I have the distinct displeasure of being misrepresented in Congress by Virgil Goode, a man best known outside Virginia's Fifth District for having thrown a fit when Congressman Keith Ellison asked to be sworn in on a Koran instead of a Bible. Goode defeated a fine Democratic candidate, Al Weed, in the past two elections, with 64% of the vote four years ago and 59% two years ago. He did so in part by purchasing television ads accusing Weed of supporting "amnesty" for "illegal immigrants," and "socialized medicine," and by making false accusations against Weed.
The Fifth District voted 56 to 43 for Bush over Kerry, who didn't bother to try to win Virginia. But it also voted 52 to 46 for Democrat Mark Warner for Governor, and 50 to 48 for Democrat Tim Kaine for Governor. Kaine is a big Obama supporter. Mark Warner will join Obama on the ballot this year as a Senate candidate, which should help Tom Perriello. Perriello is the Democratic nominee who hopes to finally unseat Goode, who himself was first elected to Congress as a Democrat in 1996, but who became a Republican in 2002 after behaving like one for years. Warner, of course, is a borderline Democrat himself, and while Perriello has had nothing but praise for Warner, Perriello sounds more progressive.
According to his website, http://www.perrielloforcongress.com
"After receiving his law degree from Yale University, Tom accepted an assignment working to end atrocities in the West African countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone, which had suffered long civil wars fueled by blood diamonds. Tom’s work with child soldiers, amputees, and local pro-democracy groups in Sierra Leone played a significant role in the peace and reconciliation process that ended twelve years of violence in that country. Tom then became Special Advisor and spokesperson for the International Prosecutor during the showdown that forced Liberian dictator Charles Taylor from power without firing a shot. After this success, Tom served as a national security analyst for the Century Foundation. He has worked inside Darfur and twice in Afghanistan."
Perriello's campaign has raised significantly more money than Goode's and has already raised more than any previous challenger to Goode. The campaign has raised over $600,000 and reports over $500,000 cash on hand. Perriello also claims to have logged over 1600 volunteer hours. In addition, Goode's embarrassing Koran incident happened since the last election.
(I'll be interviewing Tom Perriello live, and he'll be taking questions from callers, between 8 and 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday, April 30, 2008, at http://thepeoplespeakradio.net/listen-live You can call in tollfree from anywhere in the United States or Canada at 888-228-4494 or anywhere else in the world at 877-489-6350. If you missed the live show, you can find the audio clip at http://thepeoplespeakradio.net/audio/2008 )
I don't plan to ask Tom about money or polls or religion or flag pins, or about some friend of a friend of a friend of his who once knew a communist. I think other media outlets can handle those important areas of our public education just fine. I plan to ask what Congressman Perriello would do for our world, country, state, and district if elected.
Perriello's website provides single paragraph positions on five issues. The first is Economic Fairness:
"Tom will fight to ensure that all hard-working Americans are guaranteed a living wage and secure retirement. Parents should have time to spend with their families instead of having to work multiple jobs just to put food on the table. Tom will end the practice of giving tax breaks to companies that take American jobs overseas and will make sure that corporations and CEOs are held accountable for their actions."
This sounds a heck of a lot better than Virgil Goode, but could use some detail. What dollar figure does Perriello think is a living wage? Would he favor setting the federal minimum wage there and indexing it to rise with the cost of living? Does Perriello support the Employee Free Choice Act, punishing companies that do not allow legal labor organizing, and establishing the right to card-check labor organizing? At the end of World War II, corporations paid half the cost of the federal government. They now pay 7 percent, and many of them pay 0 percent. Would Perriello raise taxes on corporations or merely close some of the loopholes? Wealthy individuals paid significantly more in taxes just 7 years ago. Would Perriello raise their taxes? Those who receive millions in income only pay into Social Security on the first $90,000. Would Perriello eliminate that cap? And what of environmentalist proposals to lower income taxes across the board and replace them with taxes on fossil fuels?
Then there's Goode's favorite topic: the evil Muslim Mexicans (he doesn't seem to make distinctions). The Virginia Democratic website Raising Kaine asked Perriello about immigration ( http://www.raisingkaine.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=13297 ) and Perriello did something very few politicians are serious enough to do: he changed the topic from the symptom (immigration) to the cause (corporate trade policies that make it difficult for people to earn a living at home). Here's the question and answer:
"Would you favor comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to EARNED citizenship for people who pay a fine, learn English, and play by the rules? In general, what is your position on immigration into this country?"
"There's no doubt that we need comprehensive immigration reform. I think our starting point has to be enforcing laws that we know work while making sure that our enforcement strategies are not dehumanizing to immigrants, most of whom play by the rules and work hard in search of the American dream. The single best strategy for reducing illegal immigration is to reduce the availability of their jobs by holding employers accountable for hiring undocumented workers, starting with the most egregious cases. But I also believe we need to think beyond zero-sum games. For example, we need to work for better trade agreements and support international rights to organize so that we can help create job parity across borders to reduce the pull for illegal immigrants to this country and for our jobs overseas."
This avoids the question Goode will push of whether immigrants are deported or given a path to citizenship, but it doesn't do so just out of political calculation. That actually is the wrong question. The much more significant question is: what exactly will Perriello do about corporate trade policies? Will he support ending NAFTA and the WTO?
The second issue of the five mentioned on Perriello's website is Healthcare:
"Every American deserves access to a doctor, and none of our elderly should ever have to face the soul-crushing choice of whether to buy medicine for a spouse or put food on the table. Furthermore, our employers should not be burdened with healthcare costs that put them at a disadvantage to their competitors in other countries."