Democratic Senate Candidate Hagan: A Primer
When asked her top accomplishment in Washington, Senator Kay Hagan starts with the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
From the 1950s to ‘80s, Marines and their families stationed at the base unwittingly used drinking water laced with chemicals like benzene. Along with Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) and Congressman Brad Miller (D-NC)—
both North Carolina Republicans—Hagan pushed legislation to give medical care to those exposed.
“I met with generals,” she recalls. “We met with the commandant of the Marine Corps. We met with every entity you can imagine that had some sort of input.”
The Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act passed in 2012.
Last year, Hagan took another lead role on a military matter. With the sequester and other budget cuts about to go into effect, a program called tuition assistance was on the chopping block.
“It basically pays for you to go to college while you’re in the military,” says Ryan Gallucci, deputy director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Gallucci credits two Senators with introducing an amendment to stop the cuts.
“There was Senator Kay Hagan from North Carolina, and then Senator [Jim] Inhofe (R-OK).” He says. “So it was really a bipartisan effort.”
The amendment passed without opposition, a common theme for Hagan’s bills, but one which also draws criticism.
This week the Charlotte Observer endorsed Hagan, but unenthusiastically. The headline is “Disappointment versus Danger.” Hagan is the disappointment says Editorial Page Editor Taylor Batten.
“Frequently when we talk to her, and just out in public, we see her kind of hesitating to take a stand on controversial issues, until it becomes clear what the safe stand to take is,” says Batten.
Hagan responds the Observer offers no specific instances.
“I have a record, and I am proud of that record,” she says.
Another scathing line in the Observer editorial charges Hagan has “few, if any notable legislative achievements.”
In addition to the veteran and military bills, she helped pass legislation that could push states to fund more jobs programs, which give national certifications. Another bill transferred a North Carolina lake from federal to state control. She also secured the Congressional Gold Medal for African-American marines who fought in World War II.
She lost at least one major bill to partisan gridlock this year--a bundle of hunting, fishing, and conservation bills. It had widespread support, including from 26 Republicans.
Hagan shepherded it to the final votes in the Senate. But when it came time to override the obligatory filibuster, Republicans voted against it unanimously
“It kind of became victim to a dispute over amendments, which has tripped up a lot of bipartisan bills on the floor this year,” says POLITICO congressional reporter Seung Min Kim, who covered the bill’s defeat.
Hagan thinks Republicans had an ulterior motive—to deny her a victory.
“Had I not been up for a vote this November, that bill would be law right now,” Hagan says. “I have another bill, the Newborn Screening Act. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are holding a conference committee up in the Senate right now only because I’m up for reelection, and that is wrong.”
Hagan introduced the hunting bill this year, but did not come up with it—Democrats have passed the popular legislation around to Senators in tight races. That is not uncommon.
Nor is a relatively light record at this point in a Senator’s career, says Davidson College political professor Susan Roberts.
“She is first term,” says Roberts. “They call them junior senators for that very reason."
Roberts says it takes time to build up the experience and influence to move major legislation.
For now, Hagan’s largest impact comes from how she votes—generally, as a moderate Democrat. Of course, each campaign is spinning that for their benefit.
October 30, 2014 - Correction: This post mistakenly identified North Carolina Rep. Brad Miller as a Republican. He is a Democrat.