By Nate Delesline III
Four Hampton Roads congressmen gathered Oct. 14 to sound off about everything from legislative gridlock to their efforts to stave off the closure of local military facilities.
Reps. Bobby Scott, Rob Wittman, Scott Rigell and Randy Forbes gathered on one stage at a forum in Chesapeake organized by the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.
Avoiding another round of mandated military base closures and troop reductions was a point on which all the congressman agreed.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure that BRAC doesn’t occur,” Wittman said, referring to the federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission.
“And not just because we don’t want a BRAC, because it’s not the right time to even introduce the question.”
When military personnel are reduced or facilities are scaled back or closed, “you will not get them back,” Wittman said. “And if you do get them back, you will not get them back in the strategic areas that they’re located today.”
Scott said the potential economic harm to military communities and the potential savings of base closures don’t add up from a big-picture perspective.
“When you just talk about a BRAC, you just harm localities, and all of this is for a savings of $10 billion, which is a drop in the bucket in the federal budget,” Scott said. Forbes agreed.
“We are [joined] at the hip on protecting those kinds of things, and we actually just sent a letter to the secretary of the Navy, all four of us together… just asking him [to] create a plan to mitigate this for the Hampton Roads area,” said Forbes, who added that he expects the secretary to follow up.
Scott is the ranking Democrat on the Education and Workforce Committee. In his opening remarks, he said they are working to advance early childhood education, among other priorities.
“We’re not doing what we ought to do in elementary and secondary education,” Scott said. “We have achievement gaps, we have dropouts, we have a situation where seven out of 10 young people are ineligible for military service today because they’re either high school dropouts,” or because they are obese or have criminal records.
Although those issues, Scott said, show that education policy is failing the country’s young people, he added that he’s pleased there is bipartisan cooperation on advancing criminal justice reform.
In his opening remarks to the group of business and community leaders, Rigell reiterated a frequent point that while military assets are worth protecting, action is needed to diversify the region’s economy. He pointed to developing offshore oil and gas energy resources as a way to bolster the economy.
Rigell lauded the chamber for starting the conversation about developing offshore energy but added that the discovery process is one that will probably take 10 to 15 years. He also told the group that his other congressional priorities include controlling federal spending and defending the military.
And despite the threats to America, Rigell, relating a conversation he had with his father, said he is confident the nation can shape a positive future.
“I said, ‘Dad, you know, if we don’t think we can shape our future, then I don’t believe we are truly free,'” Rigell said. “We talked about that a little bit, and I truly believe that we can shape our future. We’re Americans, and we can do this.”