Democratic U.S. Rep. Donald Beyer Jr., re-elected with ease last week to a second term in the Congress from the 8th District of Virginia that includes the City of Falls Church, said that while he is “just getting over being stunned and grief stricken” at last week’s presidential election, and told the News-Press in an exclusive interview yesterday that he’s planning what he hopes to accomplish the next two years and predicted that 2016 could be a very good year for Democrats to make major gains toward majorities in the Congress.
Beyer weighed in about last week’s election, saying that while job growth has been strong, no American troops are dying overseas and America’s water is getting cleaner, still, the persisting reality was embedded in the survey question, “Do you think America is on the right or wrong track?”
“The ‘No’ percentage for that question remained stuck at two-thirds,” he noted. “As much as anything, that was probably the main indicator of how the election would go.”
He said that in his travels to rural areas, such as Southwest Virginia and upper Maine, in the past year, he saw no Hillary Clinton signs and nothing but Donald Trump signs. “It turned out that three out of four rural voters voted against Hillary. Had it been only two out of three, she would have won.”
“Half of the small towns in Southwest Virginia are boarded up,” he noted, “and in upper Maine there are ‘for sale’ signs everywhere. Homes there that would sell for $700,000 here are going for $40,000 or less.”
“So called ‘Fly Over America’ has been feeling left out and ignored, and even though Trump delivered a policy-free message, ‘Make America Great Again,’ was a slogan that caught on,” Beyer said. “I don’t think it will happen, however.”
He said the “clarion call” for Democrats in the election is “don’t have policies on technological progress that forget those displaced as a result.”
“For those who are 50-55 years of age in rural areas, when a plant closes not only do they not have a job, but there is no one there to buy their house,” he said, noting that a recent study showing the mortality rate actually rising in 21 studied counties, seven were in southwest Virginia as residents are faced with hopelessness leading to increased levels of alcoholism and crystal meth and opioid abuse.
This marked the first election in which more union members voted for the Republican than Democrat, and it was 70 percent for Trump, Beyer said. “The old blue collar little guy that’s been aligned with the Democratic Party since FDR has been lost. It’s hard because when I used to visit a factory in Newport News 25 years ago, it was abuzz with assembly line workers. Now it’s all automated, and the only workers there are the ones fixing the machines.”
As for the African-American vote in this election, “With no Obama at the top of the ticket, it was more likely for the African-American community to be also feeling they aren’t full members of this economy.”
Years ago, in 1989 when he first ran for lieutenant governor of Virginia, Beyer said, “Doug Wilder and Mary Sue Terry were also on the statewide ballot with me, and there was a serious discussion then about whether the electorate was more ready for a black or a woman candidate. I suspect something of that was also involved in the election last week.”
When he was lieutenant governor, he was put in charge of an “Economic Bridge” group designed to integrate the interests of those in Northern and Southwest Virginia. “But after 34 meetings, nothing happened. Only one new factory located in the Southwest.”
More aggressive ideas like a public works program along lines of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps of the FDR administration during the Great Depression, designed to ensure jobs for all who want them “would be a very good idea for rural parts of the country,” he mused. “It would put money in people’s pockets and be part of a solution.”
Beyer said he met with Virginia U.S. Senator Tim Kaine Monday for the first time since the election, and his loss as Clinton’s running mate. “He’s brave but bruised,” Beyer said, and he has no doubt that Kaine will seek re-election to the Senate next year.
One of his opponents could be Republican U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, who has bought the ComstockforSenate.com web name.
Beyer said he hopes that first-time candidate LuAnn Bennett will run again in two years for Comstock’s 10th District seat.
“There’s been only one election, in 1954, when the party winning the White House added seats in the Congress,” Beyer added. “My hope is that 2018, after two years of Trump, will be a big year for Democrats.”