Congressional Races Federal Employees Should Watch
The outcomes of these match-ups could affect agencies' budgets, civil servants' pay and benefits, and more.
The spotlight this election season has been on the presidential campaigns, but there are a number of congressional races whose outcomes could influence agencies' budgets, federal employee pay and benefits, efforts to hold federal workers accountable for their job performance, postal reform and a host of other management issues. Below are some of the races federal employees might want to follow, organized in alphabetical order within each chamber of Congress.
California, 10th Congressional District–Jeff Denham, R, vs. Michael Eggman, D
This San Joaquin valley rematch from 2014 is a test for three-term Rep. Denham—an Air Force veteran, almond rancher and state legislator elected in the Tea Party wave in 2010. In Washington, he came out swinging to attack the Obama administration’s slow pace in selling off unneeded federal properties. He has introduced several bills to create a Base Closure and Realignment Commission-like board of appointed private citizens to select properties to be sold off, subject to an up-or-down vote by Congress. Eggman, who manages a farm and apiary, favors comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship and vows to protect Social Security. He has blasted Denham for not fully disavowing Trump, whose past behavior toward women Denham has criticized.
California, 49th Congressional District--Darrell Issa, R, vs. Douglas Applegate, D
Issa, the former head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was a consistent antagonist of federal employees during his chairmanship. Issa especially targeted top officials in the Obama administration and made liberal use of his subpoena power, most notably through his multiple probes into the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and his focus on former IRS employee Lois Lerner in connection with her role in alleged targeting of conservative political groups in the Exempt Organizations division. He also shepherded a bill through the House to make it easier to fire senior executives. Issa famously clashed with the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., culminating in the chairman cutting off Cummings’ microphone while he was speaking at a hearing. The California congressman worked repeatedly to pass comprehensive U.S. Postal Service reform, but his efforts were seen as too focused on cutting services to win over Democrats. Applegate is a former Marine who has pledged to improve the Veterans Affairs Department. The race is listed as a toss-up on Cook Political Report.
Colorado, 6th Congressional District--Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo. vs. Morgan Carroll, D
Coffman is the current chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s panel on Oversight and Investigations, and in that role has been a pointed critic of the Obama administration’s handling of the Veterans Affairs Department. He was among the first lawmakers to call for former Secretary Eric Shinseki’s ouster, and has supported using VA employees’ bonuses as leverage for better performance. He has called for more VA officials to be fired in the wake of the patient waitlist scandal, and once introduced a bill to furlough all federal employees not working in defense, public health, homeland security or law enforcement for two weeks. Carroll, the former president of the Colorado state senate, is running a competitive race against Coffman; Cook Political Report has rated it as a tossup.
Florida, 7th Congressional District—John Mica, R, vs. Stephanie Murphy, D
As a 12-term incumbent, Mica finds himself in a toss-up race in his Winter Park district against a nationally financed investment firm executive of Vietnamese ancestry. A former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Mica has used that post and his current membership on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to blast away at Obama administration agencies in their handling of such issues as selling off federal properties, privatizing air traffic control and a long-shot plan to move the Federal Trade Commission out of its offices. Murphy has hit Mica for opposing background checks in the wake of the night club terrorist shooting in nearby Orlando. She also took Mica on for his role in leasing the Old Post Office Building on Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for a just-opened luxury hotel.
North Carolina, 11th Congressional District – Mark Meadows, R, vs. Rick Bryson, D
Meadows, the incumbent in the race to represent this Western North Carolina district, has maintained a high profile since first being elected in 2012. As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Government Operations Subcommittee, Meadows has played an active role in several controversial debates and incidents related to the federal workforce: He pushed for the impeachment of Internal Revenue Commissioner John Koskinen, accused of destroying evidence in the scandal involving alleged political bias against conservative nonprofits; he has investigated the hack at the Office of Personnel Management which compromised the personal information of millions of current and former federal employees; and he was also one of the forces behind the 2013 government shutdown. A devout conservative and founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, Meadows can be unpredictable when it comes to supporting his party’s leadership. The congressman recently called on appropriators to fully fund President Obama’s budget request for the Postal Regulatory Commission, which oversees the Postal Service. In 2015, he publicly pledged to be “nicer” to feds, going on a listening tour of federal agencies, and thanking federal employees later that year for their service. Meadows, who ran unopposed in the primary, is expected to easily win a third term in the Republican district against Democrat Rick Bryson, a Bryson City alderman and former technical writer.
Texas, 23rd Congressional District—Will Hurd, R, vs. Pete Gallego, D
This rematch in San Antonio is Texas’ sole competitive congressional race, pitting the freshman Hurd, a high-tech-oriented former CIA officer, against Gallego, who held the seat from 2013-2014 after a long career in the state legislature. Hurd, an African American, won admirers among national Republicans who made him chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform panel’s Information Technology Subcommittee. Recently, he has been involved in efforts to make it easier for federal employees to use ride-sharing services such as Uber. Gallego served on the Agriculture and Armed Services during his single U.S. House term. The Hispanic vote and Gallego’s efforts to tie Hurd to Trump will be decisive.
Virginia, 10th Congressional District—Barbara Comstock, R, vs. LuAnn Bennett, D
This suburban Washington, D.C., district packed with federal employees is one of the few in Northern Virginia that has long favored Republicans. First-term incumbent Comstock, a former staffer for her predecessor Frank Wolf, has focused on federal employee and health care issues, and telework. Democratic opponent Bennett, a real estate executive formerly married to retired Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., has made the race a toss-up, being fought on such issues as abortion rights, gender pay equity and gun control. Bennett sought to link Comstock to Donald Trump, but Comstock distanced herself from the Republican presidential candidate.
Florida– Marco Rubio, R, vs. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D
Rubio is expected to hold onto his seat, after establishing a more comfortable lead over his Democratic opponent over the last few months, in part by distancing himself from -- though not disavowing -- former rival for the Republican presidential nomination Trump. During his Senate tenure, Rubio has made stronger accountability for Veterans Affairs Department employees somewhat of a signature issue, sponsoring two bills to make it easier to fire poor performers and those accused of misconduct at the department. The latest bill, which he introduced in July, would change the disciplinary process for VA employees and top career officials, essentially by reducing the time allotted for it to play out. The measure also would give the secretary clear authority to rescind bonuses, retirement benefits and relocation expenses from employees under certain circumstances. The Floridian also supported a plan that would essentially privatize the Veterans Health Administration, and has consistently supported reducing federal spending and the size of the federal government. Rubio, however, has fought to protect health benefits for military personnel by keeping TRICARE fee increases low, and proposed a plan to open the Thrift Savings Plan to all Americans without employer-sponsored retirement programs. Murphy, a freshman congressman, has struggled with name recognition throughout the Senate campaign, but the race is still considered a toss-up by RealClear Politics. Murphy serves on the House Financial Services Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Interestingly, Murphy voted for the House companion bill to Rubio’s 2016 VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act. The House passed that bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., in September.
Maryland–Chris Van Hollen, D, vs. Kathy Szeliga, R
After a bruising Democratic primary against Rep. Donna Edwards, Van Hollen, the seven-term congressman representing the state’s Washington, D.C. suburbs, is expected to win the open Senate seat against Baltimore County state lawmaker Kathy Szeliga. The son of career public servants, Van Hollen is known for his policy wonkishness, and made a name for himself as a federal budget expert when he was the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and served on the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction. Although a favorite of the House Democratic leadership, Van Hollen is more pragmatist than ideologue, and has a reputation for working across the aisle. The 2013 bipartisan budget deal resulted in federal employees contributing more to their pensions, but Van Hollen reportedly played a major role in reducing the amount federal workers had to sacrifice. Szeliga, elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 2011, is part of the Republican leadership in that chamber. Raised in a military family, she owns a construction company and has emphasized her small business experience during the Senate campaign. The winner of this race will have big shoes to fill. Long-time Sen. Barbara Mikulski has been a vocal supporter of the federal workforce during her tenure, and exits the Senate as the ranking member of the powerful Appropriations Committee. Given Van Hollen’s background and interests, he could make a play for a spot on Appropriations if elected.
Missouri--Roy Blunt, R, vs. Jason Kander, D
Blunt has been involved in an array of spending fights in his tenure on the Senate Appropriations Committee. He has fought to ensure federal food inspections would continue despite sequestration cuts and later introduced a bill to keep all “essential services” fully funded while the automatic spending reductions were in place. Last year, the former House majority and minority whip reached across the aisle to lend his support to a U.S. Postal Service reform measure introduced by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. Blunt’s opponent, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, has campaigned with the American Federation of Government Employees. “Members of AFGE hold our country together by providing good government services in virtually all areas,” Kander has said. He called for federal employees to be paid and treated fairly, and vowed to be an ally in the Senate.
New Hampshire–Kelly Ayotte, R, vs. Maggie Hassan, D
Two of the Granite State’s most powerful female attorneys are competing in a race that could determine whether Democrats snatch control of the Senate from Republicans. A former prosecutor, first-term Sen. Ayotte made a splash on the Armed Services Committee with efforts to streamline Pentagon budgeting. On the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, she sponsored bills to claw back bonuses from Veterans Affairs Department executives shown to have been involved in the misreporting of hospital patient wait times. Hassan, the state’s current governor, has run on her tax cutting and the state’s low unemployment while it decreased community college tuition and expanded health insurance coverage. She has attacked Ayotte for an initial debate comment that she considered Trump a role model, a position Ayotte later retracted.
Wisconsin--Ron Johnson, R, vs. Russ Feingold, D
As the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Johnson has spent the last two years as the upper chamber’s top overseer of the federal workforce. When promoted to chairman, he told Government Executive he planned to bring a “businessman’s approach” to the committee, including by streamlining the Homeland Security Department, aligning federal pay with the private sector and rolling back regulations. An underdog for reelection, he has focused more on the homeland security side of his job than the governmental affairs side in the past year. He did, however, attempt to usher through a package of 15 bills seeking to reduce wasteful spending, cut feds’ paid administrative leave and bonuses, and better empower auditors. Feingold, known as a progressive lawmaker during his previous tenure in the Senate, is seen by federal employee groups as stronger advocate for civil servants than Johnson.
Charles S. Clark, Eric Katz and Kellie Lunney contributed to this report.