U.S. Rep. Don Beyer meets at The Royal Restaurant, a diner serving Old Town Alexandria since 1908. Its walls are adorned with pictures of famous visitors.
It’s been two years since Beyer took office, stepping into the shoes of longtime U.S. Rep. Jim Moran.
“I was surprised Hernick got the nomination,” said Beyer. “I respect his positions on climate change and we end up agreeing on a lot.”
For Beyer, climate change and environmental work has been at the center of his campaign. While respecting Republican candidate Charles Hernick’s positions, Beyer says it is naive to think Republican leadership is going to be willing to work on climate change issues, referencing Cap and Trade measures similar to what Hernick is proposing that were brought up in 2010 and actively campaigned against by Republicans. Instead, Beyer has been pushing for a tax on carbon emissions, one aimed at environmental deterrence rather than as a revenue source.
“One hundred percent of that tax revenue will go back into people’s pockets,” said Beyer. “I think Republicans will like this version more because it isn’t about increasing revenue to the government.”
Beyer says he’s spent the last two years in office trying to reach out to Republicans and has found only 10 even willing to talk about the issue, with several of them retiring.
“To pass a carbon tax [and other environmental reforms], Democrats will have to be in the majority,” said Beyer. “If we are, we can get the Republicans onboard.”
In the meantime, Beyer says he’s continuing to meet with Republicans one on one to work on changing their minds.
Beyer supports free community college to help make the first few years of school tuition and debt free. Beyer says the government needs to work to help make it possible to refinance student loans.
Like Hernick, Beyer says many of the long-term fixes for tuition costs are going to have to come from systematic reforms. For Beyer, that means reforming the budget process to be more bipartisan and enact harsher consequences for Congress if no budget is passed.
Beyer also says his candidacy is about pushing for economic empowerment of women and what he calls the “economic transformation of Northern Virginia.” Beyer says the government needs to invest more heavily in the nation’s infrastructure, especially in a district with a failing Metro and crumbling bridges.
As happens during a busy election season, both candidates have been absent from scheduled debates. On Oct. 13, Hernick was a no-show to a debate sponsored by the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce, Instead, Beyer spoke to local business leaders about his workforce reform plans. Like many Democrats, Beyer is pushing to secure a pathway to legal citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally. Earlier in 2016, Beyer met with an illegal immigrant living in Fairfax and his family to learn more about the struggles they face.
The relatively conservative audience said they were mostly happy with the issues they saw Beyer addressing and many said having Trump at the top of the Republican ticket was likely to impact their votes across the ballot towards the Democrats.
“There’s not a lot of tough candidates to choose from,” said Villie Uusimaki, a principal and wealth management advisor at ForeC Financial LLC. Overall, Uusimaki said he wanted to see more candidates who were pro-business and looking to reduce regulations. “Taxation right now is too tight, we need to do more to incentivize small business owners.”
Walter Kulp, a resident of Alexandria, said the top issues he’d be voting on in the election would be jobs, taxes, and security issues.
“I was happy to hear Beyer talk about personal security, in particular touching on mental health,” said Kulp. At the one-candidate debate, Beyer said one of his ambitions for his next term was to work on forming a caucus representing suicide prevention organizations. “I was really hopeful about his conversation regarding suicide.”
Like Uusimaki, Kulp was unimpressed with the selection in the Presidential race.
“The Presidential race is a personal mess,” said Kulp, “No one is touching on the issues there.”
In their 2015 report card, Govtrack.us said that among freshman representatives, Beyer cosponsored the second-most bills. Of the 252 bills Beyer cosponsored, 25 percent were introduced by non-Democrats, making Beyer the second-most bipartisan member of Congress from Virginia. However, Govtrack also notes that Beyer has missed 52 (4.1 percent) of the 1,277 roll call votes, nearly double the congressional average.
David Speck, a former member of Alexandria’s City Council and a longtime friend of Beyer, said that Beyer has been more focused on building a foundation for future legislation rather than trying to make a splash.
“The temptation of two-year terms is to do something that makes a headline, but if you’re committed to doing something the right way, it’s more about building something that will last,” said Speck. “He is establishing himself as a member of Congress in exactly the right way. Things he’s speaking about, that he’s learning about, are things that transcend a term or two: like climate change. Getting anything done in Congress is a long slog. The temptation is seeing what I can win on right now, and that’s a hard thing to resist.”
Speck said Beyer’s roots in the heavily Democratic 8th district have, so far, given him a bit of security to work on more long-term legislation. In 2014’s five candidate race, Beyer won with 63 percent of the vote, more than double Republican Micah Edmond. Frank Shafroth from George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis said it will be difficult, but not impossible, for a Republican to win in the 8th District.
“[Northern Virginia] voters have elected any number of Republicans to the City Council, and some have gone on from there to distinguished careers in the Virginia Legislature,” said Shafroth in an email. “There is a tendency to vote for merit and integrity, notwithstanding party. So being a more liberal, as opposed to conservative [Republican], has benefitted former leaders like Connie Ring and Bob Calhoun, who both earned bipartisan support in going from the council to distinguished service in Richmond. That being said, it is difficult to unseat incumbents who have earned support and trust over the years, so the challengers this year, in a state trending heavily against the head of the Republican ticket, face a greater than usual challenge.”
Beyer and Hernick won’t be the only names on the ballot. Independent Julio Gracia, a former FBI agent, has been running a low budget campaign. Like Beyer, Gracia believes in more free community college, stricter environmental regulations, and universal healthcare. However, Gracia says his political “experiment” is aimed at running a campaign and getting people involved in politics without the filter of representing a political party.
“It’s really just my wife and I going around Fall’s Church knocking on doors and talking to people,” said Gracia. “You start to realize that many people share the same frustrations. We need politicians who are more in touch with the people in their district.”
- Environmental Reform (Carbon Tax)
- Economic Empowerment of Women
- Infrastructure Investment
Campaign funding - as of June 30 from Opensecrets.org
- Raised: $1,389,361
- Spent: $782,421