On the trail for a second term: Incumbent representative runs for re-election touting bipartisan, effective credentials

0
388
JAMIE HOLT / THE FLAT HAT

In November 2018, retired Navy officer and small business owner Elaine Luria made waves in Tidewater Virginia by narrowly capturing the state’s 2nd Congressional District in a competitive election against congressman Scott Taylor. Two years later, Luria is once again locked in a tight race against Taylor — this time as the incumbent. 

Luria’s victory made her the first Democrat to represent the district in almost a decade, after first-term congressman Glenn Nye lost his bid for reelection in 2010 amid a national Republican landslide. She beat Taylor by 6,000 votes in 2018, thanks in part to strong Democratic margins in Williamsburg, which went for Luria by several thousand votes. Four thousand, four hundred and eight voters in Williamsburg cast ballots for the Democratic insurgent two years ago, while only 1,787 supported then-incumbent Taylor.

During her first term, Luria has staked her congressional reputation on bipartisanship, working with representatives on both sides of the aisle to draft legislation. According to GovTrack’s 2019 report card, Luria’s commitment to collaborating with Democrats and Republicans made her 217th most conservative member of the House, almost exactly halfway through the House’s roster for the 116th Congress. 

“I try to make sure I represent all of my constituents in the district,” Luria said. “Eighty nine percent of the bills that I’ve introduced have been bipartisan and I’ve co-sponsored about 500 bills, and about 80% of those have been bipartisan.”

Luria has introduced 19 bills since 2019. Of these, 11 have passed the House, seven have been signed into law and two more await a presidential signature.

Home to the world’s largest naval base in Norfolk, the 2nd Congressional District is firmly anchored in the United States armed services industry. A former nuclear engineer with the U.S. Navy, Luria brought her military service to Washington D.C., pursuing multiple pieces of legislation related to veteran’s affairs, disability assistance and memorials affairs as a member of the House’s Armed Services Committee as well as the vice chair of its Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces.

Looking back on her first term, among Luria’s most memorable accomplishments in Congress was her advocacy on behalf of Gold Star families, whom she helped secure more equitable access to widow’s and survivor’s benefits. She also led efforts to address inequities in the federal government’s treatment of Vietnam War veterans, which she spearheaded through her role as chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.

“Within that, we’ve passed some landmark legislation last year, which was for blue water Navy veterans, who are Vietnam-era veterans who served off the coast of Vietnam and had been exposed to Agent Orange, but they had never received the same VA healthcare that veterans who served on land in Vietnam did,” Luria said. “… Obviously this is many decades overdue, but we were able to correct that injustice and get them the VA healthcare that they deserve.”

“Within that, we’ve passed some landmark legislation last year, which was for blue water Navy veterans, who are Vietnam-era veterans who served off the coast of Vietnam and had been exposed to Agent Orange, but they had never received the same VA healthcare that veterans who served on land in Vietnam did,” Luria said. “… Obviously this is many decades overdue, but we were able to correct that injustice and get them the VA healthcare that they deserve.”

Luria has also lobbied for enhanced environmental protections for the Chesapeake Bay since being elected, both by increasing federal funding allocations for bay cleanup and incorporating the bay into the American Conservation Enhancement Act, a bipartisan wetlands conservation bill. Last year she lobbied for $85 million in bay cleanup funds — an increase of $12 million relative to previous years — and successfully got $90 million for this year. 

“Travel, tourism, aquaculture, fisheries … the general health of the Chesapeake Bay is incredibly important for our region,” Luria said.

Despite her accomplishments, Luria acknowledged that some of her legislative priorities were unable to be fully acted upon given Republicans’ control of the upper chamber and President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign several bills passed by House Democrats. Bills Luria supported that have since been stalled on Capitol Hill include the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, the Equality Act and the Violence Against Women Act, as well as legislation to aid people protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

She also looks forward to pursuing supplementary protections for veterans of other conflicts in the 117th Congress if re-elected.

“There’s quite a few bills that the House has passed that the Senate has not taken up for consideration,” Luria said. “… On a personal level, we’ve passed some really important legislation for Vietnam-era veterans this Congress, but there’s a lot more veterans who are younger and have served recently … we don’t need to be 40 to 50 years down the road by the time we figure out a lot of the toxic exposure issues.”

Passing legislation, communicating with constituents and campaigning have not been the only things taking up Luria’s time during her first term. Less than a year into office, Luria was drawn into  Trump’s impeachment trial, and made waves for voting in favor of his impeachment alongside other freshman Democrats in conservative-leaning districts across the country.

Trump was impeached in the House in December 2019 almost exclusively on a party-line vote, though he was acquitted by the Republican-led Senate in early February. While Trump’s impeachment was swiftly overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and has not played a significant role in his re-election campaign, Luria has sought to justify her vote for impeachment as clearly as possible to her constituents, a plurality of whom voted for the president four years ago.

Luria said that the president’s solicitation of foreign influence against a political opponent constituted an abuse of executive power, and that her support for impeachment was strictly guided by an adherence to her oath of office — not any partisan considerations in the 2nd District.

“I look at the oath of office I took as a member of Congress, the same one I took six times each time I was promoted within the military,” Luria said. “… Upholding the constitution requires that we ask the hard questions and hold our leaders accountable.”

“I look at the oath of office I took as a member of Congress, the same one I took six times each time I was promoted within the military,” Luria said. “… Upholding the constitution requires that we ask the hard questions and hold our leaders accountable.”

Outside the Capitol Building and off the campaign trail, Luria recharges herself by spending time with her family, particularly given stressful circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Her favorite quarantine activities have revolved around cleaning and improving her house in Norfolk, where she’s lived with her husband for more than 15 years. After admitting to neglecting her garage for years, they’ve spent months organizing household supplies, building new cabinets, and clearing out space.

Luria said this cathartic exercise was especially meaningful during a turbulent election season, and that she feels ready for a new household project — one that’ll hopefully unfold during a new term in Washington.

“We got a dumpster and we literally cleared out the garage, rearranged everything, built some new cabinets, and now things feel a lot more organized and ready for our next project,” Luria said. 

Editor’s Note: The Flat Hat met with Rep. Elaine Luria over Zoom for a 20 minute interview three weeks out from Nov. 3 to discuss her campaign and her accomplishments in the House of Representatives. The Flat Hat extended a similar interview request to former Rep. Scott Taylor’s campaign but did not receive a response.

SHARE
Previous articleThe Extra Point: Pandemic halts College golf season, increases sport’s recreational popularity
Next articleCollege students should consider advantages of political tolerance
Ethan Brown
Ethan Brown '21 is The Flat Hat's 110th Editor-in-Chief. Before serving as EIC, Ethan previously was Managing Editor and an Opinions Editor. Ethan has enjoyed covering a diverse array of topics on campus, including the creation of a graduate student workers' union, Jefferson Hall's 2020 flooding, Board of Visitors tuition changes, and the provision of emergency Plan B prescriptions at the College. Beyond The Flat Hat, Ethan is an economics and government double major from Manassas, VA who enjoys long-distance running, European politics, and listening to podcasts.