Merritt Hale photo

Navy veteran Merritt Hale is challenging incumbent Rep. Ben Cline for the GOP nomination to represent the 6th Congressional District in the House of Representatives.

Navy veteran and Frederick County resident Merritt Hale believes Congress has become “more about self-aggrandizement than about servant leadership” and that it’s time to change that.

Hale, 28, announced Monday that he is challenging incumbent Rep. Ben Cline for the Republican nomination to represent Virginia’s 6th Congressional District in the House of Representatives. The Republican primary is scheduled for June 21, with the general election on Nov. 8. Jennifer Lewis is the only Democrat to announce her candidacy.

As a result of recently approved redistricting in Virginia, the 6th District encompasses the entire northern Shenandoah Valley and runs along the Interstate 81 corridor to Roanoke.

Hale, who lives in Clear Brook, said he respects Cline but noted that Cline has been in politics for 20 years.

“I don’t know anyone who thinks politicians have done a great job in the last 20 years,” said Hale, who grew up in Loudoun County and graduated from Woodgrove High School. He studied systems engineering from 2012-2016 at the University of Virginia and served as a Naval officer from 2016-2020. “So I think it’s time we get rid of the career politicians and let an outside voice who represents the values of the 6th District be heard.”

If elected, Hale intends to make affordable health care a top priority. He said in a Monday interview that he came to realize “how awful the health care system is” after his father was diagnosed with degenerative brain disease. As a result of his father’s condition, Hale’s mother quit her job to become his father’s full-time caretaker. Ultimately, his father’s condition worsened to the point where he had to be moved to a full-time memory care unit. His father died on Christmas Eve.

Hale believes many corporations in the elder care industry are motivated by profit — often making thousands of dollars off a single patient. He said health care costs could ruin many people financially “unless they can afford to get a tax lawyer.”

“I don’t think you should need a Ph.D. in taxes to take care of a loved one,” Hale said.

He also feels that health care workers are underpaid and understaffed.

Another one of his priorities is “to return a sense of nuanced policy making into politics,” he said.

“I feel like with cable news, politics has turned incredibly tribal, and it’s become a blood sport of who can demonize the other side better and say more outlandish things,” Hale said. “And while that makes great reality TV, it turns off about 70% of the population from actually engaging in politics.”

Hale currently works at Peraton in Springfield as a systems engineer supporting the intelligence community. He said many issues need to be addressed in the national security realm. For example, regarding the military budget, he says “there’s a lot of bloat” and that resources need to be shifted toward boosting the nation’s cyber defense instead of “traditional hard military” budget items such as tanks.

According to his campaign website, Hale believes troops should only be sent into battle as a last resort, “but when they are sent in, they should have the complete backing of the government.”

He objected to Cline voting against the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which he said “is critical in making sure our military can operate at peak conditions.”

Regarding immigration, Hale believes the U.S. needs to secure its borders. But he also believes deporting 11 million immigrants who have entered the country illegally is unrealistic, and he has an idea for a pathway to citizenship. On his website, he says people who have entered the country illegally should be provided six months to come forward and register.

“If they’ve committed a crime here, they should be deported,” his website states. “If they have no other criminal history, have them provide information on how long they’ve been in the country and their sources of income. Calculate the amount of back taxes they would owe. Give them temporary residency. If, after five years they’ve paid all their back taxes and have not committed any crimes, they are granted citizenship. Those who lie about how long they’ve been here or their income status will be deported. All illegal immigrants who haven’t registered after six months will be deported and any subsequent illegal immigrants will be deported.”

Hale said he is a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights and that law-abiding citizens shouldn’t be punished with what he calls “onerous, ineffective regulations.” He also opposes abortion, describing himself as “100% pro-life” except when the mother’s life is at risk.

“We must do more than just fight to overturn Roe vs. Wade,” Hale says on his website. “We must hear, be sympathetic, and provide choices (adoption) beyond abortion to those contemplating such action.”

A 2019 article from Navy Times said Hale was accused of “nonconsensual sexual contact” with a sailor and soldier and faced a court-martial trial. Charge sheets state Hale was accused of touching a sailor’s breast, kissing the neck of a soldier, and touching the buttocks of at least one other victim on March 17, 2018. Hale has denied the allegations.

“I was innocent, and all the charges were dropped,” Hale said. “... And I did learn a lot from that — about the criminal justice system, and how there are lots of reforms that are needed, that those without the means to pay for the proper representation are often taken advantage of.”

He continued: “I can answer for any actions I’ve taken in my past in regards to anything. My bigger concern was not wanting to put my family through any negative press, but when I approached them about running, they were completely on board and had my back.”

“My Christian faith is important to me,” Hale said. “I readily admit I’m a flawed person. We’re all human. But I’m going to work my hardest to represent the values of the people of the 6th District, and I’m just really looking forward to getting out there and meeting as many people as I can.”

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