Roger Dean Huffstetler
Why are you running?
My family has been able to live the American Dream because when we worked hard, our country had our back and invested in us. That promise doesn’t hold for too many Americans today.
Times weren’t always easy growing up, but I was the first person in my family to graduate from college thanks to outstanding public schools and the Georgia HOPE Scholarship, which provides in-state tuition to students with a B average. When I came home from serving as a U.S. Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was the GI Bill that allowed me to attend Harvard Business School, an opportunity my parents could never dreamed of.
I’m committed to ensuring that every Virginian has the same opportunity to work hard, get ahead, and provide a better life for their children.
How well do you think Congressman Garrett has represented the 5th district during his term so far?
Tom Garrett believes he doesn’t represent people in the Fifth District who didn’t vote for him. As a constituent, I find that contempt for folks who don’t agree with him on the issues to be deeply disturbing, and as a Marine, I find it unconscionable he would shirk the duty of his position. I sometimes think the most liberal person in America and the most conservative person in America live in the Fifth District. The representative from here should do their best to understand both of their views.
Rep. Garrett puts ideology before ideas and the divisive agenda of the House Freedom Caucus before the needs of Virginians. He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act without any idea of how to replace it. His lack of independent thinking and refusal to serve his constituents has not just made him ineffectual, but harmful. In March, he amplified the status of white-supremacist Jason Kessler by using his congressional office to meet with him and pose for photos. Kessler went on to lead the deadly Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville last August.
There’s no issue more pressing for the Fifth District than jobs. Tom Garrett’s website, which strings together stock photos, free market cliches and a warped nostalgia for ‘the good old days’ shows that he doesn’t take this responsibility seriously. Economic development will be my top priority in Congress, and I’m working tirelessly to ensure that I can hit the ground running.
Millenials make up roughly one third of the voting age population. In what way(s) can your policy proposals help millennials?
Millennials make me optimistic for our future. Despite the fact they have come of age in a time when many of the fundamental institutions of our country have been called into question, they have remained tolerant and still desire to serve our country in creative and meaningful ways.
My top priority for millennials is ensuring that they have real opportunity to enter the changing economy. That means ensuring our young people have access to affordable, quality, post-secondary education opportunities - by investing not just in four year universities, but also community colleges, apprenticeships, and national service opportunities that can provide them with the skills the need to succeed in the 21st century economy.
The University of Virginia has been the epicenter of a debate over the limits of hate speech. To what extent should hate speech be regulated, especially on college campuses like UVA’s?
Freedom of speech is one of our most precious rights in America. I believe the purpose of life is to learn; college campuses and academia provide a dynamic environment to try out different ideas, strengthen our arguments, and find out that sometimes we are dead wrong. We must be incredibly careful, therefore, when we consider banning any type of speech outright on college campuses. Silencing someone will not change their views. I believe in the marketplace of ideas and that, in the long run, hateful ideology will be overcome.
No right is unlimited. Schools have a responsibility to their students to provide an environment for open discourse that is free from physical danger or threats, so speech such as as the torchlit rally of August 11th should not be tolerated.
Strategy-wise, do you think Democrats should focus more on turning-out existing Democratic voters, persuading Independent and Republican voters, or do both equally?
The Fifth District was not drawn for a Democrat. We’re going to have to fire up Charlottesville, Farmville, and Danville, turning out unprecedented numbers of Democratic voters. But that alone will not be enough. We also need to reach out to rural communities and small towns, to Independents and Republicans who voted for Obama and Trump but now feel alienated from Republican leadership in Congress.
My background of coming from a rural, southern family and serving in the Marine Corps uniquely positions me to bring those folks back into the fold and defeat Tom Garrett this November.
Many of the candidates running for this seat share similar policy positions. However, you may prioritize these issues differently. What is your top policy priority if elected?
The next question addresses it, and you’re absolutely right: Jobs and the economy have to be our top priority. One of the first things I will do in Congress is hire an economic development director who will work day and night with the private, public, and non-profit sectors to bring jobs and economic development to the Fifth District. My team has already spent extensive time on an economic development plan that demonstrates our seriousness to local stakeholders and will allow us to hit the ground running.
Jobs and the economy are consistently top priorities for voters. How do you intend to use your position in congress to grow jobs and pay, specifically in the 5th District?
The Obama Administration ushered in an era of economic growth, but just because things are improving for some folks, doesn’t mean they are improving for everybody. In many parts of the Fifth District, economic growth is non-existent and jobs are in decline.
From a macro perspective, you have folks with good educations, great jobs, healthcare, and 401Ks, who are doing just fine. And then you have a lot of folks who are struggling: like servers who are earning the $2.14 tipped minimum wage and haven’t received a raise in over 25 years. They’re one sick child or missed shift away from financial disaster.
Importantly, you also have this third group: workers in the middle. Some of them used to get along just fine with a good union job at a factory that provided health care, food on their tables, and enough leftover to help their kids go to college. But the economy is changing: that middle group is shrinking mostly by pushing folks down to the bottom. This is a problem - we can’t just have an economy of uber drivers and doctors, so we need to address this middle skills gap.
The Fifth District covers a wide swath of Virginia; yet across it all, the key to inclusive economic prosperity remains the same: entrepreneurs and small businesses driving bottom-up job creation and economic growth. One out of every four employees in the Fifth District already works for businesses with fewer than 20 employees—well above the national average. We need to ensure these folks have the tools they need to build a better future for themselves and their communities. This means expanding access to high-speed broadband, strengthening wireless networks, investing in workforce development, and reforming the tax code to provide lasting relief to working families and small businesses.
The 5th district, unlike areas in NoVA or Hampton Roads, does not depend as much on federal funding. Do you think making the 5th a destination for federal funding should be among our top economic priorities?
I will fight in Congress to make sure that we receive our fair share of federal funding here in the Fifth District to help us build an inclusive, accessible economy in every community.
If there comes a time when your own personal opinion differs from that of your constituents, how will you vote: in line with your conscience, or in line with your constituents?
We live in a representative democracy, not a direct democracy. I will work everyday to listen to and understand the needs, beliefs, and experiences of my constituents, and to communicate to them how I’m reaching my decisions. I take my time with important questions, where reasonable people can disagree, and try to find common-sense solutions.
I aspire to be transparent about my values and priorities, you can find both on my website: www.RDforVA.com. That way, folks know what they are voting for. I'll work every day to live up to those values.
In one sentence, why should voters come support you at the upcoming caucuses?
I am the only candidate committed to ensuring that every American has the opportunity to earn a better life for their children, who has assembled the organization and resources necessary to defeat Tom Garrett.