You might have seen the hashtags #GarrettMustGo or #OneTermTom: that means competition is in the air. This year, four Democratic candidates are running to challenge Tom Garrett for the fifth congressional district of Virginia in November. The Democrats met last Saturday at Buford Middle School for a debate. WMRA's Marguerite Gallorini put together these profiles.
The fifth congressional district of Virginia covers more area than any of the 11 districts of the state, stretching from the North Carolina border almost up to Maryland. It is even larger than the State of New Jersey. And it comprises a diverse constituency that includes farmers in Southside, horse country up north, and Charlottesville in the middle. It’s a seat mostly held by Republicans in recent years. This year, four Democratic candidates are trying their luck at taking Republican Tom Garrett's seat in Congress. One of them is former Marine Roger Dean Huffstetler, who has worked as a senior adviser for the Tom Tom Founders Festival:
ROGER DEAN HUFFSTETLER: Tom Garrett's part of something in D.C. called the "House Freedom Caucus." The House Freedom Caucus is a cancer on our country right now: these are 25 people in D.C. who do not believe in our common American values of progress and compromise, and I'm going to make sure he's a one-term congressman, because I don't believe in those kind of values. And I honestly don't think most of the people here in Central Virginia and Southside believe in those values either.
Evicting Tom Garrett is the rallying call. Candidate Ben Cullop is an investment associate born and raised in Virginia who is part of several advisory boards in Charlottesville; he paints this picture:
BEN CULLOP: The three biggest issues in this campaign are health care, jobs, and education. On all three, I feel like I can do a better job than Tom Garrett. For example on health care: last year in 2017, Tom Garrett voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act without replacing it, which would have ripped health care away from 23 million people. He also voted for this disastrous tax bill at the end of the year in 2017, that Trump tax bill: that tax bill was a feast for corporations and left crumbs for the middle class.
We made multiple requests to Garrett’s office for an interview with WMRA, but we were unable to set up a conversation.
The Democratic candidates are also all in favor of gun control, and especially limiting heavy weaponry. Here's Leslie Cockburn, a former investigative journalist for NBC, CBS and PBS Frontline, who grew up in a family of hunters. She has covered six wars, including the U.S.-directed Contra War against Nicaragua.
LESLIE COCKBURN: So my view is: we totally support hunters, hunting culture; hunters tend to be very concerned about gun safety, all those issues. And they agree with all the rest of us about getting rid of background check loopholes. There’s a bill right now in the House, which is an assault weapons ban, and I support that, and I support banning bump stocks, large capacity magazines. I really don't think we need those here. Having spent so much time in war zones, I just don't think we need to see them in Charlottesville.
Given the rural nature of the fifth district, each of Garrett’s Democratic challengers speaks proudly of their rural roots. Andrew Sneathern is an attorney and former D.C. prosecutor now living in Charlottesville:
ANDREW SNEATHERN: I grew up on a farm that's been in my family for five generations: my mother still owns that farm, and still farms every day, and I know exactly what many of the people in particularly the rural parts of this district have suffered through over the last couple of generations, and I know what's been lost. I think that going there and speaking with folks about our progressive values in those communities is the best way to win back this district for the Democratic party.
This year, Democrats will caucus in April to select 250 delegates to attend the party’s district convention in Farmville on May 5th. Caucus dates and times are set by local Democratic Committees - more information on Democratsva5.org.
On the Republican side, Tom Garrett is seeking re-election and is the only candidate to have filed for the U.S. House of Representatives. Garrett is an Army veteran, a lawyer and previously served in the Virginia Senate and as a prosecutor in Louisa County. The primary election will take place on June 12, 2018.