By Malee Oot November 5, 2013
The Virginia House’s 33rd District race is proving to be one of the most closely watched races in Northern Virginia as Democrat and newcomer Mary Costello Daniels gains ground in the historically Republican district. Current Republican candidate Dave LaRock ousted long-time incumbent Joe May in the Republican primary in June, spurring Daniels to enter the race, according The Washington Post.
Virginia’s 33rd District - an area which spans from outer Leesburg to outer Winchester - is somewhat unique. It went to Romney in the last presidential election, but parts of Loudoun County have been called a bellwether jurisdiction by the Richmond Times Dispatch, making it one closely watched by Democrats and Republicans in Virginia.
Development in the Washington, DC area is slowly changing the 33rd into yet another Northern Virginia suburb. But for now, the district’s economic drivers are still forestry and agriculture, making environmental and land management issues key to both the LaRock and Daniels campaigns.
Environmental concerns, namely climate change and sustainable energy have also played an interesting role in the highly competitive race for Governor in Virginia, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe has a 6% lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli, according to a Quinnipiac poll released November 4. Cuccinelli, an enthusiastic denier of global climate change, has made support for fossil fuels a cornerstone of his campaign. He also criticizes McAuliffe for his 'war on coal.'
In Virginia’s 33rd District - taking a systems thinking approach to environmental challenges similarly seems to be divided along party lines. Judging by Dave LaRock’s website, environmental considerations are not part of his platform. The site fails to list a single environmental issue of concern to LaRock - and instead identifies forestry as a part of agriculture, saying:
Agriculture and forestry combined are Virginia’s largest industry, and they support many other industries. They are extremely important as job-creators and in sustaining local communities here in the 33rd District. That makes agriculture and forestry extremely important to Dave, and will work [sic] to protect the interests of farmers while managing the state budget wisely.
Like LaRock, agriculture is an issue for Daniels too. However, instead of lumping all land and resource management issues into the category of agriculture, Daniels instead lists ‘Agriculture, Land Use and Sustainability’ as a priority, according to her campaign website.
Daniels highlights the economic importance of agriculture in the 33rd District, but also focuses on the district as ‘a leader in the Commonwealth in sustainable agriculture’ and the potential to develop an agri-tourism industry. However, unlike LaRock, Daniels also expresses concern for broader environmental issues, and suggests on her campaign website, ‘…the state needs to look forward to proactively address concerns related to the availability of clean water and clean air.’ Daniels also believes there should be financial incentives in place for pollution reduction programs, for private citizens, business, and local government.
Growing concern for environmental issues including climate change may benefit Democratic candidates like Daniels, who has earned endorsements from both the Sierra Club and the Virginia League of Conservation voters. Based on a fall 2013 poll conducted in Virginia by the Social Science Research Center at Old Dominion University, 62.7% of respondents believed human activity is a major contributing factor to global climate change.
Similarly, a poll conducted by the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication in July, 2013 found nearly 85% of Virginians believe climate change is already occurring. Younger voters (18-35) are even more in tune to the issue, and 73% associated climate change deniers with terms like “ignorant” or “crazy” according to a bipartisan poll done the League of Conservation Voters conducted this year.
As area voters turn out on election day, environmental concerns, including the threats presented by climate change may provide a political tipping point. In Virginia, the direct risks from climate change in the coming years and decades include flooding, sea level rise, and heat waves. Refusing to address the problem is definitely no longer an option.