Forbes reflects on career in 4th

Published 12:27 pm Saturday, February 13, 2016

Editor’s note: U.S. Republican Congressman J. Randy Forbes (VA-4) announced on Monday that he would leave his district to run for the seat in the 2nd District. Fellow Congressman Scott Riggell, who had recently declared he wouldn’t seek reelection, has endorsed Forbes.

Forbes, who’s been in office since 2001, believes that redistricting of the 4th and 3rd districts would make reelection particularly difficult. The chief reason for his switch, he said, is his desire to continue working on behalf of a strong military both in Virginia and nationally.

On Tuesday, he gave an exclusive interview via phone to The Tidewater News about his time in the 4th, and elaborated on his reasons for the change.

“First let me say what an honor it’s been to represent all the people in the 4th,” Forbes said. “One thing you always carry is the enduring friendships you’ve made the rest of your life — wonderful relationships.”

Throughout his career, defense has been extremely important. A highlight of his time in office that quickly came to his mind was the Defense Department’s plan several years ago to reduce the number of military installations in the country, one of which was in his district.

“When Fort Lee [in Prince George County] was put on the chopping block, everybody had written it off,” he said. “We [he and his staff] helped devise a strategy to grow Fort Lee, which positions Fort Lee as a logistical capital for decades to come.”

Forbes also worked to guarantee an aircraft carrier stay in Virginia rather than be sent to Florida or California. He figured that the commonwealth would have lost 11,000 jobs and millions and millions of dollars if the transfer had occurred.

Revitalizing the ship repair industry in Virginia has also been important because so many people from his district work in that field.

“Not just men and women in uniform,” he noted, “but also former veterans in the private sector.”

Another cost-cutting measure that’s been proposed in the past has been to eliminate base commissaries on which military personnel and their dependents rely.

“Commissaries have been under attack and we were successful in keeping them there [at the bases],” Forbes said.

As early as his time in the Virginia House of Delegates, he was involved in creating a veterans cemetery.

“Our veterans make up a huge part of the 4th. I was able to get funding for the Albert G. Horton Jr.

Memorial Veterans Cemetery in Suffolk,” he said.

Work continued as he and other legislators fought to secure the land for the cemetery. When the matter came before Congress, the preparatory work helped make the site become a reality.

Military is not strictly the congressman’s sole concern.

“The other thing that’s important in the 4th is our farmers. I love our farmers. The Friends of Farm Bureau award is the one I’m most proud of,” Forbes said, adding that if the country doesn’t take care of them, “We’re going to wake up one day and realize we’re dependent on foreign food, not just oil.”

Dealing with constituents’ needs and concerns ranks high with Forbes and his staff.

“We’ve never forgotten that when an individual lady walks to her mailbox to get her Social Security check, that’s the biggest issue in the world to her. Or when a veteran doesn’t get his benefits or not gotten the medals that he deserves from his service in our military. To that person, that’s one of the top issues in their life. And we have put together a constituent services team that’s second to none in the country.

“One of the things we’ve always impressed on our people is that every one of our residents was an individual. They weren’t a number, they weren’t a statistic, they weren’t a voting block, they were an individual, and we were always there to meet their needs.”

As Forbes has traveled around, he’s heard from people directly who still feel he’s the same person they elected, and that they’re comfortable calling him Randy, not Congressman, “Which I think is still probably on one of the best accomplishments you can have after length of service.”


Closer to home, the congressman was asked about his involvement in the Navy’s attempt to secure a landing field in Western Tidewater, as well the closing of International Paper.

“I love the U.S. Navy and U.S. military. We need to keep that strong,” he said. “But we also have to listen to our residents and listen to their needs and not stomp on them.”

As an example, some farms that had been around 100 years would have been severely affected. Like the example of the woman at the mailbox, those farms mean the world to the farmers and their families.

“Listening to them you realize the impact that landing field was going to have on them. We fought to make the Navy reconsider that we can do something else. That we don’t have to impose on them and actually crush the lives of so many of these individuals. I think that was a good example of where ordinary citizens have a voice.”

The congressman said that the moment the plant closing was announced, he and staff members were down here for those people affected.

“We all can kind of get macho sometimes, but when you lose your job, it takes something out of you — sometimes it takes away your feelings of self-worth, your dignity, your pride, and it puts a fear of future not just in the short term, but a fear of the future.”

Forbes and many staff members first listened to people, he said, and then they established a website with accurate information regularly updated, and also to give them them all of their options.

He also feels he’s honored a commitment to find ways to replace those jobs.

“Now as you look at that plant, it’s a very bright future,” the congressman said, adding that the people in Western Tidewater have been the most resilient in the face of challenges such as the closing of the plant or the flooding in downtown Franklin.

He wished it were possible to carry about such people in a capsule to present them as the best examples of the American dream.


What’s left undone in the 4th District?

“Every single day I get up and I feel there are more things to do,” Forbes said. “Not so much because there are things we have left undone, but because there are new challenges.

“We have been constantly fighting for religious freedom and religious liberty. When that’s attacked anywhere in the country, that’s an attack on all of us.”

Threats on national security, including those on the borders and ISIS abroad, underscore for him the country’s susceptibility to attacks.

Where industry in this region is concerned, he said, “We’ve put in motion…We live in an area that has just incredible opportunities in the region in terms of manufacturing capability and research capability. I think we’ve seen that rebirth in Fort Lee, I think we’ve seen that in the whole region right now.

“I think our region has enormous opportunity to see that unfold in the years ahead.”


Asked what he would say to 4th District voters who might feel he’s leaving them behind in order to keep his job in Congress, Forbes said, “I think it’s a fair question. As you know, two judges and a professor from California took that district away from me. That didn’t just take it and tweak it, they took it apart and tore over half of it away.”

He’s been asked by so many people in the 3rd and 7th districts saying, ‘We love you. Will you come and be in the 3rd or 7th District?’

“When you get to where I am, it’s no longer about my future, it’s about our future,” Forbes said.

The eyes of the other people are upon him, he added. “I’m looking at the whole region we live in. Shipyard workers at Newport News Shipyard — the only shipyard that builds nuclear aircraft carriers — are also looking at me saying, ‘After 15 years we finally have the first Virginian who chairs the subcommittee that writes the legislation that impacts us. And one step away from the being the first chairman of the armed services committee. We can’t lose you because our jobs depend on it.’”

Bases in Yorktown and Little Creek also count on him, the congressman said, adding that he figures 82,000 men and women in this area depend on him and his position in the armed services committee to fight for them.

“My choice is this: If I walk away, I walk away to a whole lot more lucrative job than now, but I can’t look all those people in the eye and abandon them either, because this is about their future,” he said. “I have seven secretaries of the Navy who have endorsed me and tell me I can’t leave. ‘The future of the United States Navy depends on you and the position you are going to be in.’ Not to preserve the Navy we have today, but literally the Navy we’ll have tomorrow.”

In his view, the most important legislation to the entire region and Virginia is the National Defense Bill, and the part that impacts the most is on the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Air Force — that’s the part he would get to write.

“Literally, I have that pen in my hand,” he said.

The question is whether to keep that pen or give it someone in another state, such as Florida or Texas.

“That may very well be the difference between us losing an aircraft carrier strike crew, 11,000 jobs or keeping that,” Forbes said. “That was the decision we had to make and that’s why we made it.

“I truly believe it’s not about my future, it’s about our future.”