The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Wittman faces pair of challengers in 1st District race
BY CHELYEN DAVIS
Rep. Rob Wittman, R–Montross, is being challenged by Democrat Adam Cook of Fredericksburg and Independent Green Party candidate Gail Parker, who lives outside the district in Alexandria. State law doesn’t require congressional candidates to live in the district they seek.
When voters in the 1st congressional district go to the polls Tuesday, they’ll have three choices for Congress.
It is a long-shot race for Cook and especially for Parker, a frequent candidate whose primary reason for running is the expansion of rail service. She got 1 percent of the vote in the 1st district in 2010.
The 1st, which encompasses much of the Fredericksburg area except Spotsylvania County, has long been a comfortably Republican district. Before her death, former Rep. Jo Ann Davis held the seat through several elections.
Wittman won a special election in 2007 to fill her seat with more than 42,000 votes to the Democrat’s 26,000.
In 2010, Wittman beat Democrat Krystal Ball by a 2–1 margin, taking 64 percent of the vote.
Wittman is a longtime office-holder in the Northern Neck, serving on the Montross Town Council and Westmoreland Board of Supervisors before winning a House of Delegates seat and then heading to Congress.
He’s a environmental health specialist who also served in the state Health Department’s shellfish sanitation division, and is vocal about Chesapeake Bay environmental issues.
Wittman is seen as affable, but don’t mistake that for vacillating. He’s a reliably conservative vote—for instance, he wants to repeal the federal health care law and is adamantly pro-life, co-sponsoring the federal “personhood” bill that would define life as beginning at conception. He opposes tax increases, including raising taxes on the highest-income earners, as Democrats have proposed.
But talk to Wittman about divisiveness and dysfunction in Congress, and he’ll agree with you. He’ll tell you he makes an effort to strike up friendships with other members of Congress, to learn what they are interested in and try to work together. He points to several pieces of environmental legislation as issues on which he’s been able to work with Democrats, as well as some veterans legislation.
At speeches, Wittman regularly touches on all of these things—repealing the Affordable Health Care Act, averting defense cuts, reducing the federal debt, working with both parties to craft tax reform that might please everyone.
While Republicans have long held the 1st District, this year Democrats hope they have a better chance in Cook.
The 1st district—which stretches from Stafford and Fauquier, down through the rural Northern Neck to York and Newport News—has a heavy veteran and soldier population, which Democrats think makes Cook the perfect candidate.
Cook is an attorney and former active-duty military member who is now a major in the Air Force Reserves.
He did a tour in Afghanistan last year, and while there, he served as the chief legal advisor to the Detainee Review Boards at the detention facility in Parwan.
“He’s a veteran himself. He recognizes veterans’ needs,” said Dick Toy of Spotsylvania, an 86-year-old World War II veteran. “He is the best candidate that we’ve had in this area for a long time.”
Veterans’ issues are indeed a major plank in Cook’s campaign. Recently he did a tour of the district with other military veterans, talking about what the federal government can do to better support soldiers and veterans through better health care, suicide prevention and job training.
It was his military experience, he is fond of saying, that helped move him to run for office. If soldiers from different countries could get along in Afghanistan, he says, he doesn’t see why Congress can’t compromise on solutions.
At a recent Saturday morning Democratic breakfast at Ryan’s Steakhouse in Fredericksburg, Cook said he will be there for veterans of the First District.
One of his biggest complaints about Wittman is that Cook doesn’t think Wittman has done enough for veterans. Specifically, he says Wittman opposed a more generous version of the GI bill until a less generous one failed. Wittman disputes that and says he held out for a version of the bill that made certain veterans benefits transferable.
Wittman says he has worked to help veterans get benefits and that he is working on reducing claims backlogs within Veterans Administration hospitals.
Early in the campaign, Cook also criticized Wittman for proposing a requirement that the Secretary of Defense report to Congress on how often released detainees re-engage in combat against U.S. and other coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Cook had helped make decisions to release detainees and said Wittman’s proposal reflected a lack of trust in military decisions made on the ground.
Wittman said there was nothing wrong with asking questions and seeking information, something he said was his duty as a congressman.
Cook is also critical of Wittman for his vote for the “sequestration” cuts last year. Those federal budget cuts—scheduled to start taking effect this January—were part of a bipartisan deal in Congress to raise the debt ceiling.
Wittman was one of many who voted for it but say they don’t want the cuts to actually take effect; a committee was supposed to come up with alternative cuts over the past year, but has not.
At their only debate in Newport News, Cook said Wittman should have sought a better deal.
Wittman disputed Cook’s accusation that it was irresponsible not to raise the debt ceiling but also irresponsible to vote for sequestration.
“There is no ‘maybe’ button there in Washington when you go to vote,” he said.
Wittman has discussed the sequestration issue frequently at public appearances in the district, and says he hopes lawmakers will reach an agreement on averting the cuts before January.