Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Interview: Alan Howze

The interview with Mr. Howze took place on Sunday May 17 at the Silver Diner in Clarendon.

To get this interview, as well as the others that I conducted, to a similar, readable size, I had to cut quite a bit of material. If I took out more than a word or two (or if the words I erased were more substantial than “and” or “but”), I inserted a three-dot ellipsis (…). If I inserted anything the speaker did not actually say, I used square brackets [like these] to show my insertion.

Otherwise, the words are full quotes. Despite having to remove a lot of content from each of the interviews, I try to make sure the quotes still make sense and are in context. I will happily run corrections or clarifications if the candidate or his campaign can show that it is merited.

My own questions were edited, at times, for clarity and length.--ST

Buckingham HeraldTrib (Steve Thurston): One question that I’ve been asking everybody, is that at the Arlington County Democratic Committee debate, everyone said they supported Universal Pre-school. That failed earlier this year, and assuming the economy is still rough next year, I was wondering if you have ideas for something that you would be happy with as a compromise.

Alan Howze: There are sort of two different ways of looking at universal Pre-K, and one of the purposes of that is to really help bridge the gap between the kids who are getting a lot of stimulation at home, that kind of thing, right? Versus kids who aren’t getting that same level of exposure to reading….

There are a couple of different ways, and I think different localities and different states have played with this a little bit is can you, for example, could you provide tax credits for childcare, or for, you know, daycare, Pre-K services. Arlington has an existing network of Pre-K services…There are dozens of pre-school programs within Arlington, and for families who can afford those, they provide tremendous learning opportunities for students.

In terms of a social policy goal, how do you make some of that more accessible and make those learning opportunities more accessible to students and families who may not be able to afford it? If we’re unable to do it all of universal Pre-K, are there ways that you could begin to improve the development opportunities that are available to the Spanish or lower-income students? I think there probably is.

BHT: So, are you thinking to expand what’s already there? Use what already exists?

AH: Yes. Again, the first preference would be to build out a true universal Pre-K system. That would mean both a build-out of facilities that are appropriate for kids of that age as well as the curriculum…

I think also the challenge is then how do you make sure you maintain popular support for it, for universal Pre-K…That’s where I think where the preference for a truly universal Pre-K program comes into play because that’s also part of the history of public education in the United States is you paid for it. Once you made it universal then you’re also pulling in support from middle-class families and other folks who are currently paying for it out of their pocket.

BHT: Your web site that you wanted to help make developers have to change their proportion of their development toward affordable housing. How so?

AH: Well, I think that Arlington actually has put that into some of their development and zoning packages, so I think that there’s some of that tools that currently exist for localities. I think Arlington has probably been at the forefront of this in terms of trying to put affordable housing into the development mix…

(Click to enlarge the image.)

I think there are a couple of approaches when you’re talking about affordable housing. One is, I mean I think, part of what we saw in the inflation of housing prices not only in northern Virginia but all over was allowing bad actors in the lending marketplace to otherwise run rampant. Certainly I think this is an issue where there is some state involvement, state regulation that’s required, and needs to be cracking down on predatory lenders, that sort of thing…

Then I think another area that’s playing a little bit around the margins in terms of the affordability of housing but property taxes are substantial for a lot of folks in Arlington, particularly seniors who are on fixed incomes and other folks. Part of the reason that Arlington has, and other localities have, to look to property taxes for more of their revenues is because the state share for education funding has decreased over time. The overall tax burden has shifted back down to localities to some degree. So, localities primarily make up that difference through property taxes. By increasing the overall state funding for things like education you do relieve some of that pressure on localities to turn to the property taxes…

BHT: The one big question is sort of “What have you been doing the last four years?” You worked for Gov. Mark Warner, and you live in Arlington, but when I look at your information, I don’t see a whole lot in the 47th District.

AH: I left the governor’s administration and went back to graduate school, went to Darden School of Business at [the University of Virginia]. Did two years up there and then came back to Arlington, and started working for IBM, up here, and really had focused my attention on, one, a new job in a new career area that I hadn’t worked in before.

BHT: What is that?

(Click to enlarge the image.)

AH: It’s consulting services for public-sector agencies, primarily federal agencies around transformation initiatives, IT implementation, that kind of thing. One of the experiences, the reason I chose IBM to go work for was after spending over a decade of working in policy and politics at that sort of level of government, I really wanted to get an experience of, OK when we talk about transforming government services, when we talk about providing more accessibility to citizens, and we talk about making government more efficient, OK, how do you actually do that?…

IBM was one of the places that provided an opportunity to really go in on and see and learn and understand how you really can go about transforming government services…

And I also had young children, so my son was a year, about a year, I guess, when we moved back up to the area, and my wife, we had our second one who’s now 17 months old…

So I spent over a decade working in politics and working on campaigns, working to elect Democrats, and so I said I’m going to turn my attention to focus on my family and my work. And that’s what I did for the first two years, and then began to get more involved in the community in terms of the civic associations.

I actually live at the border of two, so I was the member of two civic associations, Highland Park and Overlee Knolls….So, began to get a little more involved with that. We worked on President [Barack] Obama’s campaign, we did some door knocking, we did some precinct work in Dominion Hills and Overlee Hills, helped raise money and that sort of thing. That was the community involvement, and had started to get more involved in the community in different ways.

In politics, timing counts for a lot, and so if the seat had come open in five years, I might have a community resume that looks different than it does now…

BHT: You had listed increasing the gas tax as a source of transportation funding. I was curious how much more you think it should be and why?

AH: To be honest with you, it’s not that I’ve run the numbers to say we need to raise the gas tax by X number of cents on the gallon. What we need to look at is, what are the transportation requirements that we have? And then what are the funding mechanisms that are available to us? So is it that we just need to look at raising the gas tax? Is that the only solution? Maybe, but maybe not. You know, is it some combination of the gas tax and the sales tax increase, a half-penny or something like that…The [car] title and those sorts of fees as well contribute to the fund as well. So, what is the mix of revenue sources that gives you the funding that you need…

(Click to enlarge the image.)

There are transportation requirements—the needs part—and then we have to look at, OK, what are the requirements for funding? And the requirements for funding are that it be broad-based and that it be stable.

Because, if we’re going to make the sorts of investments in mass transit, you’re going to have to put out bonds to do that because these are large public works, infrastructure projects. It’s not $5 million to do an interchange, that kind of thing. It’s hundreds of millions of dollars to add capacity to metro, that sort of thing…

BHT: Candidate Miles Grant went with the “I’m not taking Dominion Power money” and everyone jumped on you because you’ve taken money from executives there. But you’ve talked about “decoupling” the profits of the coal plant from the generation of the energy. You said you were against the new coal plant in Surry County. Is there a problem with taking the money and then turning around and telling those same people that you will be fighting them?

AH: Well, I’m happy to have the support of Bob Blue [Robert Blue, a Dominion Power Vice President]who I’ve known for a long time. We worked together in Governor [Mark] Warner’s administration. I’m happy to have his support, and I’ve said, as I think all the candidates have said, that I’m not going to take Dominion Power’s PAC money in the primary. I’ve been consistent with that…

Furthermore, I’ve got a long, long record of work in the environmental area. I’ll put that record up against anybody’s. I got into politics through environmental activism.

When I was a student at James Madison University, I got involved with a campus environmental organization, was one of the leaders in that. I actually got JMU’s first comprehensive recycling program, solid-waste management program including setting-up a sorting facility, me and somebody else. Worked on that. Marched on Washington to stop the Disney theme park…

When I worked for [Rep.] Rick Boucher [Va., D-9th] I worked on wilderness protection areas for Virginia. I’ve worked for an environmental non-profit, in Charlottesville when I was a graduate student down there. I was working on green chemicals and helping to find formulations for manufacturers that are less environmentally harmful…

BHT: So what do you do, then, with something like the Surry County coal plant? What do you say to them?

AH: I think this is where the notion of decoupling comes into play, and I think that the first place that we ought to be looking for, quote unquote, new capacity within the system is through conservation….It’s the cheapest source of energy that we have available to us.

BHT: Using less.

AH: Yeah, using less. You know, you look at some of the studies that are available and conservation is the low-hanging fruit in this energy debate. So I think that’s where we ought to be putting our first priority, our first focus. That’s the challenge for utility companies is they make more money the more power they sell, so the notion of decoupling is trying to fundamentally change that relationship so that they are able to recoup investments [even while people conserve]…

BHT: So you see that as something that can go forward with the Surry County plant? More than trying to shut down the plant or change the plans for construction in some way, you’re looking to make it as environmentally friendly as we could?

AH: No, no. That’s why I’m opposed to the Surry County facility. I think we need to be looking at conservation first. Before we’re adding additional generation capacity, we need to be saying, have we squeezed all the efficiencies out of the system that we can?…

The first priority being conservation. The second priority being alternative energy sources. Are there other ways to get this energy through wind and solar and that sort of thing. I think Virginia has lagged behind considerably in helping to advance those sorts of investments…

BHT: Did I forget to ask anything? Was there anything you were aching to tell me?

AH: …[I was] talking to a guy who started a green roof company four years ago, and he lives right off the Custis Trail over in Dominion Hills…so this guy started this company, and you know he’s been chugging along, and he said, the state really needs to get with it. He said he’s actually moving his company out of Virginia over to Maryland, to Jessup Maryland, because Maryland set up a green building center out there. They’re offering classes. They’ve now got space, so he signed a lease to move his operations out there, so now we’ve got half-a-dozen or more jobs in a growing segment of the economy that’s going to go to Maryland.

It’s like, how come Virginia isn’t providing those sorts of opportunities for folks here?…So, that’s an area where we can and should be doing more.

Click here to return to the main interview site. --ST

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