Threat of lost military jobs looms over Hampton Roads House race

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says tough economic times require that he shutter Joint Forces Command which employs some 5,000 people and eliminate other jobs throughout the military.
By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 10:16 PM

VIRGINIA BEACH - In some respects, the flash points in Virginia's 2nd Congressional District mirror those in tight races across the country: the economy, health care and the question of whether the incumbent Democrat is really an independent voice or just a lackey for President Obama and the national party.

Yet in a year when so many candidates are running against federal spending and incumbency, freshman Rep. Glenn Nye (D) and auto dealer Scott Rigell (R) have also focused on more-parochial concerns: Which man would wield more influence on Capitol Hill, and who would do the better job of preventing military money and jobs from flowing out of the district?

In August, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced a proposal to shutter the Norfolk-based Joint Forces Command, a move that could cost the region about 6,000 jobs. Separately, the Navy is planning to move one of five nuclear aircraft carriers based in Norfolk to Mayport, Fla., taking with it an additional 10,000 jobs.

The Hampton Roads economy is heavily dependent on the military, and the Pentagon's proposals threaten to boost the unemployment rate - which, at 7.4 percent, is lower than the national average but higher than for the rest of Virginia - as it struggles to emerge from recession.

The military's plans have fueled anxiety among voters and created bad blood on the campaign trail as Nye - widely seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the the Nov. 2 congressional elections - has fought the decisions and Rigell has accused him of being an ineffective guardian of the district's interests.

"I won't stand by while Washington tries to take away our carrier and Joint Forces Command," Nye said in a September campaign ad, and a spot released last week said he had "stood up to Washington" on JFCOM and "is winning the effort to save our carrier."

Nye, 36, and other Virginia lawmakers from both parties have accused the Pentagon of providing insufficient evidence to justify the JFCOM closure. Last week, Nye touted a letter to Gates from Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, stating that the committee "will be unable to support any request for legislation or funding" to close the facility until the military explains why the move makes sense.

"What we've said is, Congress has a role in this decision," Nye said. "If we write legislation that blocks the move, it can't go forward."

Rigell says Nye's record on these issues is nothing to boast about.

"There's the basic military principle [that] you're responsible for what happens on your watch," Rigell said. "This has escaped Congressman Nye."

Rigell, 50, said that Nye was taken by surprise when the Pentagon made its JFCOM announcement this past summer and that he should have been better prepared for it.

"There is this pattern of the congressman being reactionary rather than proactive," Rigell said.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company