A Rappahannock candidate enters race to replace Hurt
At 11:15 a.m. Friday, Joe Whited stopped his car in the median, popped the trunk and pulled out a “Whited for Congress” sign. The 36-year-old Town resident hiked up his pants, navy blue suit jacket open with red tie flying in the wind, and clambered up a 5-foot snow bank to plant his flag — at the first 211 Business exit into Little Washington, less than a mile from his house at the entrance to Harris Hollow.
An hour later, he spoke at the Washington Fire Hall before about 40 local residents dressed in layers: sweaters, scarves, jackets, duck boots, muck boots, riding boots, cowboy boots. Whited, a Republican, announced his intention to run for the Fifth District Congressional seat in the House of Representatives in the Nov. 8 general election. The candidate filing deadline is March 31.
A primary election for the Fifth is June 14, and since Virginia is one of 14 states that uses an open primary process, registered voters don’t need to be members of a party to vote in that party’s primary.
Incumbent Robert Hurt (R), first elected to represent the district in 2010, announced in December that he’ll retire at the end of 2016, leaving his seat up for grabs. Republicans Tom Garrett, Jim McKelvey and Michael Del Rosso are also running, plus Albemarle County supervisor Jane Dittmar (D), and independent candidate Yale Landsberg. In the 2014 election, Hurt won as an incumbent with 61 percent of the vote.
The Fifth is the state’s largest congressional district, covering an area of more than 10,000 square miles. Defined by rural, low-population farming communities, the district begins in Fauquier as a sliver due west of DC and stretches down the eastern boundary of the Blue Ridge Mountains — through Rappahannock, Madison, Albemarle — and widens eastwardly and hits the state’s southern border in Danville.
Meet the candidate
After a 15-to-20-minute meet-and-greet at the Fire Hall, Whited introduced himself as a 36-year-old resident of the Town of Washington who grew up in a little West Virginia farming community like a lot of the Fifth Congressional District, very much like Rappahannock County. He said that spending his summers at his grandparents’ farm, “putting out hay and pushing cattle,” built his respect for country living.
“I ran away to sea, however, when I was 17 years old,” Whited said. He joined the Navy and received intelligence training in Virginia Beach, and then was assigned to a ship out of Norfolk for three and a half years, deploying for a tour in Kosovo and another in the Mediterranean Sea. Whited followed that up with a tour in Saudi Arabia, enforcing the southern no-fly zone over Iraq on 9/11. Then it was off to Afghanistan to help the Army with intelligence work.
“I came home from that tour, ended up in the Pentagon, and was lucky enough to get into Georgetown at night. So I was working in the Pentagon in uniform during the day, and then going to school at night, and eventually finished up my bachelor,” said Whited, adding that his final deployment that followed took him to Iraq as part of “the surge,” working as an advisor to the Iraqi National Police Force for a year.
Whited returned from Iraq at the 10-year mark of his Navy career. He decided to leave the service and join the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Among his duties: working as an intelligence advisor to an assistant secretary of defense and the principal congressional affairs liaison for the DIA director.
About two years ago, Whited was invited to join the staff of the House Armed Services Committee, as the principal intelligence advisor to the chairman.
“And along the way, I managed to get out of DC and find a wonderful spot here in Rappahannock, to settle down and join a great community of riders and fox hunters,” Whited said, referencing his membership with the Old Dominion Hounds of Flint Hill.
Why run for state congress?
“I really, honestly believe that this president has made this country less safe,” Whited said, and the hall erupted with applause. “And I think of all the folks that I deployed with overseas, some of whom didn’t come home, and just, I can’t accept that we as Americans are going to be viewed as weak on the world stage, thanks to this administration.
“You can’t draw a bright red line in the sand, if you’re not ready to take action. When you don’t take action after you’ve drawn a red line, then all of our enemies are emboldened, and all of our allies start to worry about whether or not America is going to be there for them,” he continued, noting that Islamic extremism has been emboldened in recent years, that the Russians are on the march in Ukraine, that the Chinese are turning the South China Sea into their own private lake.
“We’ve got to strengthen our defense department,” Whited said. “There are places to cut in defense, I know that all too well — we can make some reductions at the headquarters level — but we’ve really got to make sure that money is getting through to the men and women in uniform who need it, and not being soaked up in Washington.”
Protecting farms and small business
“On the economic side: It is hard for me to accept what this administration is trying to sell, which is that we should all agree that 2-percent growth year-on-year is the new normal,” Whited said, adding that we have one of the most dynamic economies in the world, and should do everything we can to unleash the innovation.
He is particularly concerned about regulation in the banking industry: “Not so much for our friends on Wall Street, but about the impact of over regulation on our small community banks. Because those are the folks that are providing capital for the farmers out here, to the small businesses, the family businesses that are particularly our job-creators in the economy, particularly in a district like the Fifth,” Whited said.
“I remember growing up in a farming community,” he continued. “If we were having a bad year with beef prices, or the crops weren’t good that year, you’d go down to the bank and sit down with the president of the bank and say, ‘You know, it’s been a tough year.’ And he’d understand, and you’d probably be able to work something out. We’ve taken that flexibility away from those small banks, and we are strangling agricultural and small businesses doing that.”
Whited calls for “slimming the bureaucracy.” He scolds the administration for allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to let the people of Flint, Mich., consume poisonous drinking water, while bullying small farmers by regulating small drainage ditches on their land.
Whited, who was treated in the Veterans Administration system when he returned from Iraq, also criticized broken promises to veterans, though he said there has been some progress in the VA system, but there’s a long way to go.
Reforming the system
“That’s sort of the third point that got me into this campaign, that’s dealing with smart ways to reform government and make it do the things that we want it to do,” Whited said. “And that’s going to take slow and grinding work. All these guys are going to get up here and tell you, ‘I’m going to go to Washington and burn down the building, and we’re gonna cut the budget and change things.’ I’ve worked, for better or worse, inside the system, and I understand it’s slow and grinding work.”
Whited said we need to avoid “governing by crisis.”
“This year we passed an omnibus budget, at the very last minute, at the 11th hour, in the middle of the night — and I can promise you that nobody, having been in those chairs, that nobody read that budget before it passed. We need to return to regular order, to make sure that the Congress does what they’re supposed to do, which is to consider appropriations bills, per department, and pass those, per department. You’ve got to work hard with the leadership. And I’m not going to say that’s easy, because we have a very fractious Congress, and you have to really work to build a coalition and move those individual bills forward.”