Virginian-Pilot Editorial: The Choices in the 2nd and 4th Districts

Posted Jun 5, 2016 

U.S. REP. RANDY Forbes is not the incumbent in the 2nd Congressional District. Neither is Del. Scott Taylor.

The incumbent, U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell, decided after six years in office to step down, another person driven from a Washington broken by partisanship and self-interest.

When federal judges in Richmond forced a redrawing of Virginia’s eastern congressional maps, Forbes’ reliably conservative 4th Congressional District seat became demographically untenable for a man known more as a Christian social warrior than an effective lawmaker.

So Forbes decamped into the 2nd District from the 4th, where he still lives. Because the 2nd District grew more Republican in that process, the June 14 primary is likely to determine the prohibitive favorite in November.

A candidate’s physical home may matter less than it once did, but it’s not irrelevant. Neither is a candidate’s record.

On that score, Forbes’ performance in Congress has been wanting since his election in 2001. The only bill to become law under his name was the one to rename a post office.

Forbes built his current candidacy on support for the military, his membership on the Armed Services Committee, and his chairmanship of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee. But the record during his time in Congress presents its own problems.

  • Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach suffered an existential threat during the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission round because Florida was better positioned and prepared than Virginia.
  • A few years later Forbes fought to give Virginia localities the right to veto a new outlying landing field for Oceana, which would’ve tied the Navy’s hands.
  • In 2011, the Pentagon disestablished the Joint Forces Command in North Suffolk, a decision that damaged the region’s push to make modeling and simulation a vector for growth.
  • Just last month, in an Editorial Board interview, Forbes said he now opposes drilling for oil and gas off Virginia’s coast because of Pentagon concerns. Forbes’ reversal is curious because the Pentagon has said since at least 2006 that drilling off Virginia would imperil its training mission.

Taylor and Forbes are in agreement on a number of other defense matters. A third primary candidate, Pat Cardwell, is affable enough but too extreme for serious consideration. If Taylor brings inexperience to the task, Forbes’ tenure doesn’t inspire confidence.

Neither does his willingness to dwell on issues that divide rather than unite, including in 2013 waging “a lengthy crusade to convince his colleagues and the National Republican Congressional Committee brass they shouldn’t back some gay candidates,” according to Politico.

That episode put Forbes at odds with the Republican speaker, members of his own caucus and an America that has mostly overcome such narrow-mindedness.

The 36-year-old Taylor has vowed to avoid such distractions, and has made it a point to strive toward the kind of big tent that has been missing from too many GOP campaigns.

The former SEAL was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2013 after several attempts to run for office, and after making a name for himself on conservative media. Those combine to give the understandable impression of a politician of enormous ambition and substantial self-regard.

But he’s also a candidate of intellectual heft, and his relative moderation would serve the voters of the 2nd District — as did Scott Rigell’s — better than the alternative.

The 4th District, which Forbes vacated, also has decisions to make. The vacancy attracted four candidates — two Democrats, two Republicans — and the winners of this month’s primary will face off in November.

The revised 4th District is more compact than its previous incarnation, with the furthest boundary moving east. It now includes Richmond and Petersburg, which means the center of power has shifted from Hampton Roads.

That has obvious consequences for this region. Decisions about transportation, the military and the Port of Virginia affect the whole of the commonwealth. But those are concerns of particular importance here — and any representative of this region will be expected to give them voice.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Don McEachin appears best positioned to succeed in that role. A lawyer with 16 years in the General Assembly for the people of Henrico County, McEachin has family ties to the Peninsula and experience serving a diverse constituency.

He was quick to admit that he has a learning curve when it comes to advancing issues on behalf of Hampton Roads, and it shows. Though passionate on matters of social justice, he is more tentative when asked about the military or when to deploy it.

He shows a willingness to learn, however, and his success in the legislature inspires some confidence that he has potential as a D.C. lawmaker.

His primary opponent, Ella Ward, is the only candiate who actually lives in the 4th District. She is a 10-year veteran of the Chesapeake City Council, so she would need no time getting up to speed about local issues. However, her policy concerns and solutions — particularly on matters involving public education — would be better addressed in a state legislature than the federal body.

On the other side of the aisle, two candidates seek the Republican nomination — Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade and conservative activist Jackee Gonzalez.

In Wade, voters will find a capable and thoughtful voice for fiscal restraint and reduced regulation — and sorely needed leadership on the issue of mental health. As a county sheriff for 17 years, Wade has been an innovator, helping Henrico bring reform to one of the most perplexing and infuriating problems facing the state.

As for Gonzalez, her ambition has outstretched her grasp. While she wants less bureaucracy and regulation, she has few meaningful answers as to how either should be achieved.

Wade is miles away the better choice here, and Republicans who choose him can trust that they will have a reasoned and moderate conservative as their nominee heading into November.