Chamber Luncheon Features Candidates

Chamber Luncheon Features Candidates

No shortage of opinions between three Congressional candidates.

Illegal immigration, BRAC, the Iraq war, border protection, and transportation spending, plus an array of other items were all fair game Tuesday as the three candidates for the Eight Congressional District stated their positions before members of the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce during the group’s regular First Tuesday Business Lunch.

Chamber members, candidate staff, press representatives and guests packed the dining room at Belle Haven Country Club to hear the three identify the issues they perceive as most important to the nation and their constituency. Although they disagreed on the solutions they were aligned on the priorities.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8), who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1991, immediately hit hard on the local issue of the Base Realignment and Closure Report which is scheduled to bring an additional 22,000 plus personnel to Fort Belvoir by September 2011. “The most important issue facing this Chamber is BRAC. I don’t think it can be done within the time frame that the Army says it must be done,” Moran said.

“I do think its a good idea for these employees to move here in the long run. But, you can’t move 20,000 plus people to an area without the necessary infrastructure in place,” he said.

Moran also disagreed with putting nearly 18,000 of that number at the Engineering Proving Grounds as well as locating the proposed Museum of the U.S. Army there. “It’s going to take a minimum of $626 million just to improve the roads for this influx,” Moran insisted.

His Republican opponent, Tom O’Donoghue, led off his presentation with, “I’m asking you to fire him [Moran] and hire me,” which brought forth a round of laughter even from Moran. “I have entered this race to talk about hard topics,” O’Donoghue said.

Some of those hard topics he touched on were illegal immigration, the Iraq war, transportation spending, and the nation’s dependency on foreign oil. Addressing the issue of so-called pork barrel legislation, O’Donoghue said, “Moran brings home the bacon for his constituents, but we have to ask ourselves what is the best way to spend that tax money. I’m against earmarking.”

Jim Hurysz, who describes himself as an Independent Progressive, emphasized that he takes no money from any Political Action Committee and limits individual campaign contributions to $250 per person. “I’ll work hard for your interests in Congress not those of special interest groups,” he said. However, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce maintains a very powerful lobbying presence on Capital Hill.

When it came to the impact of BRAC on southeastern Fairfax County, Hurysz told the audience, “I’ll work to sent Rumsfeld’s BRAC plan back to the drawing board.”

THE ONE ISSUE that drew some of the most emotional responses from all three candidates was immigration. “Illegal immigration is straining all our services. Voters need a straight answer on this issue. We can’t just allow people to walk into this country,” said O’Donoghue.

“America is a nation of immigrants. But, the distinction is between legal and illegal. If we have need for all these immigrant workers and skills it should be done within our legal framework. We should decide who comes in, when they come in, and how they come in. We must control our borders,” O’Donoghue emphasized.

This was countered by Moran who insisted, “We need this work force. We in Northern Virginia are not being hurt by illegal immigration because we have such a low unemployment rate.”

He noted that he had voted for both the border fence between the United States and Mexico and the empowerment of local police to deal with immigration issues. “However, we probably won’t need that in Northern Virginia because the police are too busy with other matters,” Moran said.

“Every immigrant needs to be able to speak English and understand our form of government. But, I don’t believe it should be a felony to help people in need,” he stated.

Hurysz came down on the side of “sensible immigration reform” when he addressed the subject. “I don’t believe in building walls or fences on the border. Instead we should significantly increase the Border Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard. We should also significantly increase the fines for employers who hire illegal immigrants,” Hurysz said.

When it came to Iraq, O’Donoghue, a West Point graduate who saw combat duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded the Bronze Star, stated “We have to chart a new course in Iraq. We need a plan. And we have to break our dependence on foreign oil which costs us approximately $1 billion a day.” Neither Moran or Hurysz delved into the Iraq controversy, although Moran has opposed the war since its inception.

The final subject addressed by the trio during the very limited question and answer period of their presentations dealt with health insurance and the lack thereof by many Americans. They all agreed this is something that must be solved for the good of the nation as a whole.

Hurysz endorsed the plan put in place by Howard Dean when he was Governor of Vermont while O’Donoghue backed the Massachusetts plan requiring everyone to have health insurance “as they do automobile insurance.” Moran pointed out that he was an original sponsor of a national health insurance plan.

“We need a plan to offer small business the opportunity to enter an insurance pool to cover their employees. Small businesses, the nation’s largest employer, need a way to pool their resources,” Moran said.

“I would have insurance available for all children and catastrophic insurance available for all adults,” he said. What ever the mechanism each candidate saw health insurance as a critical necessity.