No worries for incumbent Rep. Don Beyer in Va. as Election Day approaches

Rep. Don Beyer has some quirky ideas about what legislation he would pursue if he wins a second term in Congress next month.

He wants to push for a billion-dollar economic development project in hard-hit coal communities far from his suburban Northern Virginia district. He longs to revise the federal budget process, requiring an even Democrat-Republican split on key committees. And he would like to see larger, multimember congressional districts, as was allowed before 1842. 

“I don’t want to be naive, and I don’t want to be Don Quixote,” said the affable auto dealer, an ex-ambassador and former lieutenant governor. “But I want to talk to 200 people about this in the next two years.”

When you are the incumbent Democrat in one of the country’s deepest blue districts, you can afford to dream.

Beyer, 66, faces first-time Republican candidate Charles Hernick in Virginia’s 8th District. A bilingual millennial who describes himself as leaning libertarian on many social issues, Hernick, 35, has tried to appeal to young voters who want Congress to address the national debt, end political gridlock and speed the pace of change.

He and Beyer broadly agree on many social issues, including LGBT rights, abortion, immigration-law reform and the need for the federal government to act to slow or reverse climate change. Their differences show up in tax policy, how some of the changes should be accomplished, and how quickly one of 435 members of Congress can make things happen. 

“Beyer will win in a landslide,” said David Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report, which rates the district — Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church and parts of Fairfax County — as solidly Democratic. “Charles Hernick’s chances of winning are no higher than Arlington’s chances of capsizing into the Potomac River.”

As a freshman in the minority party, Beyer passed two minor bills during his first term and sponsored or co-sponsored 35 others, including several aimed at improving energy efficiency. One of his successes was an amendment, co-sponsored with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), that restored the full rights of states and local communities to regulate towing.

Beyer was among the local federal lawmakers who helped the National Park Service get $90 million to repair the Memorial Bridge, and he is pushing for a federal operating subsidy for the Washington area’s troubled Metro system. He said a proposal for a study of military helicopter noise along the Potomac is in conference committee and is likely to be passed later this year. 

Beyer — who has raised $1.9 million in campaign contributions since the start of 2015, compared with Hernick’s $59,842 — is not taking the race for granted. He arrived 30 minutes early to a neighborhood forum in Rosslyn this month to talk to residents concerned about low-flying military and passenger jets. Last week, he shadowed Reagan National Airport wheelchair porters to advocate for higher minimum wages. A few days earlier, he dropped in at a small-business association luncheon in the Del Ray area of Alexandria. 

A strong supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Beyer has been mentioned as a possible replacement in the Senate for Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the vice-presidential nominee, if Clinton wins on Nov. 8. 

Beyer was one of more than 100 House members who staged a sit-in on the floor of Congress in June to demand a vote on gun-control legislation. Climate change remains his top priority, he said, followed by infrastructure repair and women’s economic empowerment. He says a carbon tax would be the most effective way to reduce pollution but acknowledges that such a tax seems extremely unlike unless Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives.

Beyer said his more unconventional ideas — pouring money into coal country, and reshaping budget committees and legislative districts — could help solve the gridlock and enmity that pervade the halls of Congress. With multimember congressional districts, for example, “you don’t run to the right or the left; you run to the center.” 

Hernick said Northern Virginians should expect more of Congress than they’re getting. A consultant on economic and environmental issues who emphasizes the power of a free market, he says renewable energy credits, cap-and-trade and carbon credits could address climate change “without further exacerbating the economic problems that we already have in the country”

He takes mainstream Republican positions on promoting public-private partnerships to improve highways and argues for more innovation in the federal government and a lower, 25-percent corporate tax rate. He promises to work on shrinking the national debt, which he said is a major concern among young voters. On the local level, he said he opposes the proposed meals tax in Fairfax County. 

Hernick supports Roe v. Wade but does not think federal money should support abortions. A believer in LGBT equality, he has been endorsed by the gay-friendly Log Cabin Republicans. And Hernick told voters after a recent candidates forum that he thinks marijuana should be legalized and taxed.

The United States, Hernick said, “needs to secure our borders, but people who have been here a while need to have a pathway to citizenship.”

Hernick said he plans to vote for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump but is not campaigning for him. He acknowledged that Trump’s presence on the ticket does not help him. 

“He’d be a better candidate if it weren’t for all those scandals — and both candidates have scandals,” Hernick said. “It detracts substantially from the real conversation we should be having, which is how we work for the people’s everyday pocketbook issues.”

Two other 8th District candidates are encouraging voters to consider them: former FBI agent Julio Gracia, a low-profile independent, and write-in candidate Mike Webb, who has primarily campaigned by news release. 

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