This is a Q-and-A with Suzanne Scholte, Republican candidate for Virginia’s 11th Congressional District. Her answers are unedited. We will have one upcoming with incumbent Democrat Gerry Connolly as well.
Americans will go to the polls on Tuesday for a midterm election that could have implications for incumbents, especially in Congress, where the House as a whole as a 79 percent disapproval rating, says Real Clear Politics.
What will the 2014 race bring for Virginia’s 11th District, which is includes Reston and where Gerry Connolly is running for re-election?
In Virginia’s 11th, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D), defeated Republican Keith Fimian in his first Congressional race in 2008 (back when Reston was in the 8th District). In 2010, he beat Fimian again — but this time by less than 1,000 votes. In 2012, with a race against Republican Chris Perkins and several Independents, Connolly took 61 percent of the vote.
Which brings us back to 2014. For starters, quick answer this question — who is Connolly’s major party opponent? That would be Republican human rights activist Suzanne Scholte (and also Independent Marc Harrold and the Green Party’s Joe Galdo.
Connolly has raised more than $1.8 million for his campaign; Scholte, $227,457, according to a Oct. 15 Opensecrets.org report. He received the endorsement of The Washington Post last week.
Also, the district next door, Virginia’s 10th, is stealing the spotlight. Longtime Congressman Frank Wolf (R) is retiring, and three is a big money, hotly contested race between Republican State Del. Barbara Comstock and Democratic Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust taking place.
Nonetheless, Scholte is undaunted. Reston Now asked Scholte, the president of the non-profit Defense Forum Foundation since 1988, a few questions this week.
Reston Now: What motivated you to take on Connolly for your first run for elected office?
Suzanne Scholte: I’ve spent my life working to promote freedom, democracy and human rights abroad–even to the point of rescuing refugees escaping oppressive regimes and literally saving people’s lives. Over the last few years, I began to realize freedom isn’t just in jeopardy abroad, it’s also in jeopardy here.
Whether it was the healthcare overhaul forcing people to lose their healthcare, the IRS and the Obama administration targeting certain political groups, the administration’s crackdown on respected reporters like CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson, or the government shutdown hurting so many Northern Virginians — I saw a toxic environment of partisan fighting with little regard for what was best for Northern Virginians or the American people in general.
All my life’s work has been about working across party lines to advance noble ideals and cause. Frankly, I am just so concerned that our country is in real danger. We need to work together to address the serious challenges facing us today and I chose to challenge Gerry Connolly because he embodies so many of these problems.
As an aggressive partisan, he tried to block investigations into government abuse. He also voted for sequestration — unlike Congressman Jim Moran — and voted twice against reversing these draconian cuts. His failures to work with both parties helped contribute to the government shutdown.
Gerry Connolly is the exact opposite of some of the great bipartisan legislators we’ve had in Northern Virginia — Tom Davis and Frank Wolf being the ultimate examples. We have a history in Northern Virginia is finding compromise, and Gerry Connolly is defaming that legacy.
RN: Congress is notoriously at an impasse on many issues. What can you do differently?
SS: Build relationships with both sides of the aisle — it’s not rocket science, but partisans on both sides of the aisle are making things difficult. Gerry Connolly doesn’t even get along with Virginia Republicans in our delegation, much less Republicans from other states. I’m proud to have a lot of Democrats supporting my campaign -in fact, two of my coalitions are headed by Democrats. As a Republican, I look forward to working with Democrats in Congress just as I have worke with so many Democrat Members of Congress over the last two and half decades.
RN: What are the biggest issues in Northern Airginia and what can you do in Washington tohave an impact on them?
SS: There are many, so let me pick three.
1. The economic impacts of defense cuts and sequestration. Unlike Gerry Connolly, who voted for the bill containing the sequester, I have proposed reversing the defense cuts implemented by the Obama administration that have made us incapable of meeting our national security needs. As Governor McAuliffe has pointed out, sequestration has slowed Northern Virginia’s economy to the point of Virginia facing a massive revenue shortage. When I am elected, I will propose a bill to reverse those cuts — not just for the sake of our economy, but also to ensure we can meet our defense needs.
2. Healthcare. Hundreds of thousands of Virginians have lost their healthcare due to the Affordable Care Act. Everywhere I go, I hear terrible stories of skyrocketing costs for premiums and deductibles, employers losing their healthcare, people losing their doctors, and most recently seniors unable to get simple prescriptions re-filled. It is precisely because the ACA was forced through with no compromise that is has been such a disaster. I want to work in a bipartisan fashion to fix our broken healthcare system, including empowering patients with more choices. I have a more extensive healthcare plan at SuzanneScholteForCongress.com.
3. Transportation. With many of Virginia’s senior Republicans leaving Congress, we need a leader who can work in the majority party — the party charged with governing — to fight for Northern Virginia’s transportation priorities. Gerry Connolly has been a loud partisan in the minority party, which isn’t a strong position to fight for regional priorities. We need a vast infrastructure overhaul in Northern Virginia, and we will need stronger leadership to make that happen.
RN: Do you consider yourself a bipartisan? Are you willing to look at issues rather than vote on party lines.
SS: As I’ve already stated, I think one of Congress’ biggest problems is a lack of bipartisanship–the type of relationships we saw between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. I am running against a partisan who nearly 100 percent of the time votes with his party leadership. I will be vastly different. If you look at the work of my foundation for over 25 years our programs were always inclusive and bipartisan, but in addition legislation I worked to get passed in Congress was always done with Democrats and Republicans working together starting with the North Korea Human Rights Act in 2004 and more recently with the passage of the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act. That is precisely why I have Democrats supporting me — we have worked together for years. <
RN: You are a clear underdog in name recognition, fundraising, etc. Has that been hard for the campaign or are you rising to the challenge?
SS: Beating the Gerrymandered system is always a challenge — this district was drawn to make Gerry Connolly safe. Despite that advantage, combined with the massive amounts of PAC money Connolly has, we have already been able to overcome serious odds.
We have been actually helped by Connolly’s vicous attack pieces that people are getting in the mail every day. These mail pieces are not only raising my name identification but bringing people to my web site. They read these nasty hit pieces about me, become curious about me and then go to my website and realize I am an award winning human rights activist whose even been recognized by President Barack Obama – not the person he has depicted falsely.
In fact, take a look at the pictures our campaign posts online. There is a clear enthusiasm gap in our favor. More volunteers, more excitement, more small dollar donors, and on Nov. 4, we believe it will turn into more votes. This is the year of the underdog!
Gibson announced he fell 43 signatures short of the required 1,000 needed from qualified voters. He said hesubmitted 1,259 signatures, but only 957 were verified as qualified 11th District voters by Virginia’s State Board of Elections.
“We had a small dedicated group of community volunteers collecting ballot petition signatures, but it just wasn’t enough,” Gibson said in a statement. “And the demands of my day job this year meant that I couldn’t devote the time necessary to make this bid a success.”
Gibson, 53, is a U.S. Government contractor and the chief operating officer for a Fairfax-based small business. He was on the ballot in 2012 and finished third in a field of six as Connolly won re-election. He has never held public office.
Gibson’s office says that of the 302 disqualified signatures, about half were from outside the District — primarily from areas that were formerly in the District prior to the 2012 Congressional redistricting. Other voters were disqualified because the general registrars in the counties of Fairfax and Prince William as well as the City of Fairfax could not identify a signature as a registered voter from the 11th District.
Gibson earned 3,806 votes in the 2012 election. That was far short of incumbent Connolly’s 202,606 votes, but the most of any of the challengers from a non-major party.
Connolly has served in Congress since 2009. Reston became part of his district in 2010 realignment.
Gibson, 52, is an economist who lives in Fairfax. He is currently the vice president for operations and business development at Fairfax-based Advanced Technology Solutions, Inc., an information technologies consulting firm.
Gibson said last week that voter encouragement and an underperforming Congress prompted him to run again.
“I received a lot of compliments and inspiration from voters after the last election,” Gibson said in a statement “And the dissatisfaction with Congress and the major parties is at least equal to that of 2012. More and more voters identify themselves as independents. I hope to build on the attention independent voters gained in the last election.”
Gibson will need to collect 1,500 signatures from 11th District voters by early June.
So far, no Republican challenger has announced intentions to run.
Gibson told Lorton Patch in 2012 that his frustration with Congress is very high.
“I just haven’t seen that Congress has been effective, and if I can do something to focus on the issues and change the effect of this Congress then I think I have done something,” he said. “I haven’t seen any attempt by either party to make any move to the middle. There are no Independents in Congress now – at least on the House side.”
Some of his stances on the issues in the last campaign: Overhauling the tax code, revising (but not repealing) Obamacare, raising age to collect Social Security; and securing more funds to aid Virginia transportation.