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From the Rockbridge Advocate
Our representative in the House of Delegates, Ben Cline, has avoided any scandal during his years in Richmond. That's a good thing. But sadly for the voters, he has also gotten quite good at avoiding questions.
There will be few, if any more chances to see Ben and his opponent, Jeff Price, together between now and November. Price would love to have more debates and forums. Cline is apparently planning to hide behind "scheduling problems" during the time when voters are beginning to seriously think about who deserves their vote.
Cline appears to be running on his record.
He put out a flyer showing himself at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Horse Center. The ceremony celebrated some construction there that was funded with a federal earmark. Cline had little to do with obtaining that earmark, and was never known in Richmond as someone who did much of anything for the Horse Center.
The flyer also claims that Cline "established community college branches in Amherst and Buena Vista..." But the bill cited in the flyer is not one that Cline introduced. And once the bill was passed, it was the hard work of Buena Vista City Council and the Dabney S. Lancaster Community College board that brought the new campus to Buena Vista. They, and not Cline, deserve the credit.
It's not unusual for politicians to claim credit for everything good that happens in their districts during their tenure. But Ben really has remarkably little to show for his years in Richmond - other than picking up some tips on being a career politician.
And one tip that he's refined is to avoid saying anything that might possibly offend a voter, and dodge any question that can't be answered by saying something about government waste, apple pie, etc. etc.
Jeff Price hasn't learned that trick. Then again, Jeff doesn't want to make a career out of politics. His roots in this district go back a long, long, way - about as long as Virginia's tradition of citizen legislators: people who will take time away from their real jobs to spend a couple of months in Richmond every year.
Ben, who left Congressman Goodlatte's office to run for the General Assembly a few years ago, has gotten himself a real job on the government payroll as an assistant prosecutor in Harrisonburg, which is not in his district.
Jeff runs a family-owned mortar business in Amherst, which is in the district. He knows what it is to work with his hands, and to meet a payroll, and to wade through red tape, and to struggle to make ends meet to keep food on his employee's plates.
Unlike Ben, who likes to talk about "family values", Jeff knows first hand what it's like to raise a family in these hard times.
Jeff has exactly the sort of experiences we could use in the General Assembly. And they are not the sort of experiences one can obtain by being a professional politician.
Jeff is a straight-shooter. And he can give a straight answer to a straightforward question.
Listening to his answers and Ben's at a pair of events last month provided one over-arching contrast: Jeff answered the actual questions. Ben gave a soft-shoe song and dance with an anecdote here and a platitude there.
For instance, at a forum in Rockbridge Baths, Jeff and Ben were asked what they would do to help promote agriculture.
Ben said he's been endorsed by the Farm Bureau. And that was about it.
Jeff, who grew up on a farm, said he'd promote more apprenticeship programs to help young people learn about farming and trades.
Asked about a transportation plan, Cline talked about "hardworking families getting squeezed," and bashed VDOT for allocating funds to renovate their quarters while closing rest areas. That's all well and good, but the money he was talking about isn't a drop in the bucket when it comes to Virginia's transportation needs.
Price, on the other hand, doesn't claim to have the answers, but he says that the legislature and the governor need to have a serious conversation about how to raise money for transportation without gutting state funding for education and mental health programs - something Republicans have been kicking around. And Price has the courage to admit that the only way to raise that money, in the long run, may be to raise the gas tax a couple of cents.
Asked about improving the economy at a Chamber of Commerce forum, Ben gave some vague answer with a few nice platitudes - "Virginia is going to lead the nation out of the economic downturn."
Jeff, who knows about small business, noted that most of the new jobs in this country have always been created by small businesses, and that one thing the state could do is to give a limited tax credit for each new job those businesses create. And he's right.
Ben has made much of the closing of the juvenile correction center in Natural Bridge. But after bashing and clashing with the governor time and time again, he's hardly in any position to work with the administration to reopen the facility. (What he's done instead is to provide a fine reason to vote for Creigh Deeds in the governor's race, since Deeds actually lives in and cares about this neck of the woods.) Ben has run against the government. It's gotten him elected. But it hasn't done much for this district or the state.
Jeff Price doesn't have an ideological agenda or any great political ambitions. He knows how to listen and work hard. He's got some courage and a whole lot of common sense. And that's just what we need in Richmond.