Next month’s elections will not only result in a new president,
but key races across the country also will change the makeup of
the armed services committees in both houses of Congress.
In addition to the presidency and countless state and local offices,
all of the seats in the House of Representatives and one-third of
the seats in the Senate are up for grabs. For the defense community,
two of these congressional races are significant.
One of the most contested Senate races is for the Virginia seat
currently held by Democrat Chuck Robb. He is a member of the Senate
Armed Services Committee, where he is minority leader of the readiness
subcommittee. Robb served in Vietnam and is a 34-year veteran of
the Marine Corps Reserves. He is also the son-in-law of the late
President Lyndon Johnson. But he now is engaged in a fight for his
political life against former Gov. George Allen, a Republican. Allen
is the son of a late coach of the Washington Redskins football team.
Since Virginia has a high percentage of military families and houses
numerous military outposts, both candidates are working hard to
win the votes of the defense community.
Allen, in a recent speech before the American Legion, pledged to
be a consistent and strong voice for the U.S. armed services, which
he claimed are underfunded. “Our military has been cut to
near the bone and stretched to near its limit,” he said. “Our
men and women in uniform are underpaid. Our military itself is undermanned.”
Allen attacked Robb for his record of supporting President Clinton’s
downsizing of the armed forces, noting that Robb opposed the 2000
Defense Appropriations Conference Report, which included a 4.8 percent
military pay increase. Allen has called for higher procurement spending
levels. He is a strong advocate of a national missile defense system.
Robb also has called for increases in the defense budget. He has
supported legislative “firewalls” to protect defense
spending from being used for non-defense programs. Robb also supports
fresh approaches to defense spending, calling for “a major
restructuring of the military, to include a new ‘cyclical’
approach to readiness ...” This, he said, “could free
up billions of defense dollars for force modernization, while retaining
the capability to fight.”
Since Allen declared his candidacy, the Virginia Senate race has
been considered by many to be a toss-up. This is because in 1994,
Robb won only 46 percent of the vote, barely beating the controversial
Republican candidate Oliver North.
North, a former Reagan Administration National Security Council
official, made headlines in 1985 when he became a central figure
in the Iran-Contra affair. Though popular within the right wing
of the Republican Party, North was unable to get a majority of his
party’s vote. Allen, however, is staunchly supported by all
factions of the Republican Party.
Also, Allen, who was term-limited out of the governorship in 1997,
left office with soaring approval ratings. In fact, the latest poll,
conducted by the Mason-Dixon Group, has Allen leading Robb by 10
In the House
The House Armed Services Committee is losing several members to
retirement. Departing are John Kasich, R-Ohio; Tillie Fowler, R-Fla.,
and Owen Pickett, D-Va. Also resigning his House seat is James Talent,
R-Mo., who is leaving to seek the post of governor of his home state.
Herbert Bateman, R-Va., died in September.
Within the defense community, most eyes are on the race to succeed
retiring Rep. Owen Pickett, D-Va. Most observers predict that the
other seats on the committee will be won by the incumbent party.
However, Virginia’s 2nd district—home to the largest
naval installation in the world, Norfolk—is increasingly friendly
to Republicans, though Pickett has held the seat with little trouble
for seven terms.
Rumors abound that Pickett may be retiring in part because of the
candidacy of popular state Sen. Ed Schrock, a Republican who has
strong support from his party’s leaders and the defense community.
A retired U.S. Navy captain who has said he would focus his campaign
on veterans’ issues, Schrock supports missile defense programs
and increased defense spending.
Schrock’s opponent is political neophyte Jody Wagner, an
attorney and community leader from Hampton Roads, Va., who has been
guaranteed a seat on the House Armed Services Committee if she wins
the election. In a letter signed by Minority Leader Dick Gephardt,
D-Mo., and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Wagner was lauded for
“her commitment to a strong national defense and to Hampton
Roads, [which] will be well-served in Congress on the Armed Services
Committee.” Gephardt and Hoyer guaranteed the committee assignment,
regardless of which political party controls the house. But first,
she must win.
Schrock’s campaign office claims that its polls have him
beating Wagner by 20 percentage points. If elected, it is expected
that Schrock would be offered Pickett’s post on the Armed
Services, though no guarantee has been made to him by the Republican
Elizabeth Book is a government policy analyst at the National Defense