Most Washington-area lawmakers with a keen interest in federal employees' issues were reelected to Congress Nov. 2, but a tight race between Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and his Republican challenger appeared headed for a recount late Tuesday.
With almost all the votes counted, Connolly held a very narrow lead -- roughly 500 votes -- over businessman Keith Fimian. The contest, a rematch between the men, touched on the larger theme of this year's midterm elections: the role and size of government in public life. The Virginia Democrat has been a vocal supporter of federal employees during his freshman term; in June, he called proposals to freeze feds' pay "demoralizing," and in September he introduced legislation to make lump-sum payments the default payout option for federal life insurance program beneficiaries.
Fimian said on his campaign website that voters "are thinking that our government has become a hostile force that attacks success and they are not acting because, in this environment, they can't predict what the government is going to do to them in the future."
Connolly's tight race is an additional worry for Democrats, who lost their majority in the House to Republicans. Many Republicans have proposed federal pay and hiring freezes, as well as furloughs for government employees, to cut spending. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who will take over the chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, indicated the Republicans indeed will try to roll back government. "The mandate is clear: Advance an agenda that will create real jobs, not government jobs, but real jobs to get our economy moving again. Reduce the footprint of government in our lives, get government to live within its means and make government more transparent and accountable," he said in a statement.
In the House, Republican Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., will shape much of the next Congress' agenda. Cantor, who beat challenger Rick Waugh, a social worker from Louisa, Va., likely will move from minority whip to the powerful majority leader slot, replacing current Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Cantor is co-author of a recently published political manifesto titled Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders (Simon & Schuster, 2010), in which he wrote: "Government doesn't create jobs and build wealth; entrepreneurs, risk takers and private businesses do."
But the reelection of prominent area lawmakers from both parties could make it difficult to push through significant changes in the size of government in the 112th Congress, or to federal employees' pay and benefits in particular.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, lost his leadership title, but beat Republican Charles Lollar, a major in the Marine Corps Reserves and a business executive. Hoyer, who in 2007 became Maryland's longest-serving House member ever, will enter his 15th term. He led the charge to restructure the federal workforce pay system, culminating in passage of the 1990 Federal Employee Pay Comparability Act. Nearly 10 years later, Hoyer introduced the Federal Employee Pay Fairness Act to give government employees higher pay raises, and he continues to support pay parity between civilian employees and military personnel. He is a long-time supporter of flexible work schedules and telework, voting in July in favor of the Telework Improvements Act.
Here's a recap of other races that could affect federal employees in the next Congress:
Maryland (Incumbents are all Democrats):
Rep. Elijah Cummings beat Libertarian Scott Spencer and Frank Charles Mirabile Jr., the Republican challenger who described himself as "pro-lower taxes, pro-limited government, pro-national defense and pro-Second Amendment." During his eight terms, Cummings has been a strong advocate for the federal workforce. In 2000, to compete with the private sector, he introduced a bill to give federal employees with one or more years of service a free computer and unlimited Internet access at home. In 2009, Cummings co-sponsored a bill to raise the maximum age at which a child remains covered under the benefits program for government workers. He is an advocate for cutting wasteful spending on government contracts, introducing a bill in 2007 to prohibit private contractors from overseeing the Coast Guard's fleet modernization.
Rep. Donna Edwards dispatched challenger Robert Broadus, a Navy veteran and small business owner with ties to the Tea Party. Edwards, whose mother and sister were members of the American Federation of Government Employees, has consistently opposed the outsourcing of inherently governmental jobs. She worked to include three amendments to the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act to close loopholes foreign companies exploit to win contracts, and she championed legislation directing Defense Department installations to engage with local businesses in her district.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski handily defeated Republican challenger Eric Wargotz, a physician, small business owner and former president of the Queen Anne's Board of County Commissioners. Mikulski has championed legislation to provide affordable long-term care for federal workers, and she has introduced bills to allow retired government employees not covered by Social Security to keep more of their Social Security spousal benefits.
Rep. John Sarbanes defeated Republican Jim Wilhelm, a Marine Corps veteran and chief executive officer of an advanced technology consulting business. Like Hoyer and Connolly, Sarbanes is an avid supporter of telework, sponsoring the 2009 Telework Improvements Act. He also added a provision to the 2009 SERVE America Act that created the Veterans Corps, dedicated to engaging troops and military families through service.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen coasted to victory over Republican challenger Mike Philips, a Marine Corps veteran who positioned himself as an "ordinary citizen" and condemned career politicians. Van Hollen's campaign touted the incumbent as a "staunch believer in transparency and open government." For years, Van Hollen fought for an overhaul of competitive sourcing provisions that can pit federal offices against private firms. In 2009, he added whistleblower protections to the House stimulus bill.
As Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman since 2006, Van Hollen might not find it easy to adjust to the Democrats' loss of the House -- he contributed more than $1.5 million this cycle to DCCC and individual candidates.
Democratic Rep. Jim Moran survived campaign-trail controversies over comments some perceived as anti-military, defeating Republican retired Army Col. Patrick Murray. Moran likely will continue serving on the House Appropriations Committee and its Interior and the Environment Subcommittee, though no longer as subcommittee chairman. A senior member of the Defense Subcommittee, Moran also helped oversee budgets for the Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service and Smithsonian Institution. One of his pet projects has been easing traffic congestion created by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission's move of civilian and military defense workers farther from Washington.
Republican Rep. Frank Wolf beat career Air Force officer Jeffrey Robert Barnett, a Democrat. Wolf is Virginia's most senior House member and serves on the powerful Appropriations Committee. His central issue is transportation planning in the Washington area.
In the District of Columbia, nonvoting Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton easily won reelection. A former head of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission under President Carter, Norton has a longtime interest in diversity in hiring. She also has been active in emergency response and building security issues. Norton recently urged the General Services Administration to accelerate Metro board appointments to help keep the transportation system safe.
The result of the Ohio Senate race is one contest outside the Washington-metro area that could influence government management and federal employee issues. Former Republican Rep. Rob Portman won the seat being vacated by Sen. George Voinovich, a longtime champion of improving federal management. Portman, though, has a track record in the government, both as director of the Office of Management and Budget and as the U.S. Trade Representative under President George W. Bush. Back in the late 1990s, he was co-chairman of the National Commission on Restructuring the Internal Revenue Service.