In the race to represent Virginia’s Tenth District in the United States House of Representatives, five candidates—Diane Blais (IG), Delegate Barbara Comstock (R-VA 34th), Brad Eickholt (I), Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville), and William ‘Bill’ Redpath (L)—are vying for an open seat. The Tenth District encompasses Clarke County, Frederick County, Loudoun County, the cities of Manassas and Winchester, and parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties. It is currently represented by seventeen-term Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA 10th), who was first elected in 1980 and is the longest serving congressional representative from Virginia. Wolf announced in December that he would retire at the end of this term.
All seats in the House of Representatives are up for election every two years. There are 435 seats, representing each of the fifty states proportional to their population as recorded in the most recent national census. There are an additional six non-voting delegate seats that represent U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.
The Republican Party currently holds a 233-199 majority over the Democratic Party in the House, and three seats are vacant. Virginia has eleven seats in the House, with eight held by Republicans and three held by Democrats.
Barbara Comstock (Republican Party)
When long-serving Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA 10th) announced his retirement in December, ten candidates stepped forward to seek the Republican Party nomination to be his replacement. Four of those candidates—including my own state senate representative, Senator Dick Black (R-VA 13th)—withdrew before the party primary elections. Six candidates remained on the ballot when the ‘firehouse primary’ was held on April 26.
A ‘firehouse primary’ or party canvass is a primary election in which voters may arrive at a polling location during announced polling hours, cast their ballot, and leave. This is similar to a traditional primary, except the voting is managed by Republican Party officials and volunteers instead of the Virginia Department of Elections. As such, the election is held on a different date than the state-managed primaries, and there are fewer polling places than usual in the districts where voting is taking place.
Delegate Barbara Comstock (R-VA 34th) won the primary with over fifty percent of the vote, beating her closest competitor by over twenty-five percentage points, and now stands as the Republican Party nominee.
Comstock has been a long-time Republican Party operative. After earning her law degree from Georgetown University, she worked for a time as a lawyer in private practice. Comstock then became a senior aide to Representative Wolf where she served from 1991 to 1995, and then moved on to serve as counsel on the House Committee on Government Reform until 1999. She worked for President George W. Bush’s (R) 2000 presidential campaign, leading a research team that collected information about Vice President Al Gore (D), then running against Bush, and crafting defenses of Bush’s more controversial appointees after he had won the election. From 2002 to 2003, she served as director of public affairs at the Justice Department.
In the years since she has served on the defense team for I. Lewis Libby and Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX 22nd), lobbied on behalf of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and consulted with Governor Mitt Romney’s (R-MA) presidential campaign. In 2009, she was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates representing the Thirty-Fourth District, which encompasses much of northern Fairfax County including Tyson’s Corner, Great Falls, and part of McLean, as well as the northeastern corner of Loudoun County. She remains in office today.
Comstock is considered a moderate Republican Party loyalist, much like outgoing Representative Wolf. She won the district primary over the vocal objection of some hard-right Republicans and members of the ‘Tea Party’ movement who believed that she was insufficiently conservative.
For her part, Comstock brands herself as a ‘common sense conservative.’ As a member of the House of Delegates, she has authored major legislation on a variety of issues, including bills encouraging telework, protecting secret ballot rights, reforming state competitive bidding, allowing offshore energy exploration, and promoting technology investment.
On the key issues, she takes positions in-line with what we would expect from a mainstream member of the Republican Party. As congresswoman, Comstock promises to work toward economic recovery by reducing taxes on families and small businesses, protecting and expanding beneficial right-to-work laws, and protecting employees’ secret ballot rights to help reduce union coercion.
Comstock also takes strong positions in favor of many of the key civil liberties and human rights. She acknowledges and supports the right to life, the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, and the right to keep and bear arms.
As a Delegate, Comstock voted to recognize the personhood of every human being, voted to require that abortion clinics meet the same safety requirements as any other outpatient surgical center, and voted for an informed consent law that requires doctors to provide their patients with appropriate information—including an ultrasound image of their unborn child—before performing an abortion. These are common-sense laws that have helped protect the mental and physical health of Virginian women and, perhaps, at least some of their children. It is telling that so many ‘pro-woman’ politicos stand opposed to imposing any safety regulations or informed consent guidelines on abortion clinics, and yet support those same laws and guidelines when it comes to any and all other medical facilities in the commonwealth. It is not ‘pro-woman’ to let abortionists operate unregulated surgical facilities and skirt the professional informed-consent guidelines that apply to all other doctors.
Comstock also claims that she would support an effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the health reform law colloquially known as ‘ObamaCare.’ There is no question that the law is blatantly unconstitutional, has caused over two million Americans to lose their preferred health coverage options, and has contributed to skyrocketing insurance premiums for countless more (myself included). The Republican Party, however, has not yet proposed a viable alternative either at the federal or the state level . . . and Comstock makes no effort to enlighten us on what ‘repeal and replace’ would really look like.
I have not been able to find any public position from Comstock on the Fourth Amendment violations routinely committed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), nor can I find any clear position on protecting net neutrality.
Because Comstock is known to be a party insider, much like Representative Wolf, we can assume until she tells us otherwise that she will toe the Republican party line on these issues . . . in other words, we can assume she will not vote to terminate the TSA’s illegal security theater, will not vote to terminate the NSA’s illegal data collection, and will vote against net neutrality legislation and thereby permit the Internet access companies to undermine the very structure of the web for their own benefit. We can also assume, given her lobbying work for the MPAA, that she will oppose any effort to implement intellectual property reform and restore the balance between creators and consumers.
John Foust (Democratic Party)
Three Democratic Party candidates stepped forward to seek the nomination to replace retiring Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA 10th). Two, however, withdrew before the primary filing deadline, leaving Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) as the unopposed nominee for the party.
Unlike his Republican opponent, Foust is a relative newcomer to the political world. He worked his way through his undergraduate degree as a laborer in steel mills and railroads. After graduating, he worked full-time and continued attending school at night, eventually earning a law degree from George Washington University.
After earning his law degree, Foust moved to northern Virginia where he practiced construction law. He has been an active member of the community, serving on numerous community associations and county advisory committees. On his campaign website, he cites his experience fighting against a cellular tower installation in his neighborhood as the earliest example of his public leadership and advocacy work. After a six-year battle, the cellular company was found to have been constructing towers without the required public hearings and zoning approvals.
In 2007, Foust became the Democratic Party nominee for the Dranesville District seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, where he defeated single-term incumbent Supervisor Joan DuBois (R-Dranesville) 53-46 percent. The Dranesville District has borders roughly similar to those of the Thirty-Fourth District in the House of Delegates, which is represented by Foust’s opponent, Delegate Barbara Comstock (R-VA 34th). The Dranesville District similarly encompasses northern Fairfax County including Great Falls and McLean, but adds Herndon. It does not include Tyson’s Corner or [obviously] the small portion of Loudoun County included in the Thirty-Fourth District.
While serving on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Foust was willing to make difficult budget cuts and drive the county government to “do more with less.” He touts his record of bipartisanship in working with Republicans on the board, but it is relatively easy to work with the opposing party when they only hold three of the ten seats and have little or no real power. Foust also worked to expand full-day kindergarten across Fairfax County and helped secure funding for a project to widen Route 7.
It is difficult to predict how members of county boards of supervisors will vote when elevated to state or federal offices, because the nature of governance at the county level differs drastically from their higher counterparts. In local government, the concerns are mostly related to property taxes, zoning and development, infrastructure planning, budgeting, and public safety. Although both the state and federal governments deal with some of these issues too, they also have to craft policy relating to health care, federalism and the separation of powers, foreign policy, and thorny moral issues like abortion that rarely-if-ever come up at the county level.
We can, of course, take candidates at their word on the key issues they will face in higher office, and I am inclined to do so in most cases, but I am also cognizant of the political realities.
For example, let us take a look at Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA 11th), who left his seat as Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for the House of Representatives just as Foust was first elected to the board. Like Foust, Connolly—who had previously earned an Off on a Tangent endorsement during the time I lived in Fairfax County—also touted his centrist tenure on the county board, cited his history of fiscal responsibility and budget balancing, and claimed he would work across the aisle to enact reasonable, common-sense legislation. The people of the Eleventh District sent Connolly to the Capitol Building, and got something else entirely . . . a lock-step Democrat standing in the way of every effort to reduce the deficits, voting for every massive spending bill that came his way, and passing legislative travesties like the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as ‘ObamaCare,’ into law without any consultation or cooperation across the aisle.
Connolly’s sins are his own, and I am not going to assume that Foust will similarly fall into a destructive partisan lockstep . . . but I am also painfully aware that, if we send him to Washington, he will face overwhelming pressure from his party leadership to fall in line with the tax-and-spend norms of the modern Democratic Party. Very few freshmen congressman are able to stand against that pressure and remain independent-minded.
Foust says that he will advocate policies that create jobs and opportunities by investing in education, infrastructure, and research and development. It is unclear how these are federal responsibilities, or what actual policies he is advocating. He also advocates a plan that would fund important government priorities while working to reduce the federal deficit, but again provides little detail. He says that he would attempt to secure more federal dollars for road projects in northern Virginia, but does not address the bigger question: why is it the federal government’s job to fund regional road projects that are better handled at the state level?
As much in lock-step as Comstock is with the Republican Party, Foust is similarly in lock-step with the Democratic Party on most every issue except deficit spending. He is notably weak on the key civil liberties and human rights. Foust explicitly denies the fundamental human right to life while deceptively referring to abortion as ‘health care.’ He is silent about the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, and the right to keep and bear arms. Although he acknowledges that the ObamaCare health care law is “less than perfect,” he does not support repealing and replacing it with something something better, nor does he acknowledge the serious constitutional issues with the law.
I have not been able to find any public position from Foust on the Fourth Amendment violations routinely committed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), nor can I find any clear position on protecting net neutrality. He and Comstock are both suspiciously quiet on these issues. We can assume, unless Foust chooses to tell us otherwise, that he will vote with the Democratic Party positions on these issues and will not vote to terminate the TSA’s illegal security theater, will not vote to terminate the NSA’s illegal data collection, but will likely support a moderate version of net neutrality legislation that would help protect the free flow of information on the Internet.
Lastly, I must point out that Foust’s campaign has been incredibly negative and, at times, deceptive. At one point, Foust contrasted his work history with Comstock’s by saying that Comstock had never had a “real job”—which was an insulting, inappropriate, and untrue comment. More recently, Foust has run television ads claiming that Comstock wants to “make abortion illegal, even in cases of rape and incest.” This is also untrue, and Comstock has repeatedly stated that she supports an exception permitting abortion in cases of rape and incest, and to protect the life of the mother. Foust’s deceptive ad was recently featured as the lead item in a FactCheck.org review of Democratic ads that misrepresent Republican candidate’s views on abortion.
If a candidate will lie to get into office, it is a sure bet he will continue to lie if we elect him.
Third-Party and Independent Candidates
In addition to the two major party candidates, there are three third-party and independent candidates who will appear on the ballot.
Diane Blais (Independent Green Party)
The Independent Green Party serves as perennial comic relief in Virginia politics (see the Gail Parker campaign ad from the 2006 U.S. Senate campaign). The entire party platform is some variant of ‘we need more railroads.’ They claim to be ‘fiscally conservative [and] socially responsible,’ but never get around to explaining how they expect to pay for thousands and thousands of miles of high-speed and commuter railroads without spending trillions of state and federal dollars that we don’t have.
Diane Blais (IG), who is standing as the Independent Green nominee for the Tenth District seat, does not appear to be very interested in actually campaigning. According to the closest thing she has to a campaign web site, she is a “‘More Trains, Less Traffic’ advocate gathering petition signatures to get on the ballot for U.S. House of Representatives 10th District.” It is unclear why she is still gathering signatures when she is already on the ballot.
Needless to say, “rail rail rail rail rail” is not a viable political platform.
Brad Eickholt (no party; independent)
Brad Eickholt, a former federal employee who is currently a project manager at Northrop Grumman, is running for the Tenth District seat as an independent and is affiliated with no political party. He says that he is seeking office because he is dismayed with the corruption and in-fighting between the Republican and Democratic parties. He cites the federal government shutdown in 2013 as the ‘last straw’ that pushed him into the race.
Eickholt says that most Americans are ‘pragmatic centrists’ who want to solve problems through compromise . . . which may be true, although bipartisan compromise is what got us massive federal deficits, No Child Left Behind, and the Fourth Amendment abuses by the Transportation Security Administration and the National Security Agency. His proposed solution to the gridlock and madness in Washington is to focus on small, targeted measures that fix specific problems, rather than giant omnibus bills that are too big and complex for anybody to ever read or understand.
On the issues, Eickholt would work to improve the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as ‘ObamaCare,’ and claims that the act will result in “actual competition in the market and bring down the costs of premiums.” This is simply untrue. He does, however, support a fair and equitable flat income tax that does not unfairly discriminate between taxpayers, but recognizes that such a plan would likely be a political non-starter. In the mean time, he seeks to simplify the tax code and eliminate tax credits and deductions. Eickholt does not have public positions on his campaign web site about the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, right to life, right to keep and bear arms, or the aforementioned Fourth Amendment abuses.
Bill Redpath (Libertarian Party)
William ‘Bill’ Redpath (L) stands as the Libertarian Party nominee for the Tenth District seat. Redpath is a long-time member of the Libertarian Party, and currently serves as the chairman of the Libertarian Party of Virginia. He also serves as an officer at FairVote, an organization that advocates for ballot access and a national popular vote for the presidency. He has stood as the Libertarian candidate for numerous federal and state offices, including the Virginia House of Delegates, the Virginia Senate, Governor of Virginia, U.S. Senator, and now the U.S. House. He has never won.
Redpath supports a massive reduction in federal spending, a fair and equitable flat income tax, and a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as ‘ObamaCare,’ to be replaced with a tax incentive system, deregulation, and a shift to a consumer-based (instead of employer-based) health care system. He opposes ‘pay as you go’ safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare and supports replacing them with plans that give control to the recipients and are not subject to the whims of future Congresses. He supports a restoration of Congress’s war powers, and a significant reduction in U.S. military and defense spending.
Like most Libertarians, Redpath supports free trade, open immigration policies, an end to illegal government surveillance, a repeal of ‘victimless crime’ laws, and electoral reform. He is silent on the key issues of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to keep and bear arms . . . although it is likely that he is on the ‘right side’ of these issues. It is unclear if Redpath affirms and would work to defend the fundamental right to life, and it is unclear where he stands on Internet freedom.
As is often the case, voters in the Tenth District have many flawed candidates to choose from. In 2012, I endorsed the reelection of Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA 10th) as the lesser of three evils, but I had serious questions about his fiscal conservatism and his ability to buck the party line when the party is wrong. As I expected, he continued to vote in line with the party bosses . . . right on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act; right on the right to life, religious liberty, and free speech; wrong on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) illegal data collection; wrong on net neutrality and Internet freedom.
Most likely, if we choose to send Delegate Barbara Comstock (R-VA 34th) to the Capitol Building, we can expect more of the same . . . lock-step voting with the Republican Party leadership, whether they be right or wrong on a particular issue. This will turn out well when it comes to the basic human right to life, the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, and the right to keep and bear arms . . . but will turn out poorly when Comstock is asked to protect our right to privacy from NSA spying, or our right to have open access to the Internet.
Fairfax Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) seems to be in similar lock-step with his party. We can expect him to actively fight to undermine the right to life, the freedom of speech, religious liberties, and the right to keep and bear arms. He will likely vote to continue allowing the NSA’s illegal spying, but may support Internet freedom. His open disregard or conspicuous indifference toward our most fundamental human rights disqualifies him from public office, as does his dishonest and deceptive campaign advertising.
Diane Blais (IG) can be dismissed outright for touting nothing but the same vapid and meaningless slogans of so many other Independent Green Party candidates. Brad Eickholt (I), a political outsider running without party support, seems so intent on centrism that he appears to stand for very little . . . and he has been silent on the most important civil liberty and human rights issues of the day, including the right to life, the defense of religious liberty, and ending the NSA’s illegal spy programs. William ‘Bill’ Redpath (L) presents an attractive, pragmatic brand of libertarianism, but is also depressingly silent about many of the key human rights issues.
Having already dismissed Foust and Blais, we end up with a three-way race between a lock-step Republican, centrism for the sake of centrism, and a Libertarian who is right on many important issues but silent on too many others.
Centrism cannot stand as a principle in and of itself, and so, although I appreciate his independence, it is hard to make a case for voting for Eickholt. That leaves only Comstock and Redpath . . . and a difficult choice. Redpath is clearly stronger on fiscal responsibility, taxation, the economy, and fighting against the NSA’s illegal surveillance programs. Comstock, however, is stronger on the fundamental human right to life, women’s health and safety, political experience, and, it must be said, prospects of victory. Comstock is also reasonably fiscally conservative, and will likely support acceptable tax and economic policies. Both candidates would likely be strong supporters of the freedom of speech, religious liberty, and the right to keep and bear arms. Both would likely work to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Both would likely fall short in protecting Internet freedom.
The tie-breaking factor for me when choosing between these two flawed but acceptable candidates is simple political pragmatism. We must consider the competitiveness of this particular race. We must also consider Foust’s open disdain and indifference for human rights, his support for the increasingly destructive policies being put forth by his party, and his willingness to lie outright about his political opponents. Although Redpath is probably a very slightly better candidate than Comstock overall, he does not make a compelling enough case for ‘conservatarians’ like myself—those of us who tend to fall somewhere between the Republican and Libertarian parties—to risk handing the election to Foust. I endorse the election of Barbara Comstock to represent Virginia’s Tenth District in the U.S. House of Representatives.