasmine Moawad Barrientos — who did not qualify for the ballot — both submitted questionnaire responses.) Since the Democratic primary is not contested, we are not making an endorsement.
Meanwhile, two Loudoun County Supervisors — Geary Higgins and Ron Meyer — are running for the Republican nomination. The Elections Committee was impressed by Meyer’s questionnaire responses, including his record supporting dedicated funding for sidewalks and trails, and support for other multimodal transportation, transit-oriented development, and lowering public transit fares. Higgins did not respond to a request to complete the questionnaire.
We certainly disagree with Meyer on many transportation issues, including his transportation plan’s emphasis on lowering tolls, adding roads, and removing traffic signals. And we disagree with him on a number of other subjects. Still, he also has showed himself to be someone who’s thoughtful and, compared to many of his fellow Republicans, supportive of enabling the creation of walkable urban places especially near transit, like Loudoun County’s future Silver Line stations.
Read the candidates’ full answers to our questionnaire.
No endorsement for the 35th Senate district
In Senate District 35, which includes Falls Church and part of the City of Alexandria and runs from Merrifield to Bailey’s Crossroads to Springfield, longtime incumbent and Senate Democratic leader Dick Saslaw faces his first challenge in years from Yasmine Taeb, a human rights lawyer and Democratic activist originally from Iran, and energy consulant Karen Torrent.
Saslaw is well-regarded as a caucus leader in Richmond, but he has faced criticism for holding back progressive legislation and for taking large sums of money from Dominion Energy. In his questionnaire, Saslaw cited legislation he has crafted to increase funding for overall transportation revenue, Metro, and the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, as well as local transit and walking projects in the district he helped facilitate.
Torrent did not respond to our initial questionnaire requests, and since she entered the race late, hadn’t gotten as many rounds of reminders over multiple weeks as early-entrant candidates. She has now provided responses. In them, she describes herself as a cyclist, discussed a number of multimodal transportation solutions, including increased bus frequency and connectivity and Bus Rapid Transit. She also suggested converting unused office space into housing, pushing Amazon to commit to workforce housing, and changing zoning laws to better incentivize the development of middle-class housing.
Taeb, unfortunately, did not return our questionnaire and since her campaign has focused on attacking Saslaw for taking campaign contributions from Dominion Energy while getting into few policy details, we can’t tell where she stands on our issues.
The Elections Committee believes that spirited primary challenges are good for the democratic process. While the committee gave Saslaw’s responses fairly high marks, we aren’t confident he would push aggressively for better transportation and affordable housing policies — even if he becomes Senate Majority Leader should the Democrats take control of the chamber this fall.
This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. All endorsements are decided by our volunteer Elections Committee with input from our staff, board, and other volunteer committees. Read all of our 2019 primary coverage and endorsements here.