In the Nov. 8 election, voters registered in Charlottesville will choose to vote not only for the president but also for the representative of the fifth district in Congress. Democratic candidate Jane Dittmar and Republican state Sen. Tom Garrett are running head to head for the seat.
Stances on issues relating to the University community and the Charlottesville area play an important role in the race. Both candidates are eager to tackle the issue of student debt.
Both candidates have public service experience, which they said has prepared them to serve in Congress.
Dittmar — a University alumna — has served as the chair of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, a representative of the Scottsville District and president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, according to her campaign website,.
Garrett served as the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Louisa County, and in 2011 he was elected as the state senator for the 22nd district. Garrett is also an army veteran.
Locally, Dittmar said she hopes to tackle issues within the rural sectors of the fifth congressional district, which includes not only large urban areas such as Charlottesville but also smaller, rural areas.
Dittmar’s first priority is getting people back to work by increasing the economic security in the district, according to her website. She said she wants to improve Internet access, an essential building block for economic success.
“When you look at job creation you look at the assets of a community and any deficits you have,” Dittmar said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “We need to make sure that high-speed internet is going out to all our small business, agri-business, home businesses in the rural area of the region, and that cell service is also reliable.”
The University Democrats officially endorsed Dittmar on Oct. 25 and have both campaigned for Dittmar and made phone calls on her behalf.
“Ultimately, Ms. Dittmar’s past experience in business, professional mediation skills and knowledge of Virginia’s educational system highlight why we feel that she is the best candidate to represent the expansive and diverse interests that compose Virginia’s 5th Congressional District,” the University Democrats executive board said in a statement.
University Democrats President Sam Tobin, a fourth-year College student, reflected on Dittmar’s commitment to college students.
“[Dittmar is] heavily focused on making college more affordable,” Tobin said. “Garrett has no interest, [is an] ardent conservative [and] wants to get rid of the Department of Education.”
At the Sept. 29 debate hosted by the Batten School, Garrett agreed with Dittmar that creating jobs is the most pressing issue facing the fifth Congressional District. He also said he wants to help decrease student debt with his Student Security program.
“Another thing that’s killing our economy is the massive cloud of student debt that now surpasses credit card debt on the ledgers of the American citizen,” Garrett said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily.
Garrett’s Student Security program would allow individuals who currently hold student loan debt to have $5,000-7,000 of that debt forgiven for every year that the student agrees to defer Social Security disbursement, according to his website.
Dittmar has also suggested a civilian equivalent to the GI Bill.
“If you’re willing to serve your country and then go to college without debt, [and] if you’re willing to go into debt and then serve in particular areas after to have it taken away — I think that’s the way our country needs to go,” Dittmar said.
Although the College Republicans have not officially endorsed Garrett, many of their members work for the Garrett campaign and have made phone calls and door-knocked on his behalf.
Adam Kimelman, College Republicans’ vice chair of campaigns and a second-year College student, said the organization does not see the point in endorsing someone the large majority of the group are going to agree on.
“We usually don’t officially endorse candidates … actions speak louder than words,” Kimelman said. “We have two, generally good human beings running who both have different ideas and different policies and they disagree with each other, but there’s [no] name calling, there’s been — to my knowledge — no vicious campaigning or anything like that.”
Kimelman said Garrett’s experience serving in the Virginia senate is what makes him a great candidate.
“Tom Garrett has a lot of experience in the Virginia senate on how to create jobs, working across the aisle,” Kimelman said.
Tobin also stressed the importance of voting no matter which candidate students decide to cast their ballot for.
“I would encourage students to look at the direction of our country and know that no matter who wins the election, we are trying move in a progressive direction,” Tobin said. “Congressional politics impacts us in this district a lot. It’s a very, very tight race, and whether U.Va. students vote will make a difference.”
Correction: Garrett was a Commonwealth's Attorney in Lousia County, Va., not Louisiana.