As a longtime educator, it’s only natural that Jack Trammell would use a familiar allegory to describe his time on the campaign trail in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District over the past several months.
“I consider myself in graduate school for knowing the people of the 7th district, and when I graduate [Nov. 4] I plan to have a degree in knowing what the 7th district needs to move forward,” he said.
Trammell, 50, a Democrat out of Mineral in neighboring Louisa County, will face Republican Dave Brat Nov. 4 in the race the United States House of Representatives. Both candidates are trying to take over the seat long held by U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R), whose defeat in last spring’s Republican primary by Brat drew national attention. The primary also shined a spotlight on Ashland, where both candidates work at Randolph-Macon College, Trammell as director of disability support services and an associate professor of sociology and Brat as an economics professor. Both candidates are currently on leaves of absence to campaign fulltime.
Overall, Trammell said he’s in this race due to his frustration with obstruction, partisanship and lack of accomplishment in Congress. Trammell said he had been approached about possibly running during past election cycles but declined, opting instead to focus on family. With his children now out of school or in college, Trammell finally agreed.
“I’ve been in education almost 25 years, I’ve made a career, I’ve raised my kids and now it’s time for me to put my money where my mouth is and actually try to do something to change things,” he said.
The path to Washington could be rocky, though. In the last two general elections for the House of Representatives, Republicans have won the 7th District with 60 percent of the vote – in Hanover County, that number is more like 70 percent – but Trammell is undeterred going into November, noting the results of the primary show how unpredictable the district can actually be. His campaign is also looking at a number of other indicators that suggest he might be able to break the red streak.
Trammell said Sen. Mark Warner (D) has done well in the 7th. State board of elections returns show he topped rival Jim Gilmore in 2008 with the same 60 percent margin the GOP has traditionally enjoyed in House races there.
“We’re in lockstep, walking hand-in-hand with folks who are trying to help Warner,” Trammell said. “We’re working collaboratively to succeed in the district and he has before.”
Trammell also pointed to the recently passed meals tax in Henrico County, a ballot measure that might not have traditionally gone forward. This reflects a changing demographic, neighborhood by neighborhood, even from 2011 during the last redistricting, Trammell said.
He added that he also hopes to tap into voters who might cross the line for this election.
“We understand there are many moderate Republicans in this district that are interested in my campaign and are supporting it,” Trammell said.
Overall, Trammell said he thinks voters are energized heading toward Election Day, adding that voter turnout will likely be high due to the fact that there will be two elections: one for the remainder of Eric Cantor’s term, who officially stepped down Monday, and another for the regular two-year term.
“I’m amazed at how energized people are in the district about this election,” he said.
Issues in the 7th
Despite a “reasonably low” unemployment rate, Trammell said he believes 7th District voters are still concerned about the economy.
In the case of college graduates from Randolph-Macon, Trammell said many leave the area for their first post-degree job and those who do stay here often work multiple part-time jobs before gaining fulltime employment. He’s also seen cases where people his own age hit a ceiling at their current job and take out-of-state or out-of-area opportunities to further advance their careers.
“If we want to improve the economy in the area – which I think people are very concerned about – we have to address not just employment rates, but the type of jobs and the type of life that we’re trying to offer people in the 7th District,” he said.
Transportation is also a widespread concern. Trammell said Congress has funded transportation in a “patchwork” fashion and he believes voters want to see a “more commonsense transportation policy and initiative here in the 7th District to help with economic growth.”
Trammell called education a perennial issue, noting that legislators need to address issues ranging from student loan reform to special education.
Pertaining to loan reform, Trammell said he supports improving disclosure, and creating additional opportunities to lower interest rates and channels for forgiveness.
Trammell called these solutions “low-hanging fruit,” noting they could be accomplished rather easily if it weren’t for an obstructionist Congress, which is another one of the concerns he’s been hearing across the district.
“I think if you want to summarize what people in the district are most concerned about right now, it’s jobs, transportation and education. But, even equal to those, they want to see people in Congress who will look out for their interests and won’t obstruct the wheels of progress,” Trammell said.
Additional campaign issues Trammell lists in literature include maintaining the safety net for seniors, affirming women’s reproductive rights and caring for veterans.
Trammell said that the current Veterans Administration struggles to meet the needs of veterans and he would support initiatives that help provide community services for veterans, a model that he says could also help solve mental health needs.
“The canyon, the chasm, between hospitalization and families taking care of people within their safety net…can only be filled through community services,” he said. “We need to cultivate those types of connections for vets and for people in terms of the mental health crisis as well.”
Trammell said he supports the Affordable Care Act, also called “Obamacare,” the controversial health care overhaul legislation aimed at making sure all Americans have access to affordable insurance coverage.
“I think the Affordable Care Act has had some terrific impact on a great problem that we’ve been confronting in this country, which is the need to make sure that everybody has equitable access to some basic care,” Trammell said.
“I think the ACA is starting to prove its track record,” he added, pointing to indicators that health care inflation and the number of uninsured Americans are declining.
But Trammell also said the ACA isn’t perfect and that legislators need to continue tweaking it as they move forward and identify flaws.
“I think there’s widespread agreement that not everything works perfectly with it yet and we need to keep making sure we fix the moving parts of it,” he said.
The legislation has also not been without controversy, with most Republicans using it as a rallying point. Throughout the district, Trammell said opinions on ACA have been mixed, but that primarily, people just want to know the facts about the legislation.
“There are of course some people who don’t like the ACA, but I believe at this point they’re in a minority. I think the majority of people in the district, and Americans in general, think the benefits outweigh the costs of the ACA,” he said.
Immigration has been a heated topic nationally and it’s one that weighed heavily in the primary with Brat claiming Cantor was soft on the issue. Trammell said he favors immigration reform, but wants it to be more comprehensive than the border package put forth by Republicans.
“I would like to see that happen not piecemeal, but in a comprehensive immigration reform,” he said.
He would support legislation that addresses all of the “moving parts,” including border security, targeted amnesty and naturalization, the pathway to citizenship.
The Democrat’s position on this issue and many others draw a stark contrast with his opponent in the race. Trammell said he and Brat are casual friends. They’ve played basketball together, have chatted on campus when they’ve encountered one another, and have spoken cordially when they’ve crossed paths on the campaign trail. But Trammell said the two have very different stances on issues, including the ACA, women’s issues and “interpretations of how the market can be used to benefit people.”
“We’re casual friends but we’re also – I think, each of us – very serious about the choices that people have to make this [Nov. 4],” Trammell said.