For once, a U.S. Congressman was spending some time in the right Washington.
Based in Southside Virginia, Rep. Robert Hurt (R-5th) has been driving for the past month the long, diagonal highways of the new 5th congressional district – which now stretches through central Virginia from North Carolina to Fauquier County, and includes all of Rappahannock County.
He was delivered to the Rappahannock News office on Main Street a week or so ago by a local Republican kingpin, a friend of a mutual friend in Southside Virginia, for an informal chat with the paper’s staff. Though hard data was not immediately available, it is believed to be something Rappahannock’s current congressman, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, hadn’t done since winning the soon-to-be-someone-else’s 7th district in 2001.
Just as he likes to characterize the citizens of his largely small-town district, Hurt is down-to-earth and plain-spoken. He’s a former prosecutor and state legislator who won his first term in Congress in a hard-fought battle in 2010 against Albemarle County Democrat Tom Perriello. In November, he will face one of two well-funded Democratic challengers with military backgrounds, after a state Democratic convention chooses May 19 between Peyton R. Williams Jr., a retired Special Forces lieutenant colonel from Charlottesville, and retired Brig. Gen John W. Douglass of Hume.
Hurt stops himself, as he begins to answer a question about why he decided in 2009 to seek a posting to Big Washington, whether it’s okay to call it “Little” Washington. The staff is noncommittal.
He smiles, and mentions that his favorite thing in the world is to fish in the Rapidan River, near where his mother had a place, watching the dive-bombing eagles for hints on where the fish are. And that he grew up in a similar “courthouse town,” Chatham, where he and his wife now live with their three young sons, across the street from the house where his parents still live.
“When I look at Washington – the Big Washington [he laughs] – I think about [my boys’] future, especially as it relates to $15 trillion in debt, and a deficit where we’re borrowing 40 cents on every dollar that we spend. As I travel around the 5th district, I find that so many mainstream businesses and farms, and farmers, are having a harder and harder time – because, I think, of government mandates and unnecessary meddling in people’s business. And so those are things that concern me. And then of course, one of the things we hear about all the time now are the gas prices. And so energy’s also another important topic.
“So, with all that said, people ask me whether or not I enjoy being in Washington. I say that’s not really the first word that comes to mind, but . . . it is so important. This is an important time in our nation’s history.”
Hurt says, since Virginia’s 2012 congressional redistricting added Madison, Rappahannock and most of Fauquier County to his district, that in his case, the redistricting was not so much part of a plan to challenge-proof incumbent Republicans but more of a sensible move.
“The sad truth is that these rural districts get larger and larger because we’re losing population – and so every year that we send folks to Richmond or to Washington, we’re sending fewer and fewer people from rural Virginia or rural America, and I think that that’s regrettable but . . . we had to pick up population somewhere,” he says.
“People say, ‘Well, what does Pittsylvania County have in common with Rappahannock County or Madison County or Fauquier County?’ And I would suggest to you that there’s actually more that we have in common than we don’t; it’s largely rural people who care very much about their liberty, they care very much about their land, and their way of life and their quality of life, living simply, not having the government breathing down your neck all the time – and those are all things that I think really bind us together more than keep us apart. And so, it’s a big district, it’s a long district, but I do think that there’s more that we have in common certainly than we don’t.”
Hurt’s current focus – making energy exploration easier, both across the country (as that much-debated pipeline would do) and around Virginia, including offshore. This, of course, pits him against the Obama administration, on this and other issues. In a recent speech on the budget, however, he credited the President with “doing his job” – unlike some of his own peers in Washington.
“The law requires us to have a budget,” he says, explaining the statement. “And it requires the House to present a budget by a deadline; it requires the Senate to propose its budget by the deadline. The President did his job; he presented a budget. The House did its job; we presented our budget – that’s considered our opinion. The Senate – for the third year in a row – refuses to do what the law requires, and that is present its budget. And it’s that level of arrogance, I think, in Washington, that people are so tired of – that somehow the law doesn’t apply to folks there like it does the rest of us.
“And of course . . . we balance our budget in Richmond, we balance our budget in Rappahannock County. But there’s an abiding duty to just do your job, and I think in Washington when you look at what’s happened over the decades – and this is not a partisan statement, it is a bipartisan statement – Republicans and Democrats alike are responsible for the mess we have in Washington, because they’ve refused to just do their job, do it responsibly and not make promises you can’t keep!”
When he ran against Perriello in 2010, Hurt says, “we had a congressman who came in with the president in ’08, and he had just walked lock-step with Nancy Pelosi on everything and didn’t show any independence.”
But does Hurt walk lock-step with Eric Cantor and the Republican leadership?
“No. I’ve voted against him. I voted against him, the leadership, on a number of occasions And you know, my deal is that you gotta represent your people; nobody in Washington can vote for you,” he says. His eyebrows go up. “I mean in Big Washington.”
Alex Sharp and Walter Nicklin also contributed to this report.