Don’t average voters deserve a little representation?

Here’s the thing about Rep. Robert Hurt: he’s a perfectly average congressman.

It’s tough to campaign against average. There’s a reason why just a shade less than 100% of Congressmen seeking reelection are successful: they keep their mouths shut and try not to do anything, while their staff dutifully arranges tours of the Capitol, mails out American flags, and expedites agency responses to constituents’ requests.

Hurt is one of these congressman. In his first two years in office, he has passed no legislation, and introduced just four bills. He’s cast no brave votes. He’s taken no principled stands. He’s a standard nobody freshman, and as long as he remains in congress, he will continue to be a nobody in congress. He’s not a major figure in the district, certainly not nearly as visible as past congressmen. I’ll wager that there’s a solid majority of congress who could not pick him out of a two-man lineup.

(Keep in mind, being a nobody in congress still makes you a congressman. There are a few hundred nobodies in congress. It’s perfectly ordinary.)

The other day I got a slick, two-page mailer from Hurt—paid for by the Republican Party of Virginia—and nowhere on it does he mention that he’s a Republican. An informed voter would probably figure out that he’s a Republican, based on some of his positions, but a lot of people would have no idea. That’s the point.

Hurt stands in sharp contrast to our last two congressmen: Virgil H. Goode (D/I/R/C) and Tom Perriello (D). Like ‘em or not, nobody could doubt where these guys stood.

Goode was firmly against NAFTA, Muslims, the United Nations, and Mexican restaurants displaying the Mexican flag. He made national headlines on a few occasions, none for reasons that made the district look particularly good, but most of which I’ll wager he was proud of. Goode routinely took unpopular positions, and his legislative priorities were either bold or Quixotesque, depending on one’s perspective.

Perriello distinguished himself by being quantifiably the hardest-working member of Congress, holding more town hall meetings with constituents than any other member. He met with thousands of constituents to discuss healthcare reform, ultimately becoming a notably important vote in favor of the Obama administration’s overhaul. Perriello suspected that his vote would cost him his seat, and he was right—he was one of a handful of freshman Democrats across the U.S. who were unseated in 2010, losses that were attributed widely to backlash over healthcare reform. Casting that vote, knowing that it would cost him his seat, is the very definition of taking a principled stand, regardless of what one thinks of healthcare reform. Perriello introduced 23 bills in the same amount of time in which Hurt introduced four, with seven passing the House (three resolutions, four bills) and one (the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act) passing into law.

Hurt has distinguished himself among this trio by doing absolutely nothing to distinguish himself.

You’ve got to feel for…Douglass? Is that name of the Democratic nominee? I truly cannot remember the name of the nominee. (I looked it up—yup, it’s John Douglass.) He’s got no purchase on Hurt. Sure, he can run against Hurt as a generic Republican, and that’s what he appears to be doing. This is effective in a wave election, or a demographic-shifting redistricting. but there’s no sign of the former and the latter does not describe last year’s redistricting, which did turn the Fifth District into a sociogeographically bizarre district, but it became only more conservative. Hurt was nominated two years ago by virtue of being the sole non-Tea-Party-aligned candidate, so he can’t even be tied to that fringe group’s fading fortunes.

President Obama has been rising in the polls in Virginia and nationally, and it’s certainly not impossible that he’ll win by the same landslide electoral college margin that he won in 2008. If that’s the case, it’s likewise not impossible that he’d bring Douglass along with him, if only because independents turned off by Mitt Romney’s incompetent campaign decide to toss in for some other Democrats as long as they’re in the booth.

Short of such an event, it’s tough to see how Hurt loses his seat any time soon. He’s got a district that was tailored to him and he’s unlikely to ever do anything interesting. Inertia is a powerful thing.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

10 replies on “Don’t average voters deserve a little representation?”

  1. Outstanding congressman are above average and according to Waldo the way Hurt blends into the background of the other average congressman is , well average. So isn’t he exactly the the type of average congressman to represent average voters?

    Periello was a hard working congressman who got 1 (#4667) bill signed into to law (not bad for a freshman really). Everything else died or was a simple resolution which should not be counted in this discussion (unless you think that UVa getting a collective “atta Boy” for winning the NCAA soccer championship is an important duty for Congress.)

    Perriello ran for re-election hard from his first day in office knowing what would face him in 2 years. He only won the first time because of Obama’s enormous coattails and was on the endanger list almost immediately.

    Hurt is the Route 29 congressman- his district goes from 29 on the Carolina border to route 66 which is about 220 miles that run the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge mountains. It was drawn to keep him just where he is so he can reliably vote for Cantor’s agenda. Anything else would make him above average, which no one has accused him of in any category but height. Also all 4 of Hurt’s bills are still alive but won’t pass in the Congress as so very little has.

    However the real question is does Hurt represent the district that he serves and I would have to say he does represent the majority. I offer no better evidence then the democrats sending Douglas into the breech. The fact that Waldo can barley muster his name that speaks more loudly than anything I can write. An commanding Obama win in Virginia this fall does not sweep Douglas into office but it does Kaine.

    Do we deserve better? No, we only deserve who decides to run and take the enormous risk and commitment that entails. I hope for a decisive victory this fall that will propel the country forward to do something- a shared direction. Nothing else can give us the momentum to escape our legislative morass.

    I am actually more disgusted with the US Senate then anyone else this election. They haven’t passed a budget in 3 years (the voted down Obama’s budget 99-0) and have little interest in the reforms that would make them a functional deliberative body. I would wish a “pox upon their house” but it seems that has already happened a while ago

  2. The 5th doesn’t make it to 66. I went back and looked at the map again, so sorry about that. Thought I was looking at the old map.

  3. I wish we lived in a time/place where someone like Douglass could close out a distinguished career of public service with a term or two in Congress. We don’t. Running for higher public office these days is more akin to making it through a season of Survivor. The good-natured grandfatherly types don’t seem to excel at either. With stints on the National Security Council in the Reagan administration, Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Clinton, time as US military rep to NATO, and 30 years in uniform, he’s certainly got an impressive resume but at 71 years of age I’m not sure he knows or wants to do the things it takes to overcome Hurt’s incumbency, and the few ads of his I’ve seen amount to too little-too late. It also seems strange to me that Perriello keeps showing up at events (Obama in C’ville, Biden in Danville) where one would think Douglass could profit from the exposure instead..?

  4. Robert Hurt will win easy.Douglass was a bad choice. Obama says no former lobbist would work for him then the 5th district democrats draft one.Douglass is no where close to a Tom Perriello and this isn’t 2008.

  5. Could be worse. You could live in the 6th CD and be treated to taxpayer-paid mailings whining about the national debt from a Republican who voted to borrow the money to start two wars, create Medicare Part-D, and give the wealthy a tax cut.

    Or you could live over in the 11th CD and be represented by a boy-child prick with delusions of grandeur. That one really has to go.

  6. Just so there’s no confusion, I want to point out that Congress isn’t a who-can-introduce-the-most-legislation competition. There are a handful of ways to be influential. Hurt is, however, influential in none of those ways. It’s within that context that I point out the enormous gap between the number of bills introduced by Perriello and the number introduced by Hurt.

  7. Perriello had a record to run on, and the people of the 5th district said, “No thank you, one 2-year term was enough.” In about 6 weeks or so, we’ll find out what they say after Hurt’s first term.

    This entire blog post post smacks of sour grapes. Bitter, whiny sour grapes.

  8. Can we take a moment to discuss why you chose to describe Virgil Goode as “Quixotesque” instead of the more broadly recognized (and pronounceable) quixotic?

    Because that’s the only thing you wrote in this post that could actually be controversial in its own right (although clearly people will try to gin up controversy about other stuff).

  9. “So what if he is mediocre? There are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they? We can’t have all Brandeises, Cardozos, and Frankfurters and stuff like that there.” – Sen. Roman Hruska (R-NE), defending Richard Nixon’s 1970 nomination of G. Harrold Carswell for the U.S. Supreme Court

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