Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Civic Engagement is a Hallmark of Falls Church

By Peg Willingham

When I had the honor of becoming the chairperson of the Falls Church City Democratic Committee a few months ago, I thought I knew what to expect: working with dedicated volunteers to engage voters to support our party’s candidates. What I did not expect, however, was the cordial bipartisan cooperation offered by our counterparts on the Falls Church City Republican Committee. At a time when political discourse at the national level is so divisive and nasty, and when our state legislature is unable to agree on seemingly sensible measures like non-partisan redistricting, it has been refreshing to see how much common ground we can find here in the Little City.

Don’t get me wrong – Republican activists in Falls Church are just as eager to elect their candidates as we are ours. However, they are also committed to working together on city-wide efforts like the Youth Representatives Initiative and co-hosting non-partisan community forums throughout the year. Our youth representative and I were warmly welcomed at a recent Republican committee meeting at which their youth representative was officially sworn in. These young people have known each other since elementary school, and although they have differing political beliefs, they set a great example of the kind of civic engagement that is a hallmark of Falls Church. (Another thing that our committees have in common: we would all like to encourage more young people to join!) The Falls Church Republicans also held an awards dinner last week at which they honored several local Democrats, including my predecessor as party chair, Betty Coll, in recognition of her eight years of service in that role. I have attended numerous political events throughout Northern Virginia over the years, and I can’t think of a similar example of generously recognizing fellow residents across party lines.

Issues that seem highly partisan actually have support among a majority of Virginians, such as immigration reform. A 2014 poll of Virginia voters showed that 90 percent of Republicans, 85 percent of Democrats and 92 percent of independents believe that America’s immigration system is in need of fixing. 83 percent of Democratic respondents said they would rather vote for a presidential candidate from a political party that supports immigration reform. Among Republicans, the number was 71 percent – a decisive majority.

Two weeks ago, I participated in an event that helped low-income families sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Despite the onslaught of distortions about this law, it is already saving lives and taxpayer dollars. However, our legislature has refused to expand Medicaid, thereby forgoing billions of dollars in federal funding that we Virginians are sending to other states instead, leaving 400,000 Virginians without access to affordable health care. I felt extremely frustrated, and ashamed, to have to tell a woman who made $10,000 last year that she makes too little to qualify for participation in the ACA’s healthcare marketplace, yet is not eligible for Medicaid here in Virginia. In one of the more prosperous states in the richest country in the world, we are leaving people like her to jeopardize her health and risk bankruptcy if she has a medical emergency. This is shameful. It also makes no sense financially. Those of us lucky to have insurance already pay a “hidden tax” to cover uncompensated care provided for uninsured Virginians. Hospitals are also stuck with those bills, rather than receiving federal dollars under expanded Medicaid. This costs close to $200 million each year. Forgone funding also means fewer health care jobs. That’s why the Virginia Chamber of Commerce supports Medicaid expansion, too – another example of working across traditional party lines!

In Virginia we have elections every year, and we’ll be working hard on behalf of our respective candidates once again this fall. You could easily get the impression from recent media coverage that we are already in the thick of the 2016 presidential election, but not so fast! Here in Falls Church, in addition to candidates in our non-partisan city council and school board elections, there will be four outstanding public servants on the ballot in November: State Senator Richard Saslaw, Delegate Marcus Simon, and two constitutional officers who serve both Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos and Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson. They will be joining our recently elected Congressman Don Beyer at the Falls Church City Democratic Committee’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Sunday, April 12 at 5 p.m. in the community center. This potluck supper has a unique small-town flavor and is a favorite with politicians and community members alike. We hope you can join us!

The Falls Church City Democratic Committee meets on the third Wednesday of every month at 7:30 p.m. at the community center. We always welcome volunteers and new members, so please get involved.

 


Peg Willingham is the Chair of the Falls Church City Democratic Committee.