Health care, broadband internet access among the top issues in 1st Congressional District race

Staff writer

Voters across the 1st Congressional District will choose between Rob Wittman, an incumbent Republican congressman, and Vangie Williams, his Democratic challenger and a first-time candidate, when they head to the polls for the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

Virginia’s 1st District runs from Northern Virginia down to the coast of the Chesapeake Bay, including parts of James City County, and has been represented by Wittman since 2007 when he was elected to succeed the late Jo Ann Davis.

Since then, Wittman has won re-election five times, most recently in 2016, where he won with nearly 60 percent of the vote, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. As a member of Congress, Wittman serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Natural Resources.

Williams is a resident of King George County and comes from a background as a strategic planner, where she has 30 years of experience as a consultant and contractor managing high-level government projects including contracts with NASA and the TSA.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Wittman’s campaign has raised $1.4 million, while Williams has raised slightly more than $420,000. Williams said she’s committed to accepting money only from individual donors, rather than corporations and political action committees.

Both candidates say they want to bolster the state’s economy and improve access to education and health care, but disagree on how to get those goals accomplished. One major split between the two candidates is their approach to the U.S. healthcare system.

Williams said she would introduce a universal healthcare plan with coverage for dental and vision care, a plan that she calls Medicare Now Plus Plus. Wittman, on the other hand, said he’s against a government takeover of health care, and instead supports a healthcare system with lowered costs and increased transparency that allows patients to be the ones making decisions about their health care with help from their doctors.

Both candidates agreed any change to the current system should contain protections for pre-existing conditions.

“As I talk to folks, they’re pretty emphatic to say that they themselves want to be making the decisions about their healthcare needs, so they trust themselves and their doctors more than they do the government to make their decisions,” Wittman said.

Last year, Wittman voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with the GOP’s American Health Care Act, which would still have required insurers to cover those with pre-existing conditions, but would have opened the door for states to allow insurance companies to charge patients higher premiums if they let their insurance lapse for two months, according to a Virginian-Pilot report.

Williams said the Medicare system has proven to be effective, and that health care should be accessible to all Americans.

“Medicare is successful. It works because it has structure, so why not take a structure and make it work for all Americans?” she said. “Every man, woman and child should have health care.”

Immigration issues

On the issue of immigration, Williams said she supports laws that allow asylum seekers and temporary workers to enter the country with the proper visas, but that all other immigrants should enter the country legally. She also said she’s against the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy of separating families at the border.

Wittman said he supports protections for undocumented immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protective Status programs, but that he also supports securing the U.S.-Mexico border with border patrol agents, sensors and a border wall. He is also against allowing naturalized citizens to petition for members of their extended family to enter the country.

“For the folks under DACA and Temporary Protective Status, the vast majority that are here are productive individuals working hard, doing the things that they need to do, and we want and need them here,” Wittman said. “You have to secure the border too. I think the whole idea of this discussion back and forth is going to include all of the different aspects.”

Broadband access

Both candidates support extending broadband internet access into the district’s rural areas. Williams said the lack of reliable internet access has plagued her community for years, and said, if elected, she would introduce a plan to overhaul the 1st District’s infrastructure , which would include installing broadband internet lines.

“One thing that I will do is a transportation and infrastructure plan that brings hospitals, brand-new educational facilities, transportation plans, infrastructure plans that include broadband built into them so that we bring broadband to the communities that need it,” Williams said. “Not just talk; action.”

Wittman said he’s worked to expand broadband internet access since his days in the Virginia General Assembly, and supported the inclusion of more than $600 million in last year’s federal budget, which went toward the installation of broadband internet facilities across the United States.

Guns and tariffs

Williams has also said that if elected, she would support universal background checks for those seeking to purchase firearms, while Wittman said those with violent criminal convictions or mental illnesses should be barred from purchasing guns.

On the issue of tariffs placed on steel and aluminum imports by the Trump administration, Williams stands firmly opposed while Wittman said he agrees with President Trump that China poses a threat to the nation’s economy.

“I am a child of the Northern Neck, and his tariffs have hurt farmers across this country,” Williams said. “The Trump administration released, after putting tariffs in order, a $12 billion farm aid package, and that $12 billion bailout is a quick fix to a problem that we didn’t have before.”

Wittman said the tariffs could result in a trade war, which wouldn’t benefit the U.S, but that China’s intellectual property theft poses a threat to America’s businesses and national security. He also said he’s hopeful the Trump administration will grant exceptions to American businesses that rely on the imports being tariffed.

“For me, I would prefer to do something other than tariffs, but if we’re doing that, I want to make sure that it results in us being able to strategically and economically bring China to a level playing field,” he said.

Election Day information

To vote on election day, all registered voters must present a valid photo ID. The James City County Voter Registration Office is open for absentee voting Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m Saturday, according to the county’s website.

To find your local polling place, visit vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation.

James City County residents may visit the James City County Voter Registration Office at 5300 Palmer Lane. For more information, call 757-259-4949.

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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