Monday, October 11, 2010

My Conversation with State Senator Chap Petersen

Chap Petersen is the State Senator for the 34th Senate District of Virginia. The 34th District encompasses 45 precincts in central Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax.

Virginia Gentleman: Do you have a position on Governor McDonnell’s plan to privatize Virginia’s ABC stores?

Chap Petersen: I am opposed to the plan for a couple reasons. First, the ABC franchise is a successful business for its owner, the Virginia taxpayer. I won’t sell it for a discount as that would be a net loss for that state (and a gift for the buyers). Also, I am very hesitant to sell/auction off 1,000 licenses to sell hard liquor. We will be losing control of this industry and the effects will be harmful and focused on certain neighborhoods. Therefore, I oppose that aspect -- much as I opposed payday lending when that was legalized in 2002.

Virginia Gentleman
: In 2001 you challenged powerful incumbent John H. Rust, and to the surprise of virtually all the pundits you won. How did you pull off that upset?

Chap Petersen
: I spent 5 months going door-to-door like a maniac. I lost 15 pounds but won a bunch of precincts where no one expected. Most important, I had a great team of campaign staff and volunteers. Too many to name them all but a shout-out to Not Larry Sabato himself who was my manager and Kathy Neilson, my current Chief of Staff, who was the “den mother” to a bunch of young and immature guys.

Virginia Gentleman: Do you remember the first bill you introduced as a member of the House of Delegates?

Chap Petersen: Sure. It was a bill to televise House sessions on public TV. It was killed in the Rules Committee. I brought that bill every year I was in the House. After I left, they began to permit live sessions on the Internet, which is actually more useful.

Virginia Gentleman: If you were Governor what would you do to improve transportation?

Chap Petersen: Wow. This is a huge question and I could take all day. A few basic principles. First, I believe that freight rail improvements in the 95/64 corridor and the ensuing conversion of long-haul trips will make a difference by taking trucks off the road and freeing up highways. Second, we need to look at cost-effective strategies like Bus Rapid Transit in new transit corridors where fixed rail is too expensive (that’s pretty much everywhere). Third, the current revenues for road building and maintenance need to be indexed or else they will fade into nothing. If that happens, we will always have a funding shorftall, unless we decide to toll all our state roads -- which I oppose. If I was Governor, I would focus on all three of these items as immediate improvements. In the longer term, I'm still a big believer in high speed passenger rail to connect our downtowns in Virginia with Washington, D.C. But that is still years away.

Virginia Gentleman: In addition to Transportation the other area of concern is Education. What are some improvements you’d like to see the General Assembly enact which could improve Virginia public schools

Chap Petersen: Again, I could go all day. As I have 3 kids in in public elementary schol, I see a lot that I like and some things I don’t. One thing: I’m concerned about the lack of physical education in our school system. I believe that’s directly related to combating obesity. We need to have standardized measurements for fitness and health in our schools, just like we do for academics. That's the ONLY WAY to get better results. (That’s kind of an off-beat answer but I am very concerned about our current direction here).

Virginia Gentleman
: Do you have a political hero?
Chap Petersen: My hero is my father for a lot of reasons. Every son should be able to say that. In politics, a valuable friend has been Dick Saslaw. He talked me into running for the State Senate in 2007 when I was otherwise out of politics and backed me 100% when things got rough. He's been a great Majority Leader in that he runs a tight ship and expects results -- but treats everyone fairly. I disagree with Dick all the time, but have a lot of respect for what he's done.

Virginia Gentleman
: I know you are a big reader; do you have a favorite book?
Chap Petersen: "War and Peace." Next to the Bible, it is the ultimate statement on the human condition. Tolstoy was a great man.

Virginia Gentleman
: Since you grew up in Northern Virginia I assume you are a Redskins fan. How will they do this year? Will they make the playoffs?

Chap Petersen: Love the Skins. Can we get to 9-7? Probably not. We'll finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Hopefully I'm wrong.

Virginia Gentleman: On the Democrat side it seems like the race for the gubernatorial election in 2013 is wide open. Do you have interest in running?

Chap Petersen: Yes, eventually. As for 2013, I'm focused on 2011 right now. I'm taking nothing for granted. The 34th is historically a swing district.

Virginia Gentleman: Do you think Obama can carry the 34th senate district in 2012?

Chap Petersen: Yes, but there needs to be a much better and more coherent message than what we're seeing now. People want to believe in this President but he needs to recognize that government can't do everything. It should focus on the things it can do -- and do it better. Once his team gets focused on that, they will be ready to win again.

Virginia Gentleman
: I'd like to thank Senator Petersen for taking the time to interview with me. Despite our political differences Chap is a dedicated public servant, and a Virginia Gentleman.

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