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Both GOP contenders for the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors are dead-set against debt.
Saturday, May 4, 2013
Both Republicans competing for the GOP nomination in the Hollins District supervisor race say they detest government debt. How they propose to eliminate it leaves voters two vastly different options.
Al Bedrosian touts intensive, hack-away austerity. Mike Bailey preaches a cautious, surgical approach. The difference between the two carries implications that could affect the scope of Roanoke County government and how it interacts with residents on a day-to-day basis — vetting under a microscope citizens’ needs against their wants.
The winner of Saturday’s Republican firehouse primary will go on to face independent candidate Gary Jarrell .
Bedrosian is the first to admit it: “I’m not usually the guy who’s endorsed.”
That hasn’t hampered his most recent campaign to replace outgoing Hollins District Supervisor Richard Flora. His mission statement is simple: If elected, he will strive to reduce the county’s debt and tax rates. As a means of achieving that goal, Bedrosian has proposed halting capital projects, cutting county departments by 2 percent across the board, and diminishing the role of the very seat for which he’s running.
Among Bedrosian’s chief targets of derision are the construction of the Vinton library and the long-finished Green Ridge Recreation Center; he has characterized both projects as colossal wastes of money.
“If a project adds to the debt, then let’s not do the project,” Bedrosian said. “For a lot of the programs, I would say, ‘No.’ And it’s not because you’re being heartless, it’s because you’re being an adult.”
Indeed, he hinges his campaign on the idea that the finances of government — with all its complexities and departments — should be run like a common household.
The primary focus of the county should be to provide police and rescue services while shying away from tinkering with the private sector, he said. It’s a position that was applauded at a recent tea party forum, but whether he will be accepted throughout his district remains to be seen.
In 1999, he lost a bid for a seat in the state House of Delegates. It was the same year he made headlines for spanking another person’s 2-year-old child in a Lewis-Gale Clinic waiting room. That case eventually went to court, where a judge dismissed it.
During an April interview, Bedrosian said the incident had not changed his outlook on running for office, or his perception of the situation.
“It was a bad thing, but if it happened the exact same way, I’d do it again,” he said.
He remained politically engaged even after the spanking incident, using a radio spot and newspaper editorials as a sounding board. He often speaks about his religion and how he envisions its role in government. In August 2007, Bedrosian made his case in The Roanoke Times that Christianity should be the dominant religion in America.
“As a Christian, I think it’s time to rid ourselves of this notion of freedom of religion in America,” he wrote. “Beware, Christians, we are being fed lies that a Christian nation needs to be open to other religions.”
He has since argued that prayer should be an active component at meetings of the board of supervisors.
In his quest to minimize the role of government, Bedrosian said he would not support a countywide fee or tax for storm water management, opting instead to pass the costs directly to property owners. The county is currently preparing to meet new federally required storm water compliance , the price of which has been estimated to rise into the millions of dollars.
When asked if he had concerns about how a business would shoulder the burden of compliance, Bedrosian cited the free market.
“They need to do it,” he said of business owners. “Then they need to put that charge into the price of the product that they sell to gain that money back.”
Bailey doesn’t describe himself as a leader, but it hasn’t stopped him from running for public office. It also hasn’t stopped the Business Leadership Fund , a Roanoke-based political action committee, from contributing to his campaign.
“I think I’m a better listener than I am a talker,” he said in a recent interview, highlighting the approach he hopes to take if elected to the county board of supervisors.
He said he’s keen to join a board that has been stricken with tension and animosity, but is proposing to take a muted approach to navigate his way through its politics. It’s an approach hinged more on requests by constituent complaints than his own personal initiatives. As a result, Bailey has campaigned with few concrete plans.
“I’m not the savior of the group, I’m not someone who can go in and pull everybody together,” Bailey said. “I know how to work relationships, but not manipulate them. I know what being nice means.”
He staked himself as middle-of-the-road conservative at a recent tea party forum, where he sat two seats away from his opponent. The debate spurred him to single out Bedrosian and define his own proposals as comparatively “realist.”
Bailey spoke specifically about Bedrosian’s position that the government should not enforce restrictions on property rights. The topic was discussed at the forum in regard to the number of chickens a person could keep in neighborhood zones.
“I cannot believe there are many people who actually want no government restrictions at all on private property,” he said. “It may sound good but it will smell bad when your neighbor decides to raise a pig in his back yard.”
A noted skeptic of the Vinton library project, Bailey said he does not believe the county should halt all capital initiatives. Instead, he said he’s eager to examine and micromanage the budget responsibly, with debt reduction slated as a top priority.
A retired business owner, Bailey said he is prepared to focus his full attention on county matters. He said he sees the supervisor role as his calling.
“I’ve been involved with businesses, I know what the small business person goes through,” he said. “I’ve listened for years as contractors fussed over ordinances and zoning difficulties, and people talk about culverts being cut through their yards. I do try to find common ground, because the relationship is important to me.”
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