By the time you read this, Rep. Robert Hurt (R-5th) will have traveled the nearly 200 miles from the Washington Town Hall, where the congressman met briefly Tuesday with Rappahannock County officials, to do the same in Danville, not far from his hometown of Chatham – from either of which you can get to North Carolina faster than most Rappahannock residents can get to a drugstore.
“Three years ago when I first got elected,” Hurt told the dozen or so county, town and school board officials assembled at the town hall, “the fifth district was bigger than New Jersey.” Since the redistricting last year, which extended the boundaries further north to include Rappahannock and Fauquier counties, Hurt added, “now it’s bigger than New Hampshire, bigger than Vermont, almost as big as Massachusetts – it’s 10,000 square miles.”
The problem, he said, is not with the 200 miles between his hometown and the town of Washington. Though Little Washington is only 70 miles from Big Washington, it’s distances of another kind between the two Washingtons that are worth noting.
The 5th district, with some exceptions, Hurt said, is mostly rural and agricultural. And, with a few other exceptions, he noted, the people in his district largely want to keep it that way.
Of course, Hurt was addressing a small group of folks who are familiar with Rappahannock County, the home of exceptions, and exceptions to exceptions. Thus was the first question asked – by county supervisor Chris Parrish, who is also a longtime Farm Bureau member – about Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposal to end Virginia’s ban on uranium mining. But it was framed in farming terms.
“This is an agricultural county, and Virginia is an agricultural state,” Parrish said, “and the export of agricultural products is very important in this state. Any activity that would change that . . . well, just the perception that things may go wrong with uranium mining could have a very negative effect on agricultural exports.”
As during the election he won handily in November against an opponent who accused him of supporting lifting the ban on uranium mining, Hurt acknowledged the possibility of uranium mining in Virginia has “potentially far-reaching impact,” but added: “It is clearly a state issue, and should be decided by the legislators across the state, in Richmond . . . And my understanding . . . is that that issue has been tabled.”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff’s question had to do with another difference between Big Washington and Little Washington, an issue Hurt had himself mentioned during his brief remarks.
“One of the things that’s most frustrating watching the evening news is, and you mentioned ‘hyper-partisan politics,’” Goff said. “Around here . . . it seems to me that everybody works together, and if we’ve got a problem, then everybody kinda pulls together and we come up with a solution. And there doesn’t seem to be any personal animosity.
“You look at Congress, and it’s one side of the aisle, and the other side of the aisle, and you’re at each other’s throats,” Goff said. “Why is that, and what can you as an individual congressman do about this? Most of the people I talk to are sick of it.”
“It’s something I hear wherever I go,” Hurt said. “From my personal perspective, I was in the state legislature for nine years and I think people would say that we may not have agreed on every issue but we were always agreeable and always tried to find places where we could bridge the gap. Richmond isn’t always at its best behavior, but if you compare the two, it’s like night and day.”
Hurt said for most of the bills he has introduced have been bipartisan-sponsored. “To me, if I’m going to get something done, I know it’s got to go through the Senate, and I know Harry Reid’s over there in the Senate so it should have someone on the other side supporting it.”
Hurt said he’d suggest that one of the best ways to cut down on impasses is “to start following the rules. What I mean by that is, instead of having everything be a crisis and go to the last hour, where the President and the speaker have to work out a deal, and the 435 members and the 100 members of the Senate have to have something jammed down their throats . . . why don’t we go through ‘regular work,’ where we introduce bills, they go through the committee process, where both sides can contribute, and to the floor . . .”
In Richmond, Hurt said, there’s a legislative rules committee, and every bill has to follow the same process and rules. “I found out when I got to Washington, that in Washington, every bill has it’s own set of rules! They set the rules for each piece of legislation,” he said, adding that the process stifles debate, and removes legislators’ stake in the bills’ future.
“And the other thing is, I guess, time . . . If you borrow as much money as your account is worth, it strikes me that maybe we ought to be working seven days a week to work these things out, as opposed to the schedule that we’re given. The result, and it goes to your question, is that we don’t spend that much time with our colleagues.”
As far as spending time with constituents: As of Tuesday, two months into his new term, Hurt had already spent a couple of hours more speaking in Rappahannock County than his predecessor had in the previous two years.