Feb 20
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D.C. PAC, Americans for Self-Rule,Targets Virginia's Rep. Thomas Garrett E-mail

With Chaffetz Out, Home Rule-Focused PAC Puts Pressure On Charlottesville Congressman


One of the advertisements that Americans For Self-Rule is running against Garrett on social media. (Image courtesy of Americans For Self-Rule)

When Americans For Self-Rule formed this winter, the Washingtonian-led political action committee had one major goal: to unseat House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz, a perpetual prick in D.C.'s bid for self-rule.

"I got really frustrated with politely asking and demonstrating to get Congress to listen to us," Americans For Self-Rule Founder Lynette Craig explained. "I decided the best way to go about this would be to ask D.C. to put their money behind the cause."

Chaffetz resigned in June, but Americans For Self-Rule isn't packing up just yet. After all, the Utah representative's exit didn't stop the long-held tradition of legislators from far-flung (or nearby) states trying to screw around with D.C.-specific laws.

So the political action committee has chosen a new target for its ire and its more than $38,000 war chest: Congressman Thomas Garrett, the Republican who represents Charlottesville, Va. A first-term Freedom Caucus member, he represents a District that has voted in Republicans every term since 2000, with the exception of 2008.

One of his first acts as a federal legislator was to introduce the Second Amendment Enforcement Act of 2017, which would gut most D.C. gun laws and make it difficult to enact new ones. "The District of Columbia shall not have authority to enact laws or regulations that discourage or eliminate the private ownership or use of firearms for legitimate purposes," the bill says.

"This came after several concerned constituents expressed their disappointment over wanting to visit the Nation's Capital with their family, but due to the high crime rate in D.C., did not want to visit unprotected," he wrote on his website.

The legislation, introduced in March, goes further than two other proposals to loosen District gun regulations after the shooting at the Congressional baseball practice in Alexandria this June.

It'd be giving Garrett too much credit to say he thought up the National Rifle Association-backed bill, similar versions of which been championed in previous legislative terms by the likes of Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who reintroduced it in the upper chamber this year. Efforts to roll back D.C.'s gun laws, among the nation's strictest, also happen through budget amendments to must-pass legislation.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton says that "only a freshman would go after all of D.C.'s gun laws in this bald-faced way after all the fights that have been made and lost on this very issue. I don't think he did his homework. The D.C. group that has taken him on has chosen wisely."

Craig says there are a couple of reasons Americans For Self-Rule has Garrett specifically in its sights. For one, he's libertarian-minded (another bill he introduced this session would end the federal prohibition on marijuana) and he "ran on a platform that derided federal overreach," says Craig. "My neighbors and I have the right to vote for the people who write our laws."

Craig says that for months, she tried to visit Garrett at his Capitol Hill office to talk to him about the gun bill. "I don't expect him to change his stance" on gun issues, she says. "I expect him to acknowledge our right to self-rule." But so far, he hasn't.

Garrett's office has not responded to requests for comment.

Shortly after the fatal white supremacist rally in Charlottesville on August 12, a photo from March surfaced of Garrett meeting with Jason Kessler, the organizer of the event. Garrett has since said he had no idea that Kessler was a bigot at the time, though he acknowledged he knew he was a "troublemaker." Democrats are using that photo as a way to attack the congressman, and Americans For Self-Rule is happy to help.

This past Sunday, the group ran an advertisement in The Daily Progress, Charlottesville's local newspaper.

"Rep. Tom Garrett admits to knowing Jason Kessler, the organizer of the 'Unite the Right' rally, was a 'troublemaker' when he met with him," the ad reads. "When will he hold a Charlottesville town hall to explain his actions?"

In consultation with groups in Virginia's 5th district like Charlottesville Indivisible, they're also running a series of online ads on Facebook and Instagram that'll direct people there to more information on Garrett and his meeting with Kessler.

"I do legitimately think he's vulnerable," says Craig. "I'm happy to rub salt in any wound there. This could be a race we could have an impact on." Already, five Democratic candidates have thrown their hats in the ring to challenge him in 2018.

In D.C., folks may see online ads tailored to Garrett's meddling with local gun laws. "Garrett needs to pay attention to his own district and not mess with D.C. gun laws," it reads on top of the photo of Garrett and Kessler.

On a Kojo Show Politics Hour interview on August 18, which Craig says "lit a fire for us," Garrett said he introduced the bill because "you have a fundamental right, given not to you by law but by God, to defend yourself against a would-be attacker."

When Tom Sherwood, the Politics Hour co-host, asked why he would want guns "in our communities," but not on Capitol Hill, a favorite comparison for District residents pointing out Congressional hypocrisy, Garrett responded, "By all means, have them on Capitol Hill."

But the Second Amendment Enforcement Act of 2017 doesn't have a provision to end the ban of firearms on the Capitol complex. "He hasn't been bold enough to include that in his bill," says Norton. "I'm daring this man to do it and let's see if he takes it there. If he does, I don't think he'll have the votes."

She says that, despite the fact Garrett has a floor vote and she doesn't, she's confident that his gun bill is dead in the water. "Members who make things happen in Congress don't do it on the floor," says Norton. "It's the work they do before the floor. Not having the floor vote has not handicapped me in the least when it comes to guns."

In addition to Norton, D.C. residents have something else that may worry Garrett: proximity to his district. Craig says Americans For Self-Rule is considering bussing down volunteers to Charlottesville to help register voters. They've got a board of seven people, more than 1,000 people who've signed up to receive their emails, and a couple hundred who say they want to volunteer, Craig says.

Americans For Self-Rule is also considering putting up billboards in Garrett's district. "We've got a whole year ahead of us before the elections," says Craig. "As long as I have money to spend, I'm going to look for ways to spend it, and if Garrett is vulnerable, a lot of it might end up going to his District."

Garrett can make all of this stop. "He just has to drop his D.C.-specific legislation," says Craig.

But on The Kojo Show, Garrett didn't make that sound too likely. "I don't have to be a member. If I lose this seat, then that's what the will of the people was," he said. "But what I'm gonna do is stand up and fight for what I think is right."