Education incentives, housing credits for teachers and public safety workers, environmental initiatives — it’s not what many voters expect to see on the Republican platform of a county board candidate.
But GOP nominee Rich Kelsey has plans to address each of those areas, as he attempts to unseat either Walter Tejada (D) or Paul Ferguson (D), who are up for reelection in November. He acknowledges that one of the biggest challenges facing him will be overturning voters’ fears that a Republican is only interested in cutting taxes and reducing social programs,
Which is not to say Kelsey doesn’t represent core GOP values. Throughout the campaign he has hammered away at the incumbents, particularly Ferguson, for escalating real estate tax bills. Although board members voted to cut the tax rate 1.5 cents this year, the average property tax bill rose 62 percent, from $1,910 to $3090, over Ferguson’s current four-year term.
The Republican challenger is targeting not GOP loyalists but moderate Democrats who could prove to be swing voters. “Rich is making a strong argument that this County Board has to be held accountable and someone has to be giving a voice that isn’t lock-stock with the rest of the group,” said David Avella, Arlington Republican Committee chairman.
In heavily-Democratic Arlington, Kelsey faces an uphill battle getting his message out. Public comment at board meetings makes it easy to voice opposition to board actions. But even with television advertisements and fliers, it’s harder to find outlets to discuss new plans, said Kelsey. “You can’t run for a position being anti-everything. If all you are is opposed to everything, then what do you stand for?”
In simple terms, Kelsey said he stands for “good government.” That means trimming the fat in county budgets, cutting taxes and creating incentives for residents and businesses to increase Arlington’s overall quality of life.
KELSEY WORKS AS an attorney in Falls Church and has experience as a small business operator and an adjunct professor at the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington. He worked as a low-wage laborer before becoming the first person in his family to graduate from college.
“Perfect profile,” said Wayne Kubicki, one of Kelsey’s supporters. “Young father, three kids, homeowner. Somebody who isn’t afraid to take the kind of decisions that everyone has to make about their personal finances and extend that to the county finances.”
Kelsey is counting on strong support from advocates of locating a Major League Baseball stadium in Arlington. Of the four candidates, he is the only stadium advocate. But supporters say Kelsey’s appeal extends beyond the baseball issue.
“I’m voting for him even though we disagree on the stadium, because that’s how strongly I feel about his candidacy,” said Kubicki.
FISCALLY CONSERVATIVE plans draw supporters like Kubicki to the GOP camp, but opponents warn that promises of large tax cuts won’t pan out.
“If they want to cut taxes that deeply, how are you going to pay for it? What are you going to cut?” said Dan Steen, Arlington Democratic Committee chair. “They get real general, real vague about that.”
Budget planning starts from the wrong end, Kelsey said. Currently, county staff members use the “continuing services” model, whereby they start with maintaining all current programs and then examine possible additions. That hurts efficiency, said Kelsey, who advocates changing the process for staff members.
“I’m going to incentivize them to go through their own budgets,” he said. You find me either additional revenue or additional savings and I will give you a percentage of that revenue.” The net savings he would roll into a tax cut.
KELSEY OPPOSES the living wage ordinance passed by the board earlier this year and in its place would put what he calls the “Be Better Program.” The plan would reimburse those people who currently earn less than the living wage for education expenses. “Before, we were just giving you a raise,” said Kelsey. “Now we’re giving you lifetime skills.”
In opposing the living wage ordinance, the Republican finds himself at odds with labor unions and several local church leaders.
The Republican also advocates a tax incentive program to encourage homeowners to replace old air conditioners with newer, more environmentally-friendly versions. The program would improve air quality and would benefit local businesses by providing larger tax credits for purchasing from an Arlington store.
Kelsey would also push to revise the county’s “Live Where You Work” program. By making the program available only to teachers, firefighters, police and first responders, instead of all county employees, the county could increase the amount of money given to each person, he said.