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1st District debate draws big crowd in Williamsburg
October 10, 2014 | Daily Press

WILLIAMSBURG - If you were scoring Wednesday evening's 1st Congressional District candidate forum on aggressiveness, Democrat Norm Mosher clearly won.

Mosher, a retired Navy captain, went after incumbent Republican Rep. Rob Wittman hard on his views and record several times.

But, although Mosher was the Vietnam veteran onstage, Wittman clearly won the prize for keeping his cool under fire. A full house packed the auditorium at the Williamsburg Library to watch the two men, and Independent-Green candidate Gail Parker, answer questions on issues from the Affordable Care Act to highway spending.

And, thanks to a large group of College Democrats from the College of William & Mary, it was a partisan Democratic crowd.

They cheered one of Mosher's answers, despite being asked not to at the start of the forum. They greeted one of Wittman's answers with derisive laughter and twice heckled the congressman while he was in the midst of an answer.

During an intermission - between the questions drafted by a panel of the League of Women Voters of the Williamsburg Area, the event's sponsor, and questions submitted by the audience - both a League official and moderator Sandy Wanner reiterated the ban on displays of approval and disapproval and decorum was restored for the second half of the forum.

Mosher went after Wittman on several issues.

His most biting attack might have been on a question about equal pay for men and women who do equal work.

The question came to Wittman first in the rotation.

"I think actions speak louder than words," he said. "More than half my staff are women and I make sure they are paid equal or better salaries to their male counterparts."

"Now Rob, I wonder how those female staffers felt when you voted against equal pay for equal work, when you voted against affordable day care, when you voted against every issue that's come up to help women," Mosher shot back. "With a record like that, I'm surprised those women workers are still with you."

Mosher and Wittman were at loggerheads from the first que

stion, about the Affordable Care Act. Mosher went first and said he was for ACA, which he called "a Republican plan."

"And it's working. There were some problems when it first started out, but it's already working and it's reducing the deficit," he said. "And it will continue to work better as we keep polishing it."

Parker said she didn't think any child should go to bed hungry or anyone should go without health care in "the most affluent country in the world."

Wittman made his disagreement with Mosher plain.

"I'm against Obamacare," he said. "I want to repeal and replace it."

He said it was causing 250,000 Virginians to lose their health care coverage.

However, he said he'd leave some of the programs more popular features, requiring companies to insure those with pre-existing conditions and allowing children to say on their parents insurance until age 26. He'd add provisions to allow consumers to shop for health insurance across state lines, "as we do for our car insurance and our home insurance." He's also like to see tort reform added, to decrease the burden of malpractice insurance on doctors.

Mosher and Wittman also disagreed on the fiscal health of Social Security and Medicare and what the U.S. should do in the Middle East.

Wittman said he thought President Obama should ask the Congress for a declaration of war on ISIL. Mosher said there should absolutely be no American "boots on the ground" in the region.

They did agree that nuclear power would have to be part of the nation's energy plan going forward, with Wittman much more enthusiastic about it than Mosher. Parker said she thought nuclear power was too dangerous.

If Mosher was aggressive and Wittman was cool, Parker was on message. She turned questions about energy policy and infrastructure improvements into opportunities to tout greater use of rail, her signature theme in several runs for state and federal office over the last decade with the refrain "more trains, less traffic." She also touted her outsider status, saying several times "the two incumbent parties have failed."

Her best moment came when she got to combine the two themes.

A question from the audience asked what issue the candidate thought would be the first on which there was bi-partisan agreement in Washington.

"I think there's already bi-partisan agreement in Washington," she said with a smile. "Some of us Independent-Greens think there's only one part in Washington now, half of it's owned by the oil companies and the other by the auto makers. That's why we don't have a sensible policy on renewable sources of energy or on mass transit."

Wittman gave a surprising answer to that question, touting the way he's been able to work across the aisle with Democratic Senator Mark Warner on a bill to protect the Chesapeake Bay. Warner faces his own re-election battle with Republican Ed Gillespie on Nov. 4.

Asked after the forum about the praise for Warner, Wittman repeated it.

"Well, the senator and I have worked well together on that bill," he said.

Mosher stayed tough during his closing statement, asking "are you happy with this Congress?"

He said Wittman votes with "the most extreme members of his party" 94 percent of the time, singling out Rep. Michele Bachman (R-Minnesota) as one Wittman agrees with. "He's voted to privatize Social Security twice, he's voted to cut Medicare twice, he's voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act 52 times, he's voted to shut down the government."

In his closing statement, Wittman said he believes "America's best days are still ahead of us," and that solving the problem of our financial problems is the key.

Wittman was first elected in 2007 to fill the unexpired term of the late Jo Ann Davis and has since been re-elected easily three times in the Republican-friendly 1st District.




First District Congressional hopefuls meet in Fredericksburg
October 07, 2014 | THE FREE LANCE-STAR

It wasn't hard for the three candidates vying for the 1st Congressional District seat to agree on the major problems facing the country. But they were mostly split on how to solve them.

Republican incumbent Rob Wittman, Democratic challenger Norm Mosher and Independent Green Party candidate Gail Parker laid out their solutions before a crowd of about 100 at a debate at the University of Mary Washington on Monday.

All three concentrated on different solutions to dealing with the federal deficit and spurring jobs in the region.

Wittman said that there have been good attempts to balance the federal budget, but they have gone the wrong way of accomplishing it, particularly those cutting military spending.

"I don't want to see us balance the budget on the backs of our military," Wittman said.

Instead, Wittman said Congress should look at the government's discretionary and non-discretionary spending, and the duplication of government programs.

The former Virginia Department of Health employee said that he knows the health department had 42 programs for food inspections and that it has been estimated that Congress could save $30 billion annually just by cutting duplicate programs. Wittman also said that there should be a sense of urgency to fix Social Security and Medicare, which are paying out more than what is being put in.

Mosher, the owner of a consulting firm specializing in ocean research and shipbuilding, said that job creation should rely on rebuilding the country's crumbling infrastructure and to creating projects paying attention to climate change.

"Climate change is real, it's here," Mosher said.

He parted from Wittman on the issue of Social Security and Medicare by saying those programs didn't need to be on the table, but they need to be managed.

For Parker, the solution to economic problems was the same as her solutions to many of the other issues brought up during the debate: building rail and using renewable sources of energy. Building rail would grow the economy, bring in more revenue and create more jobs, Parker said.

The three differed on spurring job growth.

Parker said that the country should invest in renewable sources of energy. In Virginia, there are more jobs in solar energy than there are in coal, she said.

Wittman called for workforce development, looking at the students who need credentials for their jobs, and leveraging technology to create jobs and making higher education more affordable. Rather than raising the minimum wage, Wittman again turned to workforce development, saying that 60 percent of the jobs will require credentials, not a college degree.

Mosher, on the other hand, said that raising the minimum wage would have no effect on unemployment.

He said he has a plan to change the fact that half of all recent graduates were defaulting on their student loans, while the federal government collected $51 billion in interest on student loans.

"I don't think the government should be in that business," Mosher said.

Parker said that her party is in favor of a livable wage.

The major party candidates agreed that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is a dangerous group, but disagreed on how the United States has responded.

Calling ISIS as barbaric and treacherous a group he has ever seen, Wittman said that he believes the president needed authorization from Congress and a declaration of war. And that instead of the whack-a-mole strategy the country has taken to terrorist groups so far, Wittman called for an across-the-board strategy. Wittman serves on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.

Mosher said that what the president has done so far is enough without needing further authorization from Congress. But, he added, ISIS wouldn't exist if the United States hadn't invaded Iraq.

"We are paying for some sins, I think," Mosher said.

Parker said that the United States wouldn't feel the need to go to war to protect its oil interests if the country invested in more rail.

The candidates also pitched different solutions to keeping the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which provides states billions of dollars for road projects, solvent. Congress recently passed a stopgap measure to keep the fund, which had been depleting for months, going until May 2015. Wittman called for loosening federal regulations and focusing on the cost of passengers per mile.

Mosher, who lives in Irvington, said he wouldn’t be a commuter congressman like Wittman, who travels to his home in Montross nightly. He also said the country needs more mass transit.

The debate was sponsored by the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, The Free Lance–Star, UMW Young Democrats, UMW College Republicans, The Blue and Gray Press and the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at UMW.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975

vremmers@freelancestar.com



Congressman Wittman Supports Farming in Nokesville
October 01, 2014 | Bristow Beat

As Election Day draws near, state and local politicians are busy meeting with residents to discuss their constituents' needs. 

Friday afternoon, Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA-10th District) visited three area farms to get a better understanding of how their businesses operate, and showed his support to those who farm near cities and suburbs. Farm Bureau President-elect, Chris Corry, accompanied the Congressman, and together they discussed the concerns and needs of farmers in the Rural Crescent.

Yankey Farm, located at 13007 Vint Hill Road in Nokesville, is where the Rural Crescent meets suburbia. Across the road, black rooftops of the Braemar community peek over fences.

Jay Yankey, owner of the farm along with his wife, Sonja - is also the District Manager of Soil and Water Conservation. Yankey knows well the interplay between farms like his and neighborhoods like those nearby. This weekend alone, he estimates his farm will have seen 500-600 visitors. Over the course of a busy fall season, they can expect 5000-6000 people coming to pick pumpkins and buy local produce. 

Congressman Wittman believes it is important to encourage residents who live outside the planned

communities on 10 or more acres to consider using at least part of their acreage for crop production. He's enthusiastic about incentives that organizations such as the Prince William/Fairfax County Farm Bureau and the Virginia Department of Agriculture are offering to do just that. 

Jay Yankey discusses his farm business on the edge of the Bristow suburbs with Congressman Rob Wittman and Farm Bureau President-elect Chris Corry. "Mixed use [policies] are better for the county," Wittman said. "People aren't limited by scale. If you want to start with a few acres, you can. You can bring together a number of small farms, and the area keeps its rural character." 

Corry pointed out that restaurants in D.C. and surrounding cities would like to tap more of the local market to bring fresh foods from the farm to the table. Right now, many of them are going much farther away to places like Mechanicsburg and points west.

In addition to mixed land use being good for those in the food industry who want fresh, local ingredients, it is a good situation for families who like to pick their own fruit and vegetables right off the vine. Because of businesses like The Yankey Farm, families need not travel an hour away to enjoy all of the benefits of rural living while still having the conveniences of suburban life.

Congressman Wittman himself grew up on a farm, so he's familiar with the day to day operations. Earlier in the day, Wittman spoke with Paul House of Kettle Wind Farm on Bristow Road that focuses on turf grass production and Miller Dairy off of Parkgate where the House family has about 350 cows under production. 

Mom takes kids for a wheel barrel ride on Yankey's scenic farm in Nokesville.
"It's a good quality of life with the viewscapes the farms provide," Wittman said. "It's the best use of property." 

He went on to quote a study from the University of Wyoming, which found that having a balance between residential and farmland is good for the tax base as well. This is because the county pays more in services for residential use than it does per acre of farmland, and farmers benefit from more people to sustain their operations.

Congressman Wittman went on to enjoy the Friday night lights and some local school spirit at both Brentsville District High School and Patriot High School where football teams took on their opponents in home games.

There are already pumpkins for picking at Yankey Farms on Vint Hill Road, and the corn maze is open. Those interested in the Congressman Wittman's record and hopes for re-election, they can visit his website. 

Congressman Wittman is running against Democratic candidate Norm Mosher, Green Party candidate Gail Parker and write-in candidate Chris Hailey on a reform platform. The election is scheduled for November 4, 2014.



In debate, Wittman talks bipartisanship, Mosher faults GOP
September 29, 2014 | Prince William Times 

The two major-party contenders for Virginia's 1st Congressional District seat talked partisanship at a debate last week outside Manassas, but they did so from opposing points.

Rep. Robert J. "Rob" Wittman, a Republican, emphasized bipartisan efforts he's undertaken with House Democrats, many of them from the Old Dominion, as well as times he's worked with Virginia's U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats.

His Democratic challenger, former Irvington town councilman Norman G. "Norm" Mosher, on the other hand, repeatedly criticized House Republicans and their leadership.

"Are you happy with this Congress?" Mosher asked at the event held by the Prince William Committee of 100, a group that aims to educate the public on civic matters. "Or is it time to change?"

Despite this contrast, and others on individual issues, the hopefuls maintained a civil tone in the debate, moderated by University of Mary Washington professor and pundit Stephen Farnsworth.

Of course, Wittman and Mosher have known each other for years. They both live in Virginia's Northern Neck, and the Democrat even has served on an advisory board to the Republican.

They agreed that Capitol Hill could use some fixing, but Wittman said that compromise is needed, while Mosher, perhaps obviously as a the challenger, urged the kind of change that comes at the ballot box.

"Washington, by any measure, is broken," Wittman said at the debate, held at the Wyndham Garden Manassas hotel.

On the issues of Syria and terrorism, the candidates essentially agreed with the notion that President Barack Obama needs congressional approval for military action, though they disagreed on certain points.

Disagreement was clearer on the issue of immigration reform.

Mosher noted that immigrants who have entered the U.S. illegally need a path to citizenship.

He also said the unaccompanied immigrant children who have flocked to the nation's southern border recently make for a "humanitarian" issue first, not one of immigration regulation.

Wittman, though, noted that a large percentage of people in the U.S. illegally have overstayed visas, so he said visa reform is necessary as well as border security.

Mosher, though, responded by saying, "Fences don't work."

The hopefuls also clashed along lines that might be considered more typical for their respective parties.

On the economy, Wittman said that the U.S. needs to lower its corporate tax rate but not raise the minimum wage, while Mosher was skeptical of the practices of some big businesses and supported hiking the pay of those who earn the least.

Wittman, though, underscored that his concern over the minimum wage was about companies having to shed jobs if they have to pay a higher minimum wage.

Really, the incumbent said, the focus should be on workforce development and how employees can attain higher-level positions.

"I don't want anybody staying at minimum wage," the lawmaker said.

The issue of marriage brought a clear distinction between the candidates, as well.

Wittman said that state legislatures should decide who can be married, but Mosher said the legal part of marriage is a contract that people of the same sex should be able to enter into just as heterosexuals do.

"I really do believe equal is equal, and that's the end of it," he said.

Independent Green candidate Glenda Gail Parker, who is also on the November ballot, was invited to the forum but did not attend.

Election Day is Nov. 4.




Wittman, Mosher find little common ground in 1st District debate
September 19, 2014 | Prince William Today 

Rep. Rob Wittman and his Democratic challenger Norm Mosher found little common ground in a Thursday evening debate sponsored by the Prince William Committee of 100.

Wittman, the three-term Republican incumbent, and Mosher -- a retired Navy captain and owner of a consulting firm specializing in shipbuilding and ocean research -- disagreed on several issues including gay marriage, immigration, minimum wage, and the corporate tax rate during the nearly two-hour forum.

The two mostly agreed, however, on the major foreign policy issue of the day: whether the United States should arm moderate Syrian rebels and continue airstrikes against the terror group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

But even that question, the first posed by moderator and University of Mary Washington professor Stephen Farnsworth, revealed significant differences in opinion about the best way to navigate what critics fear could be the start of another protracted conflict in the Middle East.

Wittman, who serves on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee but has never served in the military, insisted that ISIS "must be destroyed" and that the United States must take the lead in the effort.

Mosher, a 26-year Navy veteran who spent the early days of Vietnam War as an advisor to a paramilitary group patrolling the coast of the Mekong River, urged caution and diplomacy while also noting that U.S. policy in the region is partly responsible for the group's rise.

"ISIS is a violent and despicable organization but we have to recognize that we have to take some responsibility for the existence of ISIS," Mosher said. "When we invaded Iraq, we upset the balance and let loose forces we can't control."

Mosher added that "nations who are under the most threat should be the ones taking the lead," including Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Wittman insisted that Turkey, "our strongest ally in the region," should be engaged in the effort. But Mosher again urged caution, saying the U.S. must do everything possible to prevent an assault against the NATO country. "An attack on Turkey commits all of NATO and commits us," Mosher said, adding if Turkey is attacked, "we're in it and it won't be good."

The event was likely the first time many of audience of about 80 had ever heard Mosher speak publicly. Although he worked on Capitol Hill in the 1980s, this is Mosher's first run for Congress. His prior political experience includes six years on the town council of Irvington, a tiny community of about 400 in Virginia’s Northern Neck.

Mosher earned his bachelor's degree from Boston University and master's degrees in international relations and law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. After retiring from the Navy, he was a staff member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.

Wittman hails from Montross, where the population numbered 384 in the 2010 census. Wittman served on the town council there from 1986 to 1996, serving as the mayor from 1992 to 1996.

Wittman holds a Ph.D. in public policy and administration from Virginia Commonwealth University, a master's degree in public health policy from the University of North Carolina and a bachelor's degree in biology from Virginia Tech. Wittman spent 26 years working in state government, most recently as field director for the Virginia Health Department's Division of Shellfish Sanitation.

Wittman was first elected to Congress in a 2007 special election to fill the seat of the late JoAnn Davis. He has been reelected three times, most recently in 2012 against Democrat Adam Cook. Wittman won 56 percent of the vote in the sprawling first district, which stretches from Newport News to Gainesville, encompassing parts of 17 counties and four cities, including Williamsburg and Fredericksburg.

Wittman did not win Prince William County, however. About 49 percent of local voters chose Cook over Wittman, who won just 48 percent of the vote, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections.

That might be why Wittman talked a lot about his various bi-partisan efforts during the debate, touting his work with Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-11th, as well as senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats. Wittman also said he appointed Mosher to his environmental advisory committee back in 2008.

"I had known Norm for years and he had some great ideas about what had been going on," Wittman said in an interview after the debate. "I’m always looking for areas where we can agree and get things done."

Other highlights from the debate:

On immigration: Mosher blamed "extremists in the Republican party" for stalling debate on a federal immigration bill and said he supports a path to citizenship for undocumented residents. He said unaccompanied Central American immigrant children who have recently arrived in the U.S. must be guaranteed full due process under the law: "It would be inhuman to send those children back to certain death and we can't do that as a nation. We have to consider that a humanitarian duty first."

Wittman did not mention the recently arriving Central American children, more than 2,800 of whom are now living in Virginia, but said the American people have lost trust in the immigration system. Wittman said the U.S. must further secure the border and fix the broken Visa system. "Only then can we begin to have a discussion about people who are here illegally,he said.

On the corporate tax rate: Wittman said the U.S. corporate tax rate, now at 38 percent, is too high and said U.S. companies must be on a more level playing field with global competitors. Mosher noted that few large corporations actually pay the current rate, because of loopholes and exemptions, and noted that former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney paid a rate of only about 12 percent while stashing million in overseas bank accounts.

"Nobody was shocked," Mosher added. "It used to be in this country that a tax cheat or a tax avoider was looked on like a cockroach. Now, it's looked on as, 'Gee, he's a really smart guy.' And that bothers me a lot."

On the minimum wage: Mosher said the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 "should certainly be raised" and said too many companies base their business plans on hourly schedules and wages that ensure their employees qualify for public assistance, something he called "really just shameful."

Mosher said the country should strive for a "living wage" that would ensure a sense of dignity in work and lift low-income workers off public assistance: "Now we have people working two and three jobs and delivering pizza at night to try to keep their heads above water," he added. "Their children are not being watched over as carefully as they should. We're imposing too large of a burden on a large segment of society that we call the working poor."

Wittman countered by insisting that raising the minimum wage would kill jobs and that "the real problem" is that too many people lack the education necessary to land higher paying jobs in skilled labor: "Our focus should be workforce development and making sure our children get the education they need," Wittman said.

On gay marriage: Wittman said the matter should be left up to the states, which issue marriage licenses. Wittman praised the vote this week in Virginia’s Republican-led General Assembly to reinforce the state's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and said the power to define marriage should remain with state lawmakers -- not the courts.

Virginia's gay-marriage amendment has been struck down by both state and federal courts. Prince William Circuit Court Clerk Michelle McQuigg recently appealed those decisions to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not yet issued its response.

"The determination [defining marriage] should be made through the state legislators," Wittman said. "If there is a difference opinion, people have the opportunity to go to the polls and express that opinion."

Mosher said he doesn't understand the dispute about gay marriage under the law. "I don't see any reason why anyone can't marry anyone else in the same manner my wife and I got married," he said. "Should states be involved? I think they will… but I really do believe equal is equal and that's the end of it."

To watch a tape of the full debate, visit the Prince William Committee of 100’s website.