First District candidates go head to head at University of Mary Washington debate

First Congressional District Rep. Rob Wittman and his challenger Vangie Williams took center stage at the University of Mary Washington’s Dodd Auditorium for their first debate ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.

The First District spans from Northern Virginia down to the coast of the Chesapeake Bay, including parts James City County, and has been represented by Wittman since 2007. 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, a first-time candidate, is a resident of King George 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.

In their opening remarks, both candidates said they want to bolster the state’s economy and improve access to education and health care, but disagreed on how to get those goals accomplished. Throughout the course of their debate, Williams and Wittman went back and forth on issues including health care, internet access and tariff increases.

On the health care, Wittman said that it’s important for First District voters to have a choice over the quality of their care with their dollars, while Williams supported universal health care.

“I want to make sure that we look at how the system works, people trust themselves and their doctors to make decisions, they don’t want a government takeover of health care,” Rep. Wittman said. “Not only won’t you have choice or control, but it’ll be long periods of time before you get the care that you need.”

Williams, on the other hand, said she believes that health care is a human right, and that current options are too expensive for many in the district, and that medicare should be universalized and expanded to include dental and vision care.

Broadband internet access in rural communities was an issue that both candidates supported. Wittman touted a provision in the federal budget that put over $600 million toward the installation of broadband internet facilities across the United States, but Williams said that Wittman has been slow to bring internet access to rural areas in the First District.

“I want federally funded transportation projects that we can use to bring broadband to the rural areas, but this is more than just that,” she said. “Broadband has been around for 20 years, and the fact that it has just come up on the Congressman’s poll list is scary.”

The two also discussed an award that Wittman’s office recently received for its transparency and accountability by the Congressional Management Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based research and training organization.

“(Transparency) is about being out here talking to people in town halls, meeting with people face to face, not telephone town halls and selecting questions that they want to answer,” Williams said.

Wittman said he’s held more than 100 town halls since 2017, and defended his preference toward smaller forum-style meetings over larger town halls.

The two also discussed the tariffs that the Trump administration has placed over steel and aluminum imports from countries including China. Williams said she is firmly opposed to the tariffs, while Wittman said he agrees with President Trump that China poses a threat to the nation’s economy.

“I’m not a fan of tariffs, I think there’s other ways to go about it, but we must be looking at all the different options on the table,” Wittman said.

Election Day information

To vote on election day, all registered voters must present a valid photo ID. The deadline for voters to request an absentee ballot by mail in James City County is Oct. 30, according to the county’s website.

To find your local polling place, visit

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

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

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