An interview with the Chair, Daniel Lagana
The dialogue that follows is a faithful representations of the responses but not verbatim.
VoxFairfax: Aside from/in addition to electing candidates and turning out voters, what are your organization’s current top challenges in Fairfax?
Dan Lagana: We are a very large, complex organization, with over 1,400 members. Our size and complexity present various management challenges. This amplifies differences in members’ needs in different parts of the county. Also, as the county becomes more Democratic, there are more contests among Democrats; this is a growing arena for such intraparty contests.
VF: Although not a statute, the Dillon rule requires the legislature to act upon a wide range of county issues. Can you name a few that the legislature should permanently grant to counties?
DL: The Dillon rule is easy to criticize, especially if you’re a county supervisor. It’s easy to hide behind it. It’s easy to blame the state legislature, for instance, if there are things that the county may be able to take care of, but not want to.
VF: Might local governments benefit from carve-outs to the Dillon rule, similar to the 9th and 10th amendments to the federal constitution, that is, reservation of powers to localities? [Editors’ note: The Dillon rule, adopted by the Virginia Supreme Court in 1896, is a legal principle holding that local governments have limited authority, and can pass ordinances only in areas where the General Assembly has granted clear authority.]
DL: Yes. If you get some kind of revenue-generating ability that the state cedes to you, that would certainly be a big benefit. Arlington, for example, has more independence than most counties do in the state. If we could generate revenue locally, we wouldn’t have to push for something like the meals tax. In terms of disagreements with the Board of Supervisors, I certainly don’t agree with its pension plan proposals, especially for new staff. There’s no economic need. We can’t pull from VRS [Virginia Retirement System] like the state does. There is no crisis; we have 2.8% unemployment. This is an issue that comes up because of the Dillon rule. It’s morally wrong to tell new hires we need certain skills and then pay them less. I realize that the Board of Supervisors doesn’t have the flexibility of the state government regarding pensions, but it doesn’t excuse them from providing a quality retirement package.
VF: Does your organization have any current recommendations for enhancing school safety?
DL: FCDC has taken many positions on the issue of gun violence. As for specific recommendations for school safety, no. We passed a resolution in March against carrying loaded weapons in cars.
VF: Should 16-year-olds be franchised to vote in school board elections? Why/why not? What about in state/local elections?
DL: No. I haven’t given this a lot of thought, but I don’t like certain rules applying to certain elections. It’s easier to have consistent rules apply. Whether school board, state, or local, it should be the same criterion. But I don’t think there’s been enough debate yet.
VF: Should felons be allowed to vote?
DL: Yes, once they’ve paid their debt to society. When you go to a penitentiary you’re doing an act of penitence. [VF: What about felons still in prison?] I don’t agree with that. When you’re in prison you lose some of your rights as a citizen; you’re being punished. It’s a moral question. That’s why when you’re released you should have all of your rights restored. There’s a moral component—a secular morality—to being a citizen. Citizenship comes with responsibility. I’ve yet to see a coherent argument from conservatives as to what ex-felons should do after being released to regain their right to vote. It has racial overtones as well.
VF: Would you support the at-large election of congressional representatives to combat the gerrymandering problem, which has cost taxpayers $6 million?
DL: I’d be inclined to support it; it’s an interesting solution. But I don’t know.
VF: How may a county political party contribute to toning down the hyper-political dialogue and name-calling? Democrats use epithets such as progressive and conservative, while Republicans criticize RINOs and cuckservatives.
DL: The chair sets the tone on the committee. I try to stress respect and dignity. There’s no benefit to isolating and defaming. I sent out an email advising against attending the DC [white nationalist] rally last weekend, and got a lot of criticism for it. I was concerned for people’s safety. I also don’t like some of the hysterical, insulting fundraising letters; they’re lampooning what is a serious, critical moment in our country’s history. And it contributes to the rhetoric problem.
VF: Can you foresee some common matters that the two organizations might agree upon, for example, a joint statement on campaign conduct, a kind of ethical creed?
DL: Yes, I could. In the areas of gifts, financial reporting, campaign contributions. We can try to be civil, but our mission, after all, is to elect Democrats. It comes down to how the candidates comport themselves. I don’t like name-calling. It’s hard, but perhaps the two chairs could come out in favor of more civil conduct. It can’t be done unilaterally.