10 Competitive Races for Federal Employees to Watch
Senate control hangs in the balance as several races of key importance to feds are among the tightest in the country.
Federal employees, like the rest of America, will be watching election results closely to see who will win the presidency and serve as their top boss. While the battle between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden is the most significant, federal workers also have a lot on the line with the races down ballot.
Democrats are expected to retain control of the House in the 117th Congress, but whether the Republicans will retain control of the Senate is far less certain. A few key races could determine who leads the legislative branch's oversight efforts of the Trump or Biden administration, and who has final say on a number of potential civil service reforms and compensation issues sure to come up in the next two years.
In some of the closest races in the country, candidates have a long track record on public sector workforce issues. Here is a look at 10 races feds will want to track as results start coming in on Election Day, in order of their potential impact:
1. Michigan Senate:
Sen. Gary Peters (D) v. John James (R)
Peters currently serves as the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the panel with direct oversight of the federal workforce. Were Democrats to take control of the chamber, he would likely be first in line to serve as its chairman. That could mark a dramatic shift in the type of legislation and hearings the committee drafts and holds. Peters has pushed for more protections for federal workers working during the coronavirus pandemic, stronger collective bargaining rights for employee unions and against what he has described as Trump’s “blunt policy choices” on civil service matters. In recent months, Peters has led congressional Democrats’ charge against U.S. Postal Service reforms implemented by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, saying the changes were damaging a critical public institution. Peters faces an Army veteran, businessman and 2018 Senate candidate in James, who has raised an eye-popping amount of money and just about kept pace with the senator in polling. Still, the incumbent is considered a slight favorite in the race.
2. Maine Senate:
Sen. Susan Collins (R) v. Sara Gideon (D)
For much of her four terms, Collins has been among the Senate Republicans most friendly to federal workers. As the former top Republican on the HSGA Committee, Collins often played an instrumental role in legislation affecting federal employees—including when she co-wrote a controversial 2006 Postal Service overhaul bill. In recent years, Collins has staked out several pro-federal union stances, including by speaking out against Trump administration efforts to strip Defense Department workers of collective bargaining rights and shrink the Federal Labor Relations Authority. She has proposed giving hazard pay to federal workers on the front lines of COVID-19 response and ensuring feds who work during shutdowns receive their paychecks without delay. As Trump has pushed to move more federal workers out of the competitive service through his Schedule F executive order, Collins has fought to keep more workers on it. Collins is facing Sara Gideon, who is the speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. Gideon recently wrote an op-ed in which she praised government employees for their critical work and asked that they not be neglected in the midst of the pandemic. Cook Political Report has deemed the race a tossup.
3. Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District:
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R) v. Christina Finello (D)
Like Collins, Fitzpatrick has frequently crossed party lines during his four years in office to stand up for federal workers and, during his last race, was a rare Republican to win an endorsement from the American Federation of Government Employees. Fitzpatrick—himself a former federal employee as an FBI veteran—has introduced legislation to roll back Trump’s executive orders restricting the power of federal worker unions. He has also pushed for pay raise parity between civilian federal workers and military members, and criticized Trump when he proposed pay freezes for feds. Cook called Fitzpatrick a slight favorite for the re-election, but Democrats have poured significant resources into flipping it. If Finello is able to pull out the victory, federal employees would lose a rare Republican advocate.
4. Colorado Senate:
Sen. Cory Gardner (R) v. John Hickenlooper (D)
Gardner’s most significant recent effort affecting the federal workforce has been his push to move federal agencies outside of the Washington, D.C., area, resulting in the relocation of the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to his home state. Like Collins, he also pushed legislation to immediately pay feds affected by the most recent government shutdown. He has advocated limiting settlements government agencies reach with disciplined workers and helped spearhead legislation to give bonuses to federal employees who help identify wasteful spending. Hickenlooper, meanwhile, served as Colorado’s governor for eight years. He showed an openness to targeting government workers for budget reduction, successfully leading an effort to reform his state employees’ pensions by increasing workers’ contribution, reducing the annual cost-of-living adjustment and raising the retirement age. Hickenlooper is seen as a slight favorite in the race.
5. Texas’ 23rd Congressional District:
Tony Gonzales (R) v. Gina Ortiz Jones (D)
As former CIA employee and Republican Rep. Will Hurd retires, the House will lose its point person for reforming the federal government’s IT systems and cybersecurity protections. The seat could still be filled by someone who knows their way around government, however. Ortiz Jones, also a former federal employee who has worked at the Defense Department, Defense Intelligence Agency and for the U.S. Trade Representative, is making her second run at the seat. Gonzales is a Navy veteran who served as a Defense legislative fellow on Capitol Hill in the office of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Cook rates the district, which is home to 86,000 federal employees and retirees, as lean Democratic.
6. Montana Senate:
Sen. Steve Daines (R) v. Steve Bullock
Daines is a former member of the HSGAC, where he pushed for faster federal hiring to ensure government agencies attract the best candidates. He has largely supported Trump, thanking him for “tackling the swamp” after he released his government reorganization plan. The senator successfully lobbied the president to keep several federal Jobs Corps centers after the administration initially proposed eliminating them. Daines has worked across the aisle on Postal Service issues, introducing bills to end its mandate to prefund health care costs for future retirees and to provide the mailing agency with $25 billion to offset losses sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bullock is a two-term governor, who has won plaudits from unions, presided over raises for Montana state workers and implemented various initiatives to support the state workforce during the pandemic. During his brief presidential run, Bullock pledged to work with unions to support fair pay and pay equity. Cook has labeled the race a tossup.
7. Virginia’s 7th Congressional District:
Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) v. Nick Freitas (R)
Spangerger, a former CIA employee, in 2019 used her first address from the House floor to highlight the plight of federal employees during the government shutdown. Her first bill was to ensure back pay for federal workers, many of whom live in her district. Freitas is an Army veteran who has vowed to introduce more privatization to the Veterans Affairs Department health care system, saying the current structure creates too much government bureaucracy. Spanberger is viewed as a slight favorite in the race.
8. Arizona Senate:
Sen. Martha McSally (R) v. Mark Kelly (D)
McSally, who was appointed to her seat after it was vacated by the death of John McCain, has experience with federal workforce issues as they relate to border personnel. During her time in the House, she chaired the Homeland Security Committee’s panel on the issue, where she pressed Customs and Border Protection to improve its hiring capacity and wrote legislation to expedite the process. Kelly, meanwhile, is a former Navy pilot with executive branch experience as a NASA astronaut. His wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, served in the House until she was forced to retire after being shot in the head at a public meeting. Kelly has won AFGE’s endorsement for the race that Cook said leans Democrat.
9. Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District:
Rep. Matt Cartwright (D) v. Jim Bognet (R)
Cartwright is a longtime federal employee advocate in a tight reelection battle. He has consistently pushed for higher pay for wage grade federal employees and against efforts to strip feds of their due process and collective bargaining rights. He has particularly advocated for Bureau of Prisons workers. Bognet has experience in the executive branch, having been appointed by Trump as senior vice president for communications of the Export-Import Bank. Cook rates the race as lean Democrat.
10. Virginia’s 5th Congressional District:
Bob Good (R) v. Cameron Webb (D)
This sprawling district, which spans from the exurbs of Washington to the North Carolina border, is open to new representation after Good, a former Liberty University associate athletics director, ousted the incumbent, Rep. Denver Riggleman, in a Republican convention over the summer. Webb, a physician and lawyer who served in the White House Fellowship program and later in President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, has another federal tie—his father served as a manager at the Drug Enforcement Agency. Whoever prevails would represent the small chunk of feds in the district. Cook rates the race is a tossup.