Virginia’s 10th Congressional District is most notable for the service of one man, Frank Wolf, who held the seat for 34 years after being elected in 1980. Mr. Wolf, a conservative Republican, was one of the region’s most popular political figures, and was re-elected by wide margins in almost every election that followed.
District boundaries changed three times during Wolf’s tenure in Congress. Today, the district includes the counties of Clarke, Frederick and Loudoun, the cities of Manassas, Manassas Park and Winchester, and parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties.
Loudoun County is the epicenter of the 10th, and some consider it the bell weather for how Virginia will vote in this year’s presidential election.
When Wolf announced his retirement, Barbara Comstock, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, secured the Republican nomination and defeated Democrat John Foust, a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, by a vote of 56 percent to 40 percent in Nov. 2014.
This year Comstock faces her first re-election test, and Democrats have targeted the seat. First term members of Congress are often a priority target for the opposing party, and the volatility of this year’s presidential race has added more variables to the calculus. Comstock, known to be a hard-working campaigner, is focusing on her policy accomplishments, and has declined to endorsed Donald Trump. Her opponent, Democrat LuAnn Bennett, has never held elected office, is touting her business experience, and is striving to turn the contest into a referendum on Trump.
Recently, Comstock visited the Tribune and was asked about her campaign, policy issues, and her views on the presidential race. What follows are excerpts from that interview. Bennett also visited with the Tribune, and excerpts from that interview will be published later this week.
Some say you’re a right wing ideologue, others that you’re too moderate. What are you?
I think I’m a common sense Republican and conservative who is focused on the things that make me Republican, which includes lower taxes.
I’ve never supported a tax increase. I think we need to make government work better, but I also think we need to have a 21st century tax code while we’re trying to compete internationally. I have my own brand and focus that’s been honed from living in this area, raising my family here, and my husband teaching in the school system in Fairfax County for 30 years.
I am immersed in the work, people and priorities of the 10th District.
If re-elected, how will you approach the issues facing Congress?
What I learned serving in the Virginia House of Delegates is you can get a lot of wins by base hits. But in Congress we get in that mode that you have to do comprehensive everything, whether it be immigration, taxes or Obamacare. If we just passed a bill that allows you to buy insurance across state lines, that would change the whole industry. Insurance companies wouldn’t mind. It would change things big.
What is your position on running with Mr. Trump at the top of the ticket?
I am running my own race, and I’ve not endorsed him. I endorsed [Sen.] Marco Rubio last December because when we talk about a Jack Kemp-type Republican party, it’s a party that looks like Marco Rubio and [Sen.] Tim Scott, the grandson of slaves, [Gov.] Nikki Hailey, the first Indian-American governor, and [Rep.] Trey Goudy. That’s my party. That’s the new generation. It’s inclusive.
Do you agree with Mr. Trump’s positions on trade, including penalties for American companies that take jobs out of the country?
I’m all for good trade deals, fair trade deals. I think the best thing we can do to get better trade deals is to lower our corporate tax rate, lower the personal tax rate – because if you lower the corporate you have to lower the personal. That brings business back, and I think you could build a strong bipartisan coalition that I would hope either of the candidates would support. That’s what I’m going to work on. To have that kind of low-tax, low-regulation, right to work environment that takes those businesses that left and give them ways to come back here.
This Administration and Hillary Clinton are not focused on putting people back to work. When Hillary is talking about $1.1 trillion or more of tax increases, that’s a non-starter and would be incredibly destructive to the economy. So I’m going to do what’s right for my district, and whoever is president, I’ll be opposing tax increases that hurt our business and families.
You’ve called Mr. Trump’s proposals on banning some people from entering the country unconstitutional. What should we do to keep people from illegally crossing our borders?
I support step-by-step immigration reform. I don’t support comprehensive reform, because what happens with that is you don’t get the border security and legal process in place before everything else starts. I think you have to do step-by-step so the American people trust their system and you make it a fair, workable system so the people who are playing by the rules – because we have immigrants coming from all over the world, playing by the rules, who want to come here legally to seek the American dream, and we make it too hard for them to come by playing by the rules.
Do you support an expanded physical barrier between the U.S. and Mexico – the wall?
That’s already the law. That was supposed to be built, but I don’t think the wall alone stops everybody. You have to use technology too, especially to find, track and stop terrorists before they get into this country. Stopping them wherever they are in the world.
We need to be forming more international partnerships and using all our technology go after them in a more sophisticated, targeted way. Then have our immigration system work in a way that’s fair to those who come here.
Should America accept Syrian refugees as proposed by the Administration?
As Republicans, we’re united that ISIS is the threat of our lifetime and we have to deal with it. When it comes to refugees, what we should do [in the Middle East] is have safe zones because you want to have people stay in Syria who will fight and get the country back on its feet. You don’t want everyone leaving who could stay and improve the country, because then it’s just going to make it worse.
The bill we passed said they can’t come over here unless the FBI director and all the national security folks sign off and can guarantee that they’re not a threat. That doesn’t mean we don’t help people in need, but you can help them over there without threatening the United States, and it keeps us consistent with our values. Our values are that we want to help people.
Virginia is a right to work state. How important is that to you?
I authored all the significant right to work legislation in Virginia over the past few years. That includes the secret ballot bill in Virginia, where you have a right to a secret ballot. You have a right for an employee to not give your personal information to a union so they can’t come and call and harass you. I supported those same kind of bills in Congress, where you have the right to work. I think we do much better as a right to work country. I had a bill in the state that you couldn’t force project labor agreements on a state project, so as a result you can’t do that in Virginia, but the president unfortunately forces project labor agreements, which jack up infrastructure costs and make it a lot more expensive. My right to work record is 100 percent.
What steps would you support to reduce gun violence?
I am a supporter of the Second Amendment, and I have a strong record on that, but I also have a strong record dealing with gun violence. Virginia has strong laws for people with mental issues, or felons, or people who shouldn’t buy guns. We have a registry, the NICS Background system that [Rep.] Frank Wolf and [Sen.] Mark Warner worked on to get that improved system and take the Virginia model and spread it across the country. I support putting more money into that.
A lot of U.S. attorneys I know also worked on Project Exile, where if you’re a felon and you have a gun on you, you go back to jail. We don’t wait till you use it again. We don’t say ‘gee, Mr. Felon, you’re not supposed to have a gun.’ That’s why this felon voting thing [Gov. Terry McAuliffe] did is bad. It means these guys are coming in and trying to get their gun rights back even though they were rapists or whatever.
If you’re a felon, you should go through a process to have your rights restored. They shouldn’t be automatically restored. We want to make sure they’re not violent, they’re not a threat. If you’re a woman who has been abused and you testify against that guy, he goes to jail for felony abuse charges and he comes out, he’s not supposed to be able to get a gun. He’s not supposed to be able to vote either.
I’m for people getting a second chance and having them go through a rehabilitative process, but I’m not for what McAuliffe did in his zeal and create a situation where violent criminals could get guns.
Richmond started having a big drop in crime because when their felons were caught with weapons, they went to jail. Everybody learned that lesson quickly, so when they came out, they knew, unless they went through a rehabilitation process, they weren’t going to be able to have guns.
Why did you support legislation that doesn’t defund Planned Parenthood?
I think we should spend government money on things that bring us together instead of divide us. Planned Parenthood divides people.
On defunding Planned Parenthood, I voted at the state level and I voted in Congress the same way. [Sen.] Dick Black didn’t advocate shutting down the government of Virginia because they didn’t defund Planned Parenthood. I’ve never seen Dick Black or any other person say ‘now let’s not fund the Virginia budget and stop everything because of that.’ I do not support shutting down the government over that or other issues. In fact, the National Right to Life itself wrote a letter saying do not shut down the government over this because we think that would do harm to the issue.
You have to work through the process. You have a House, you have a Senate and you come to a resolution. And if you don’t have the votes, there are certain things you can’t do. If you shut down the government, the money still flows from the current budget into those things.
Why is your opponent LuAnn Bennett wrong for the 10th District?
Because she has not worked, with and for, the people in the 10th District in her career. Her focus has been in Washington, D.C., in real estate working with people like Marion Barry to make real estate deals. She never has had any exposure with Virginia public schools. Her children didn’t attend Virginia public schools. My husband has spent 30 years in the public school system in Fairfax and my kids went to Virginia universities and public schools.
I don’t think she’s ever been a member of a Virginia chamber [of commerce] business group. I was a member of the Fairfax Chamber, and more importantly I’ve worked the with Fairfax [now the Northern Virginia] Chamber, the Loudoun [now the Dulles Regional] Chamber, and the Prince William Chamber. I was also the first member of Congress to be a member of the Northern Virginia Technology Council.
I am immersed in the work, people and priorities of the 10th District. She was living in the Ritz Carlton in D.C. before she was recruited to run against me, and she doesn’t know this district the way that I do.
If Hillary Clinton is elected, Tim Kaine’s U.S. Senate seat opens up. Would you run for that seat next year?
I am not making any plans for Hillary Clinton to be president. And I’m not giving anything else a yes or no because I’m not thinking about it. I like the House [of Representatives]. I was in the House [of Delegates] in Virginia. I think the House, if you have a situation like that, is going to be the place to stop bad legislation. Making sure Nancy Pelosi isn’t Speaker of the House is a really important job.
Barbara Comstock, in brief.
Rep. Barbara Comstock serves on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, where she also serves on its Subcommittee on Energy and chairs its Subcommittee on Research and Technology. She also serves on the Committee on House Administration and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. For the latter, she serves on the Subcommittee on Aviation, Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, and Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management.
Prior to her election to Congress, Comstock served three terms in the Virginia House of Delegates, and as Chair of its Science and Technology Committee. She also served on the Commerce and Labor Committee and Transportation Committee.
Her experience includes serving a senior aide to Congressman Wolf, chief counsel to the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, and director of the Office of Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of Justice. She was also a principal at Blank Rome, LLP and Blank Rome Government Relations, LLC, a founding partner of Comstock Strategies, and a founding partner of Corallo Comstock, a public relations and government affairs firm.
Comstock, 57, is a long-time resident of McLean, Virginia, and married to a retired Fairfax County Schools Assistant Principal. The Comstocks have three children and three grand children, and are members of St. Luke’s Catholic Church. She graduated from Middlebury College with a B.A. in Political Science, and from Georgetown University Law Center.