That's Virtue on the state seal, explains U.S. Representative Robert Hurt. "Most people think it's Liberty over Tyranny."
In early September, Hurt has a pretty hefty double-digit lead over his opponent.
photo by lisa provence
The 5th District incumbent makes no bones about it: his traditional conservative values are a product of how he was raised. That would be in Chatham in southside Virginia, and U.S. Congressman Robert Hurt's frequent use of "with all due respect" demonstrates the good manners with which he was raised and his education from Hargrave Military Academy, Episcopal High School in Alexandria, and Hampden-Sydney College.
Hurt was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 after defeating Democrat Tom Perriello– and winning a seven-pack Republican primary. This year, he faces challenger John Douglass, a retired Air Force brigadier general. Recent polls show Hurt with a comfortable 18 percent lead.
The Congressman sits down with the Hook at the beginning of a long day in Charlottesville to talk about the election, the social issues he says are a distraction, and who that partially clad woman is on the Virginia state flag.
Hook: This election, how's it different from two years ago?
Hurt: I think first of all, jobs and economy are the number one issue. As we travel across the 5th District, we hear that everywhere we go, and frankly, that's really so much what the issue was two years ago. Debt and deficit– that's a long-term concern that people have on their minds and again, that's something that was part of our campaign in 2010.
Obviously I was a challenger in 2010, and it was a completely different race. We were outspent by a million dollars two years ago and were facing an incumbent who was very popular, certainly here in Albemarle and Charlottesville. He was very popular with the Democratic leadership in Washington. You'll recall the president came in to campaign for him in Charlottesville three days before the election.
Being the incumbent, it's a different dynamic. I'm asking people to evaluate what I've done the past two years, and it's my hope on November 6th I've done what I campaigned and said I would do, and stood up for change in this country. We haven't made a whole lot of progress, I'm sorry to report. But I do believe I've been true to what I said in the campaign and what my concerns are.
One other thing different, that was a close race in 2010. With an 18-point lead and an opponent who has swatted at a tracker's camera– does that feel like you can just sit back...
No. No, no, no, no. It's nice to see a poll that suggests that we're leading, but we always have, always will run [as if] 10 points behind and that's my philosophy.
For the last 10, 20 years, the American people have not been holding their leaders accountable and I believe that on both sides of the aisle. What do we have to show for it? We have $16 trillion in debt. We are borrowing 40 cents on every dollar we spend and we have now for the third year in a row eight-percent-plus unemployment and you can't lay that all at the feet of one Congress, you can't lay that all at the feet of one president, you can't lay all that at the feet of one party.
I don't think the president, with all due respect, has done anything to help the situation.
I keep reading you've voted against the Affordable Care Act 33 times. What's that about?
That was a big issue in the last campaign. It's going to be a big issue in this campaign. The American people did not want it. You remember the fury in the streets, with people who were so upset because they didn't want the government taking over their health care.
One of the first things was to vote for a repeal of the president's health care law. I don't know we voted 33 times for full repeal, but there have been, whatever the number is, repeated efforts to change the law, to repeal the law or repeal some part of it or to not fund it.
And there are those who say, hey look, why are you engaged in this theater? I would say to you that it really isn't. At no time is taking action on the floor of the House of Representatives a waste of time. It is an expression of the will of the people who elected the 435 members. It is what we get elected to do.
Now you're in Congress, what's different than what you might have expected?
I was in state legislature for nine years. It wasn't always pretty, but for the most part, you found that people were very serious about their obligation to do what they were elected to do and the best example of that was to adopt a budget.
Washington is a hyper-partisan place and it's worse than it appears on television. Richmond is a dream compared to that.
Is there anything you've voted on that you've had to struggle with which way to go?
What they do in Washington is lump bills together so you'll have something you really want to vote for and then they'll have something that's terrible. The only way they can pass the terrible thing is to include it in the thing people want to vote for. For instance, I supported the extension of the interest rate for student loans, the lower rate. At the same time, the transportation piece is spending money that we don't have. And I can't support that. You have to make those tough decisions.
I'll tell you this– in Virginia, we have the single object rule. I don't want to get too far in the weeds, but it is part of the Virginia constitution that says a bill may not have more than one object and I think that's what we ought to have in Washington.
Paul Ryan– tell me what you like about him.
We don't serve on the same committees, but he's someone I've come to admire because of this debt crisis looming in this country as long as he's been in Congress, and nobody's been listening to him. And so I've voted for his budgets because his most recent would bring our budget into primary balance by 2015. That's a huge deal. It cuts $6 trillion in spending over 10 years and it would reform Medicare in a way that preserves it for current beneficiaries and future generations. The reason it's so important is Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and debt service make up two-thirds of our budget.
In Albemarle, I covered a pot possession case and five people on the jury were excused because they said, I'm not going to convict, I think it's a stupid law. A Rasmussen study says 56 percent of Americans don't favor having marijuana illegal. Why is it politicians won't touch this issue?
[He laughs.] I don't know. First of all I'll say this: It is a state issue, and so that's not something we deal with in Congress. I support the law that makes it illegal but there are Republicans who disagree with me on that. I understand that and respect that. It's just my experience being a prosecutor and actually seeing the real harm, not only from a health standpoint, but the violence caused by these drugs. It's real.
Another issue is gay marriage. I know you don't support that, but what do you tell your constituents who write you and say, I would like to marry the person I love?
Again, I respect those views. I don't agree with them, but I do respect them. I watched the Democratic convention over this last week and it's interesting to see how much the folks in Charlotte seem to be obsessed with these social issues at a time we have for the third year in a row eight-points-plus unemployment. When I travel around the 5th District, I don't hear people coming up and asking me about those sorts of issues. I don't think they're on the minds of the people I represent nearly as much the fact that Martinsville, Viriginia, has 16 percent unemployment and you can't feed children and you can't clothe a family, when you don't have a job. What I watched over this week in Charlotte, it's been really a distraction from the real issues. I mean, we've got $16 trillion in debt and we're getting ready to pass that on to our children? It ain't right, and that's what I hear about. With that said, listen, I was brought up the way I was brought up and I do believe marriage should be between a man and a woman.
You were talking about social issues being a distraction. I'm going back to one that came up in Richmond– the ultrasound legislation. Is that something you would have supported if you'd been there?
I didn't follow it that closely. I know it was a big issue. And it is a state issue. And I will say, I've made clear, with all due respect to people who feel differently than I do, I was raised the way I was raised. I believe life begins at conception, and so I'm opposed to abortion, and I think any law we can adopt that promotes informed consent is important. Now, I don't think the government has a right to impose the physical probing of its citizens. Let's just leave it at that. That's the issue you're talking about?
Yeah, the transvaginal ultrasound.
I think that's over the top.
How big a factor is [Constitution Party presidential candidate] Virgil Goode going to be in this election?
I don't know what he's thinking. I don't know that anybody knows what he's thinking. But I do know this. He could have an effect in Virginia, and the only thing I can say about that is a vote for him is a vote to continue the policies of this president for another four years.
One more question: Citizens United. How has that affected this campaign? Are you getting big super PAC money?
I think what it says is groups of citizens can band together and spend more than what the limits traditionally have been. As big a beneficiary as any to the Citizens United decision is the labor unions. So I think it remains to be seen what the effect of this sort of unlimited free speech is. It's allowing people who want to say something to participate in the political discourse, and it's for that reason I support it.
I wish campaigns didn't cost so much. And I would far rather be spending my time meeting with people, talking with people than I would be having that pressure to raise money. And it's a reality. I don't know how you change it without infringing on people's freedom of speech. And that's something I think has to be honored. But it sho' is expensive.