The 34th House of Delegates District election Nov. 2 between incumbent Del. Kathleen Murphy (D) and Republican challenger Gary Pan is a rematch of their 2019 race, but plenty has changed since then.
Democrats won control of both General Assembly houses in 2019, which in combination with holding all three top statewide posts allowed them to enact their agenda largely unimpeded.
But the onset of the COVID pandemic last year, as well as economic disruption, controversy over vaccine mandates and President Biden’s decreasing popularity, have altered the political landscape leading up to this fall’s election.
Murphy, who is seeking a fourth two-year term, first was elected to the House of Delegates in January 2015 when she won a special election to fill the unexpired term of Del. Barbara Comstock (R), who had been elected to Congress.
Murphy has not had a free ride ever since. She had to defeat Republican Craig Parisot in 2015 to win a full term, then fended off challenges from Cheryl Buford (R) in 2017, Pan in 2019 and Jennifer Adeli (D) in this year’s June primary.
Murphy said her campaign has gained “solid support” and that she had delivered on issues that mattered most to her constituents, such as gun-violence prevention, raising teacher pay and recovering from the pandemic.
She also has worked to help female veterans and people with rare diseases.
The General Assembly next year should focus on rebuilding Virginia’s economy and helping children who lost educational time during the pandemic, Murphy said. Other critical priorities include expanding healthcare and protecting voting rights, she said.
Murphy said she did not think there would be backlash from voters regarding the many initiatives Democrats have passed during their two years of holding the majority in both houses.
“I don’t think we overplayed our hand,” she said. “I think we finally got to play a hand.”
Murphy said national controversies likely will affect the election. Regarding Pan, Murphy said she doubted his depth on the issues.
“I think he does things maybe to shock people,” she said. “He pulls things out of the thin air and sees if he can get someone’s attention.”
An Illinois native, Murphy moved frequently as a military child and earned a degree magna cum laude in liberal arts from Arizona University.
Murphy was president of a consulting company before winning office in 2015. She previously served as an international-trade adviser at the U.S. Department of Commerce, worked on congressional affairs for the U.S. Agency for International Development and was a senior staff member for U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-Texas).
Murphy also was deputy director for women’s outreach at the Democratic National Convention for Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000.
The 34th District stretches east from the Potomac River between Sterling and Falls Church and includes Great Falls and portions of McLean and the Wolf Trap and Tysons areas.
Pan, who received 8,485 votes to Murphy’s 11,607 in 2019, is enthusiastic about his campaign’s prospects.
“The reception at the door has been fantastic,” he said. “People have been very supportive. People in my party have been supporting me, but the great thing is that the independents and a lot of Democrats . . . are excited about it.”
Education has been the top issue on residents’ minds, Pan said.
“They’re very concerned about the quality of education for their kids and the direction that education is going in,” he said. “They want to actually have more focus on teaching kids how to think, not what to think.”
Voters are worried about learning losses that children have suffered during the pandemic, Pan said.
The public also is concerned about the vilification of law enforcement and the shortage of police officers, he said.
“We need to have logical thinking about things,” Pan said. “We can’t deal with things at an emotional level. We have to be conscientious and actually think things through, so we cannot react impulsively, but [should] make sure we’re protecting the interests of the public.
Pan graduated from Weston High School in Weston, Mass., and earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, with a minor in legal studies, at Lehigh University. He later received a master’s in business administration from the Pamplin School at Virginia Tech and has completed coursework toward a doctorate in organizational leadership from the University of Phoenix.
Pan formerly was director of Lucid Technology Inc. and is CEO/president of Panacea Consulting Inc. He has been active as an adult leader and scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts and recently founded an all-girl Scout troop. He has received Scouting’s highest adult honor, the Silver Beaver.
Pan is optimistic that the House of Delegates will be back under Republican control after the election.
“I think the issue of one-party rule has been a big issue for a lot of the constituents,” he said. “They want to see more balance. They saw the pendulum swing way hard and they’re very concerned about that, because it doesn’t reflect their interests.”
The public is weary of politics, he added.
“It’s all about integrity and service above self,” Pan said, echoing the Rotary Club’s motto. “You have to have the courage to try to represent and lead forward and you have to have the right type of moral compass.”