Bell, Neff Aim for Jefferson’s Seat

Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) wants voters to send him back for his fifth term in Richmond, occupying the same legislative seat once held by Thomas Jefferson.

Democratic challenger Cynthia Neff — a political newcomer — says it’s time for a change in Capitol Square.

The two candidates discussed the issues Thursday, during an online debate sponsored by NBC29 and WINA Radio.

Bell said he has been careful not to propose new spending programs as a part of his campaign platform.

“I think if you are not careful, if you don’t say ‘Gosh, we’re going to look at each spending item very carefully, we’re going to weigh it against what’s already there,’ the inevitable impact is a tax increase,” Bell said.

Neff — whose platform does include proposals that would likely require new spending — said the initiatives could be funded with money the state already spends. She said millions are wasted each year.

“I think that there needs to be the kind of discipline in Richmond that we would expect of any big business,” Neff said.

How the candidates will spend taxpayer money is one of the key issues in this race.

On the subject of transportation, Neff said she would be willing to consider new funding sources.

“I would definitely have to think long and hard before agreeing categorically to a gas tax,” Neff said. “I tend to think there aren’t things like silver bullets you can just fire.”

Bell said he absolutely would not support an increase in taxes to pay for roads.

“If we want to find transportation dollars, especially in this recession, I think the place to look is at the rest of the budget and reprioritize.”

Neff — a former IBM executive — later accused Bell of “voting by ideology” by systematically rejecting all tax hikes.

“We could program a laptop and let the laptop make the decision for us,” Neff said.

Bell bristled at that criticism, saying his ideology is “to try to do what’s best for the district and the taxpayers and make sure they’re getting a good bang for their buck.”

Although the two candidates did agree on some ideas — using the community college system to increase access to higer education, banning cell phone use while driving and the need for bipartisanship in Richmond — their differences were stark.

Neff supports the immediate restoration of rights when convicted felons are released from prison. Bell said he favors the current system, which requires felons to petition the governor to restore their rights.

On the environment, Neff said she would oppose offshore oil and natural gas drilling. Bell said he would support it as part of a larger energy strategy.

Perhaps one of the most interesting exchanges of the debate came in response to a question about Jefferson’s political ideals and how that vision factors into the candidates’ approaches to governance.

Bell said he admires Jefferson’s view of limited government and the belief that “every dollar it took came from the people who earned it.”

Neff cited the idea of a “citizen legislator,” saying she doesn’t want to serve many terms.

“I just would really like to go and make a contribution and come home.”

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