WDBJ Web Staff
9:05 AM EDT, September 16, 2012
We are a little more than seven weeks away from Election Day. Your Hometown News Leader WDBJ7 wants you to get to know the candidates.
Over the next several weeks we are going one-on-one with the men who want your vote.
Our first candidate WDBJ 7 anchor Chris Hurst spoke with is U.S. Congressman Robert Hurt, who represents Virginia's 5th District.
The 5th District is made up of Central and Southern Virginia including Bedford, Campbell, Franklin, Henry and Pittsylvania Counties and the cities of Martinsville and Danville.
Congressman Hurt started his career as an attorney in Chatham where he grew up. He practiced law for eleven years. His political career began in 2001 when he was elected to the Chatham Town Council. Hurt then served three terms in the Virginia House of Delegates, beginning in 2002. And he was elected to the Virginia Senate in 2008. Congressman Hurt began serving in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2011.
Chris: "Congressman Hurt, the latest poll by Glen Bolger, one of the Republican party's leading political strategists shows you with an 18 point lead over your opponent, John Douglass.
I am sure that is encouraging, what are your thoughts?"
Hurt: "Well, you know, polls are interesting and they're certainly helpful. But the bottom line is that, you know, it's still 60 days away from Election Day and I like to say we have two speeds. We have zero and 150. And so we are going to be turning over every stone to make sure the voters know what the clear choices are on November sixth. We were gratified to see those early results. But, again-"
Chris: "Is it an inexact science, polling for a Congressional seat with so many counties that you serve?"
Hurt: "I think that it is. I think it's certainly not anything that you can rely on, especially when we are so far off from the election. Then, of course, the second part of that is that we have a hotly contested presidential election and a hotly contested US Senate race that will be at the top of the ticket. And those races are changing every day and I feel certain will have an effect on our race. So we have to work hard and make sure that we distinguish ourselves and we have been doing that and look forward to continuing to do that."
Chris: "The track that you have taken seems to be the prototype for a lot of different Congressmen. You have been serving as a public leader for more than 10 years. Did you always dream of being in politics?"
Hurt: "You know, I grew up in Chatham and was raised, I think, like many people, to believe that it's certainly our civic duty to be involved in public discourse. And so when I came back and began a practice of law as a prosecutor in Pittsylvania County, after about three years of being a prosecutor, I found an opportunity to run for the town council and then for the Virginia House of Delegates in 2001. And I loved being a part of a citizen legislature and that's really, of course, what the Virginia General Assembly is is a citizen legislature. I maintained a law practice at the same time. And so that was a very natural fit for me. I enjoyed, perhaps, doing my part in the Virginia House of Delegates and in the Virginia Senate. I never dreamed of being in the United States Congress, but, of course, in 2010, we felt, my family and I, my wife and I felt that we really needed to step up to the plate because of the direction that we saw our country was headed in and felt like Virginia's fifth district could be better represented. And so we stepped up to the plate, certainly feeling a sense of duty that it was something that needed to be done. And I can tell you, having been there, we certainly need more people with common sense in Washington DC. And I think that our country is at a crossroads. I think that we need folks who are gonna be committed to really trying to solve problems and I'd like to count myself among those."
Chris: "Common sense all too uncommmon in many cases."
Chris: "There are two parts to being a Congressman. There is the act of public service. There is also the campaign part."
This election season the subject that is at the top of everyone's list is the economy. Many are worried about jobs and with good reason.
It's no secret that Martinsville's unemployment rate is the highest in the state and has been for quite some time.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate was 18.4% in July 2011.
In July of this year it's down a little more than 2% at 16.3%, but is still the highest in the state.
Chris: "A viewer from Martinsville submitted this question on our website.
Calvin Latimer wants to know What bills/laws have you introduced or supported that create jobs, particularly for Southern Virginia?"
Hurt: "Well, first of all, let me say that I do believe jobs and the economy are the number one issue. I travel across the fifth district extensively and that's what we hear everywhere we go. And certainly the pressures that are on the small business and the small farmer are extraordinary. And so we've pushed for policies in Washington that would make it easier for these businesses to succeed - make it easier for our farmers to succeed. And those bills range from jobs bills that would reduce the red tape and the bureaucracy that the small businesses and farmers suffer under. Also, I think having a reasonable and responsible energy policy in this country also is so important, I think, for small businesses and for the family farm because when you look at the spending for the individual family, for the individual, for the business, for the farm, fuel is such a driving force. So bills that we have introduced, certainly, one of the ones that's gotten a lot of press in recent months has been a bill called the Farm Pond Bill that we introduced and I was very pleased that it got out of committee. But this bill looks at the Clean Water Act and says, 'Listen. There is a provision in the Clean Water Act as it was originally inacted that allows an exemption for all the permitting process for those farmers who are engaged in the normal agricultural activity.' It's common sense."
Chris: "Dredging and filling and creating land-"
Hurt: "Creating a farm pond to irrigate crop land, irrigate corn in this instance, to be able to feed cattle. We have a farmer -"
Chris: "Should they have to go through the EPA to get a permit to do all of that or should that red tape go away?"
Hurt: "I don't believe that that was the original intent of the Clean Water Act. I don't believe that the EPA and the Corps of Engineers have properly interpreted the Clean Water Act and that there is an existing exemption for normal agricultural activity. And that translates to jobs. That translates to jobs because when I have a farmer tell me that he has had to spend tens of thousands of dollars in order to get a permit, this is before you move the first inch of dirt, but to get a permit to build a farm pond on his own land, irrigate his own corn so he can increase his capacity for his dairy, what I hear is that it's tens of thousands of dollars, it's two and a half years of production that's down and at the end of the day it prevents him from expanding his operation. What does that mean for Southside Virginia? What does that mean for Virginia? What does that mean for anybody who's farming across the United States? It means a loss of jobs. And when I talk to people like your viewer in Martinsville, Virginia, that's what I hear. I hear that Washington needs to be working to make it easier for farmers to succeed and grow. We need to make it easier for the small business to grow and expand and hire. And Washington, for far too long, I would submit to you has not been doing that."
When we started working on this project we wanted our viewers to part of it.
While we are out covering the news of the day we also give people we met on stories the opportunity to ask candidates a question.
Victor Galen: "I am from Lynchburg, Virginia. My question to the candidate is would you support increasing the wage limit on which social security taxes are paid as a means of increasing the funding of social security?"
Chris: "He was talking about the tax max. Should we increase the tax max for Social Security, where it stands right now at about $100,000, should we tax people more than $100,000 if they make more than that? Should we tax more of that income if they make, say, $200,000?"
Hurt: "First off, let me say this about Social Security and Medicare. And that is that these are promises that have been made. They are programs that our citizens have worked hard to pay into and they're programs that need to be preserved. And let there be no mistake about that. The question is, how do we preserve these programs so that they do not dissolve under their own weight? Which I would submit to you, if you know anything about where this country is headed in terms of a debt crisis, and that's reflected in the fact that we've borrowed $16 trillion dollars, we are borrowing 40 cents on every dollar we spend in order to support that spending and that debt. If you look at that future, you don't have to be an economist to know that Social Security is not going to be able to survive that. And that threatens current beneficiaries and future beneficiaries. I would like to be a part of an effort going forward that looks at ways to reform these programs so that the folks that are currently getting the benefits are held harmless and going forward, have the same benefits that they expected and expect -"
Chris: "But what about, what if?"
Hurt: "And specifically, to the issue of increasing the tax, I think that that can be done. I think that we can reform these programs without raising taxes on our citizens. And there's a disagreement, I think, among Democrats and Republicans about whether that can be done. But what I have said and will say again today is that Washington doesn't have a revenue problem. It doesn't have a problem of not taxing people enough. What Washington has is a spending problem. And there are ways, I think, that we can reform these programs, A, to make them survive and make them available for future generations. And I think we can do that by cutting spending, having economic growth and reforming these programs so that they will be around for the next generation. And I think we can do that without raising taxes."
Chris: "Tax is a four-letter word to you?"
Hurt: "No. I mean, I think that what my position reflects is not an ideological, automatic response on taxes. What my position reflects is two things. Number one, Washington spends too much money and we need to bring that under control. And there are those on the other side who believe that more taxes, more revenue to the government, more government spending is the answer to our problems. I would submit to you that it's not A. And B, when you ask the same people who say, 'Well, we need to have a balanced approach. We need to have more revenue and less spending.' If you say, 'We need to have a bit of both,' those same people, if you say, 'Well, do you trust Washington with more of your money?', 90% of those same folks say, 'Absolutely not. Why should we?'"
Do you support a publicly-administered health insurance option?
Hurt: "Well, I mean, I think if you look at what the president's health care law attempts to do, I think it attempts to address that problem. But I would suggest to you that the president and the previous Congress have gone about it in the wrong way. And that's something we hear a whole lot about on the campaign trail. And that is is that the president's health care, which was ostensibly designed to lower health care costs and raise equality of health care and accessibility, has instead taken a sledgehammer to the finest health care system in the world. It may have issues that need to be dealth with, access issues that need to be dealth with, but at the same time, we have the highest quality of health care in the world. And - "
Chris: "You think it's the finest health care system in the world?"
Hurt: "That's not what I said. What I said was that it's the highest quality of health care. There's a difference between how the program works and how it affects everybody. But at the same time we have the highest quality care. Now why do we have the highest quality care? Because our system, I think, encourages innovation. And I think that those are things that we will lose if you have the government running health care. And I think you will only have higher costs, not lower costs, and I think it will degrade the quality of care. And I think people recognized that when the president began his health care crusade by saying, 'People who have health care now don't have to worry about having their health care affected. It won't be affected in any way. We're just figuring out a way to pay, to have everyone insured.' Well, that's not how it's worked out. People who have policies now have watched their premiums skyrocket. And secondly, you have many people who are, in fact, losing their health care and then having changes made as a consequence of the impact of this law. And so I would suggest to you there's a better way to do it. I think Republicans have not only the obligation to repeal it if they can, but I think that we also have the obligation to lead with our own ideas and we've done that on the House side."
Chris: "You would repeal the whole thing if you could?"
Hurt: "Absolutely. And again, as I travel across the fifth district, I think people recognize if we're going to repeal it, we need to do it quickly because, you know, the roots are growing deep already."
Chris: "Quickly, we have another question for you."
Heather Marin from Lynchburg also has a question for you Congressman Hurt about health care: "Do you guys support insurance companies covering pre-existing conditions?
Chris: "What do you think? Do you think that they should cover people with pre-existing conditions?"
Hurt: "I think that that's something that can be done without breaking the entire system. I think that that's something we can certainly work toward. I think it's something that's proven to be popular among the people, but I think that at the same time we have to preserve the good things about the existing system, which are the doctor-patient connection. Instead of having doctors work for patients, this new program will have doctors working for the government ultimately. And so things like the pre-existing coverage I think are things that we need to address. But I don't think you have to break the whole system to get there."
Chris: "In ten seconds, what's your best pitch to voters who may be undecided?"
Hurt: "Well, I would say that this election is really about two stark choices and one is rooted in the belief that our government has gotten too big and spends too much money and in order to preserve our country for the future and for our children and grandchildren, we have to get our fiscal house in order. I think that our -"
Chris: "We'll have to leave it there, for you, Congressman. Sorry. We've run out of time."
Next Sunday, WDBJ7 goes one-on-one with Democratic challenger John Douglass.
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