Two-term Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly is under heavy fire for allegedly suggesting that time spent serving in local government better qualifies a person to serve in Congress than years of military service.
The controversy stems from comments Connolly made at the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, where he touted his time serving in local government in Fairfax County, Va.
"He's reacting to a comment that I made that you can't run for federal office on your local political record, no matter how good that might be," said retired U.S. Army Col. Chris Perkins, who is the Republican challenger to Connolly in this year's campaign. "It's less convenient to talk about your votes on Obamacare and your vote on sequestration – these big defense cuts."
Connolly's comments at the Chamber of Commerce event were designed to defend his time in local government. But the congressman also took the opportunity to suggest his opponent has been invisible in his community.
"I hope that (my) experience and that sweat equity that I've put in in elective life for the past 18 years – and before that for 15 years as a civic activist – will count for something," said Connolly at the event. "I hope you'll measure that against somebody who wore the uniform and honored his country and I honor him for that service. But in the 10 years since he retired, he hasn't shown up. He has no local credentials. In fact, more often than not, he hasn't voted."
Perkins is not amused.
"The more I realized how much this disenfranchises all veterans, it really got me annoyed," he said, noting that the comments have fired up many voters in a district full of active duty personnel and veterans. Perkins notes that Connolly succeeded in getting a more favorable district when the lines were redrawn, but while the district skews toward the Democratic Party, it also includes more people connected with the military.
"What he did not factor in is that he brought in a number of veterans up in the Reston area and the Dumfries area down in the South. So, we have the highest density of veterans in the 11th district of Virginia. And they're mad."
So what experience does Perkins bring to the race and potentially to Congress?
"I moved here in 1991 when Uncle Sam sent me to Capitol Hill as a congressional fellow," he said. "So I've been here for the past 22 years."
Perkins, a green beret and a longtime member of the Army's Special Forces, is also furious with Connolly for supporting major defense cuts that he says would greatly damage the economy in the district located just a few miles from the Pentagon and the Capitol.
"The biggest issue we're seeing right now is this sequestration issue," said Perkins. "The 11th district is number one hardest hit of all 435 districts if these defense cuts go forward. Certainly from a small business perspective and even the public sector employees who will be losing their jobs and the defense contractors, these defense cuts that Congressman Connolly has voted in favor of … is the number one issue and we've got to fix that. Chairman McKeon of the Armed Services Committee is going to do what he can to get me a slot on that committee so that I can help."
Perkins said he would also be strong on reducing the deficit and debt, claiming he would only support an increase in the debt ceiling if real, specific cuts were spelled out. He said entitlements are the most ripe for cutting since they account for almost half of the federal spending.