CULPEPER — Befitting a freshman member of Congress, Rep. Abigail Spanberger isn’t taking anything for granted.
She has plunged into her new job as a lawmaker with gusto, crisscrossing Virginia’s 7th District every week for meetings and events with constituents.
In addition to “Coffee with Your Congressperson” meetings, the Democrat from Henrico County has held town halls in three of the district’s 10 counties, and plans two more in the next two weeks.
“I’m out at events regularly, making sure people can ask questions directly, from their mouths to my ears,” she said in an interview Saturday afternoon. “And I talk about what we’re doing.”
“I think being accountable and present is important to people,” she said. “One of the notions that was ever-present along the campaign trail was that people just didn’t feel like anybody was listening or that government was working.”
Spanberger, 39, said she’s trying “anything I can do to restore voters’ trust, whether they agree with me or not, that there are people in Congress who are listening.”
On Saturday, she met with constituents at Perk! coffee in Chesterfield, attended the Sikh Association of Central Virginia’s Punjab festival in Richmond, and moved on to NASCAR’s Toyota Owners 400 at the Richmond Raceway.
Friday marked freshmen lawmakers’ first 100 days since they took office after last year’s midterm elections, but there’s been little time to take stock.
Wherever she goes, Spanberger stresses that “we’re actually working on the issues that we were elected to do.” Among those matters are good governance and financial ethics reform.
In recent weeks, the House passed HR 1, including a Spanberger amendment tasking the intelligence community with providing advice to state governments on risks to their voting systems.
“To me, it’s important that we protect our democracy. ... And recognize that there are foreign and non-state actors who threaten our infrastructure of our election systems,” she said. “I’m really proud to have done that.”
Spanberger said health care is also at the forefront of her concerns, an issue that voters raised during her campaign and that her constituents now bring up again and again as she travels across the 7th District, which includes Louisa and Orange counties.
“I’ve been a part of trying to strengthen and stabilize our health-care system and make meaningful change when it comes to lowering the costs of prescription drugs,” Spanberger said.
Recently, a House committee unanimously passed her bill to cut prescription drug costs by requiring pharmacy benefit managers to make their price agreements public.
The House also passed Spanberger’s amendment to ensure the government improves the maps that determine where to build rural broadband networks.
“This is something that’s incredibly important to me,” she said. “And that’s a direct result of people talking to me and telling me about this issue. Living in Henrico, before I stepped forward to run, I had no idea of the challenges of getting internet just 10 miles away from my house, over the line in Goochland.”
Also, Spanberger and Illinois Republican Rodney Davis are leading a bipartisan push by 73 legislators urging robust appropriations by Congress to build more internet broadband networks in rural America.
“We’ve had members from South Carolina to South Dakota who got on board with that effort,” she said. “It is an example of an issue that impacts communities across the country. We need to be the voice for rural communities that are facing these challenges.”
Describing herself as a pragmatist in a district where the House seat turned from red to blue, Spanberger said she is acutely conscious of the fact that many people stepped outside their normal voting patterns to cast ballots for her.
“I really owe it to them to keep my promises, to be transparent, to continue being as accountable as I possibly can ... because, for whatever reason, they were willing to try something new in voting for me,” she said. “It’s incredibly important that I recognize that responsibility.”
Spanberger said she is pleased to be among the House freshmen who “keep driving some of the conversations in Congress.”
“As a group, we’ve been trying to change some of the priorities in Washington. It’s important to us to get things done. There’s a pretty significant group of freshmen that wants to see bipartisanship, wants to see us moving the needle forward.”
Spanberger also is a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of members who talk through tough issues — including, for instance, the recent U.S. government shutdown — in hopes of finding solutions they can agree on and act upon.
“It has been a wonderful experience,” she said of their conversations.