Incumbent Republican state Del. Barbara Comstock and Democratic challenger Kathleen Murphy headlined a candidate forum last week presented by the McLean Citizens Association and the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce.
Their answers to key issues are below.
On the 2013 Transportation Compromise:
Murphy said she would have supported the legislation, which replaced the state gas tax with a sales tax increase and allowed Northern Virginia jurisdictions to levy their own tax for transportation projects.
"It isn't perfect … but it allows us to keep our own tax dollars here at home to work on projects that are important to us," she said. Murphy noted the importance of demanding the state government "step up" and take care of core functions like transportation.
Comstock, who voted against the legislation, said she did not like that people in Northern Virginia would be double-taxed or that the bill added a new tax on hybrid vehicles, and that the gas tax is more appropriate to fund transportation because people who use the gas pay the tax, as opposed to everyone.
But, "my colleagues passed that," she said. "The important thing is how we implement it."
She said it was important for McLean to fight to make sure this area gets its "fair share" of regional and state transportation dollars under the bill, as other jurisdictions — particularly Arlington and Alexandria — have different ideas as to how that money should be spent.
On access to birth control, safe abortions and transvaginal ultrasounds:
Comstock, calling these "very difficult and sensitive issues," said a lot of disinformation had been spread about the bills that were passed.
She said the purpose of the ultrasound bill was to properly date the gestation period of a fetus. She said it was "always meant to be an external ultrasound." That's what ultimately was approved, with Comstock voting in favor of it, though Politifact says that language only appeared after Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell convinced the members of his party to water down the original bill.
Comstock also said she had been pushing for the federal government to allow birth control to be available to women over-the-counter.
Murphy said such medication should not be available without a prescription, as insurance wouldn't pay for it and doctors wouldn't be able to monitor side effects.
As for ultrasounds, she said, "Whether's it's abdominal or transvaginal, if it's mandatory, it's an infringement I'm not comfortable with. Abortions should be safe, and abortions should be rare."
Comstock accused Murphy of supporting tax increases in this Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce questionnaire. Murphy denied that.
"It's online," Comstock said.
"I'm sure you put it there," Murphy replied.
Comstock said rather than raise taxes, Northern Virginia should continue to grow its technology sector, as increased economic development brings in new properties that contribute to the tax base.
Murphy said tax dollars could be used more efficiently. Transportation and infrastructure improvements, along with not infringing on women's rights or discriminating against gay and lesbian residents, will keep companies wanting to come here, she said.
Murphy said it was time to insist the state shoulder its obligation to fund education. Community colleges can be used better, she said. Murphy supports reforming the Standards of Learning tests, paying teachers better and starting the school day later for high school students.
"None of my kids who had a 7:30 start class ever got through that class with an A," she said.
Comstock, whose husband taught math at Langley High School and now teaches in Oakton, said she was a proponent of adding arts education into the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, model. She said it was important for the state to better educate at-risk students both for the benefit of the state's workforce and because schools in poorer areas get a disproportionate amount of education funding.
"It's very expensive for them to fail," she said.
On gun control/gun safety:
Easily the most contentious issue of the night, both women talked about their experiences with gun violence.
Comstock said she had a son who was a senior at Virginia Tech in 2007 at the time of the massacre: "I can't imagine how awful it was. In those minutes I was calling … it seemed like hours. It was awful."
She said she has supported a "major mental health initiative" that state colleges asked for and putting more resource officers in schools. She said Virginia is a national leader is putting mental health records into a national database — to the tune of 160,000-plus records kept, whereas some states' contributions have been in the single or double digits.
Comstock also said the state had cracked down on people who illegally buy firearms and she pointed out her endorsement by the local chapter of the Virginia Police Benevolent Association.
Murphy first noted that Comstock has an A rating from the National Rifle Association. She talked about losing her brother, Steven, who was shot to death more than a decade ago in his Arizona business.
She criticized Comstock for voting to repeal this state's limit on purchasing one gun per month and for her support of reselling guns collected in buyback programs, rather than destroying them.
"We must demand that our voice be heard. We must not let it be drowned out by the gun lobby. And we must stand up and say, 'Enough is enough,' " Murphy said.
On ethics reform:
Both women support ethics reform.
Murphy said Virginia's current system that allows spouses of elected officials to receive gifts creates "too open a field." She also said lawmakers should consider placing limits on money that can be given to candidates and on what it can be spent.
Comstock said she already was working with House leadership on an ethics reform package. Financial gifts should be disclosed, she said. Those who fail to do so should have to pay financial penalties. An independent group should be created to approve certain expenses in advance, like travel, she said.
On Medicaid expansion:
Murphy said she supports Medicaid expansion and cited the loss of Virginia tax dollars if this state fails to take advantage of the federal matching funds that will be available for such expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
Comstock talked about the need to reform Medicaid first. The state should explore cost-sharing provisions, better fraud prosecution and more local direct community health services.
"If you don't fix it, you will not have money for education, you will not have money for roads, or you will have much, much higher taxes," she said. "We've got to get it right before we expand."