Del. James K. "Jay" O'Brien (R-40th) hopes to become the senator representing the newly drawn 39th District. He has his work cut out for him, but he believes his 11 years of experience as a state delegate will result in victory.
"Clearly, the experience I've had in the House of Delegates is experience that people can trust," he said. "People know that, if elected to the Senate, I'll hit the ground running. And with the current Republican majority in the Senate, I believe I'll be more successful in effecting change for the future."
A Town of Clifton resident, O'Brien, 51, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. He and wife, Sevea, are manufacturers representatives in their office-furniture business and are the parents of five children: Kerry, 14; James III, 13; Benen, 12; Sean, 8; and Kiernan, 6.
Elected to the House of Delegates in 1991, he was the original patron of Megan's Law in Virginia, requiring the permanent registration of sex offenders wherever they move. And he brought about teen driving reforms.
"I think that affects more Virginia families than anything else I've done," said O'Brien. Thanks to legislation that he championed, teen-agers must wait until age 15 1/2 before obtaining a learner's permit. The bill also limits the number of passengers teen drivers may have, gives them a curfew and requires 40 hours of parental involvement while they're behind the wheel, before they can drive on their own.
This past year, he was the chief patron of the aggressive-driving bill, providing a level of prosecution between a moving violation and reckless driving. He got a bill passed to set minimum standards of qualification for substitute teachers, as well as one enabling senior citizens to audit classes at public colleges and universities, at no charge, on a space-available basis.
O'Brien also got a bill passed to increase the number of organ donors. People may identify themselves as such on their driver's licenses, and the DMV now allows them to do so on their license-renewal application. "Since it started, three or four years ago, the number of people signing up for it has quadrupled," he said.
He's also served on the House Education Committee for 11 years, and in 1999, his bill created the in-service technology program for public-school teachers. Another of his bills increased the penalty for drivers passing stopped school buses.
O'Brien helped establish victim-impact statement procedures in criminal cases, implemented penalties for unauthorized use of another's personal information and established a $3,000 income-tax deduction for members of the armed forces. Now he wants to put his talents and expertise to use in the state Senate.
"This is a historic opportunity to make a change similar to that which we experienced in the House of Delegates over the last 10 years," he explained. "The last four years, the Senate has been fairly neutral because it's been so evenly divided. So now the governor and House of Delegates are the two power centers. But I see a major switch in the Senate over the next decade."
O'Brien believes that with redistricting will come a shift in power as new leaders join the Senate and steer things in a different direction. "So it's a very exciting time to be part of the state Senate in Virginia if, indeed, I am elected in two weeks," he said Tuesday.
One of his major platform-issues is transportation reform. "I believe that the state Transportation Trust Fund should be set aside and all transportation revenues should go into it, instead of the variety of revenue streams we have now," he said. And he's adamant that money should not be taken from it and used for other purposes, as was done this past year.
"I've prepared a constitutional amendment to protect and preserve this fund from any future raids," said O'Brien. "Gov. Warner took $317 million from it, this past year, for other purposes, at the same time he's asking us to raise taxes for transportation."
O'BRIEN also believes the transportation-funding formula should be changed so that Northern Virginia gets its fair share of the money. "I want to build the projects listed in the tax referendum, but fund them through changes in the funding formula," he said. O'Brien said this formula is currently based on vehicle miles traveled, "but you're not traveling many miles when you're stuck in gridlock."
So instead, O'Brien proposes the formula be based on the number of registered vehicles. "It's a very precise measure of population density and gridlock," he said. "We'd qualify for more money because we have more vehicles, and I think these changes would generate more revenue without raising taxes."
O'Brien believes Virginia citizens are entitled to the planned transportation projects, plus mass transit, because they're taxpayers. "We should not be asked to pay a transportation surcharge because we live in Northern Virginia," he added. "The notion of fix it or solve it yourself, I think, is entirely inappropriate."
Furthermore, he said, the tax referendum would set a dangerous precedent for future issues that citizens will be asked to address: "Are we [later] going to be asked to go it alone on [matters such as] education, senior citizens or veterans benefits?"
PUBLIC SAFETY is also an O'Brien priority, and he's pleased that, despite the huge state-budget shortfall, Warner has protected the public-safety budget that will fund the hiring of 100 new state troopers. O'Brien also plans proposing a bill enabling the public to be immediately alerted if a child has been abducted. And he'll introduce an insurance-policy study making sure that policyholders have the protection they need in the case of fires and catastrophic events.
All these items, he said, provide insight into the broad range of legislative issues he deals with on a regular basis. He also believes that being a parent, small-business owner and military officer affords him valuable life experience to be a good and effective legislator.
Since O'Brien's only represented five of the 36 precincts in the 39th District, he said it's important that his supporters get out and vote for him and not assume that, since he's known here, he'll carry the other precincts. He also noted that he looks forward to meeting and working with all the different groups in the areas new to him.
"They'll have different issues, but the work of a legislator — to understand and act on them — remains the same," he said. "I look at America as the melting pot, and those of us in politics have the honor and privilege of representing everybody."