In defense of Congressman number 432

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September 30, 2008

12:40 AM

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Remembering John Adams’s quotation called me to action lately to pick up my pen — er, laptop. Last Tuesday, this paper published the column “Keep the ’burg in mind this November,” in which the author decided to play fast and loose with the facts concerning our district’s congressman, Rob Wittman, and tried to mislead readers into thinking something that was just plain not true. I would like to set the facts straight so we can have honest debates about the issues facing our district in this coming election.

First, I take issue with the idea that Wittman is somehow ineffective. The fact quoted was that Wittman was “ranked 432 in effectiveness” by Knowlegis on congress.org, which I will admit is true. It is equally true, however, that Wittman has only been in Congress a paltry nine months and not two years as was stated by the author.

Also, this rating is from the power rankings list — sounds more like ESPN than CSPAN — which judges members by such categories as their tenure (of which Wittman has little being a fresh face to Washington), the amount of earmarks they receive (something Wittman opposes) and indirect influence (which sounds like it would be very hard to scientifically put a number on, akin to calculating how much “heart” someone gave).

What is true about Wittman’s brief time in Congress is that in nine months he has sponsored eight bills, the third highest of the 11 Virginian representatives. Trying to classify anyone who sponsored eight bills (one passed, seven in progress) in nine short months and co-sponsored 204 as ineffective is just downright wrong. Among the bills sponsored were laws on two of Wittman’s most important causes. Some proposed to give more benefits to our veterans, while others proposed to protect the Virginia environment by stopping states from using us as a landfill.

This brings me to the next falsehood, namely that Wittman is some sort of arch-conservative. According to govtrack.us, a nonpartisan tracker of Congressional activities, Wittman is a very moderate conservative. His voting record is not one of a lock-step Republican as some would like you to believe. With a Ph.D. in public policy and administration and a bachelor’s in biology, he has co-sponsored bills to increase the investments in green technologies such as solar, wind and bio fuels. All drilling bills he co-sponsored have explicit provisions to protect the coastline’s ecosystems and natural wetlands. He also is a chief opponent of the James River Reserve Fleet — old Navy vessels that sit idly in the James River — making his intentions clear about his desire to scrap that environmentally hazardous eyesore.

Although some of his positions are more conservative, such as his pro-life stance and desire to make English the official language of the United States, to try to stick him with the label of “ultra-conservative” is erroneous and counter-productive to fostering any real debate and progress.

Though I have come to the aid of Wittman in this column, do not think this is an endorsement or an attempt to convince people to vote for him. I leave that for readers to research themselves. This column is supposed to set the record straight and inform the student body. Hopefully, we can get away from Karl Rove-style hit jobs that only seek to play party politics and divide people into squabbling factions, and we can start having real conversations on the issues that affect us and our great republic.

Alexander Powell is a junior at the College.

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