Congressman Gerry Connolly and Congressman Rob Wittman talked about government and issues important to Virginia at the Congressional Panel Luncheon, hosted by the Prince William Chamber of Commerce.
For Wittman and Connolly, they both stated that their path to Congress began with a focus on public service and experience in local government.
“I got involved by volunteering in my community…that’s how we do shape a community…it’s all about what works. It’s not about what you believe, it’s not about ideology – what works, or what doesn’t,” said Connolly.
“For me it is indeed about service. I started many, many years ago on the Town Council in the little town that I lived in…it’s about working hard on issues, and trying to make life better in communities and across Virginia, and that’s really what my focus has been,” said Wittman.
When speaking about economic development and the perception that Virginia isn’t as strong as it once was when it comes to be a business hub, Wittman said that the Commonwealth needs to be innovative in how they prepare the future workforce, to make sure Virginia has the workforce it needs to compete.
“We need to have the workforce of the future – that’s one of those keys – especially with where technology is taking us. I think all of us have to look at not just what we’re looking at today…but also what that’s going to be in the future. We must, I think, transition to the next generation of jobs. So those are going to be technology based jobs…we want to make sure that we have a workforce that can provide the knowledge and expertise,” said Wittman.
For Connolly, Virginia needs to grow its private sector and move away from its historic dependence on federal jobs and spending.
“How do we make our living in Virginia, especially here in Northern Virginia…we are a knowledge-based economy up here, and it drives the economy of Virginia. We are heavily dependent on federal investment…we have over 27 military installations across the Commonwealth…when the federal government contracts, we get pneumonia…we want to grow a vibrant private sector,” said Connolly.
During the panel, Wittman spoke about how Virginia needs to do more to help military veterans transition into the civilian workforce.
“Some of the challenges they have [are] translating their job from the military…to a similar job on the civilian side. There’s been some work done, but more needs to be done, to help veterans identify their expertise they’ve developed in the military, and what jobs on the civilian side equate to that. Additionally too, is to give them [college] credit for what they have done in the military…so they can get to that degree faster…because for a veteran, time and money is critical,” said Wittman.
When discussing the diversity in Prince William County and the larger Northern Virginia area, Connolly spoke about how that diversity has been an asset to the area.
“Have we benefited from that [diversity]…our crime went down, not up. Our job growth went up, not down. Our school performance improved…if you look at metrics, and you look at that diversity, one can only conclude we have benefited from that,” said Connolly.
During final statements at the panel, Wittman and Connolly shared their thoughts on the current polarizing political climate and how that impacts Congress.
“I believe in our country there’s still more that unites us than divides us, and we go through periods of time where there are divisions. I’ll say this – when you have vigorous debate back and forth, exchanging ideas, divisions aren’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you are focused on getting things done,” said Wittman.
“The incivility in our politics comes from our own selves. None of us got to Congress by Immaculate Conception – someone voted for us…the reward and punishment system for getting along and cooperating is not what we’d like it to be. We all say ‘why can’t you all just get along’…is that how we vote though, when we have a chance? No. Generally we vote for the person…who is the loudest, strongest advocate,” said Connolly.
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