Tom Periello, the Democrat running for Congress in VA-05- a district that runs from the North Carolina border almost all the way to the DC exburbs (or, for those of us from Virginia, from UVA to Martinsville Speedway), was gracious enough to take some time out of his busy schedule recently to sit down with the editors of The Motley Moose. For those of you who aren’t familiar with our wonderful district, it’s probably more nationally recognized as the home of this man:
Recognize him? See if this rings a bell:
The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.
How about his desire to repeal the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, or his opposition to supporting mental health billing reform, and his unmitigated support for Big Tobacco? Hey, at least we know he’s got our back taking down online gambling– probably one of the most important issues currently facing this nation, right?
For those of us here in VA-05, Tom Periello is a godsend. Devilstower, over at the Daily Kos, had an excellent diary on this subject. Tom donates ten percent his volunteers’ time right back into the community; he’s a proud progressive and a member of the Red to Blue program. He’s hopefully going to be one of many new Democratic additions to the House of Representatives this election cycle.
We are also the second of only two political websites Tom has agreed to sit down and have a talk with, the other being Richmond-based Raising Kaine. Given the uphill battle Tom’s facing in VA-05, that’s truly an honor.
Tom, in his own words:
Tom, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to sit down with us here at The Moose. We know you have a full-schedule, to say the least!
No problem, it’s really my pleasure.
You have been facing a tremendous uphill battle in VA-05, which is considered a R+6 on the Cook Partisan Voting Index; SUSA recently released a poll that put your opponent, Virgil Goode, ahead of you by over thirty points (although I’m not sure some of the internals on that poll were set up very well). Considering those obstacles, and the way the district is structured, what is it that makes you persevere in the face of such animosity?
Rep. Chris Van Hollen just dubbed us the surprise race of 2008 as we face a perfect political storm in VA-05.
The SUSA poll showed what we’ve known all along. Rep. Goode has huge name recognition, but extremely soft support with two-thirds of his supporters saying they might switch. People are responding strongly to our jobs plan. And at our first debate, Goode showed how out-of-touch he had become – his own supporters laughed at him when he said there weren’t problems with the American healthcare system. I just did an event in his home town where over 250 people showed up, more than have come to a Dem event in a decade. There’s fantastic energy here for someone who is more serious about results than ramblings to an empty room. The challenge for our campaign will be getting our message out. But we have yet to run paid media, and when we do, those numbers will move fast in our favor.
Our district is more independent than conservative. Gov. Tim Kaine won here in 2005, and Mark Warner carried the district in his gubernatorial run as well. Mike Huckabee won the Virginia primary for the Republicans, but Barack Obama still got more votes than Huckabee and McCain combined in VA-05. We are looking at a massive turn-out of the base, including over 10,000 new voters, that will carry us to victory.
What portions of the progressive agenda appeals to voters in a conservative district, like this one?
Like Sen. Jim Webb, I believe that workers in our country are being left behind by corporate greed and two political parties owned by the same interest groups. With the economy in trouble, energy prices soaring, and health care costs rising, this district wants to be represented by someone who will work as hard for them as they work for their families. The gap between CEO and worker salaries now is 400:1. The next closest country to that chasm is the UK at 27:1. It is long past time that our people get a Representative who believes in economic fairness for working families.
We have got to start fighting for the working and middle class now. Our district has witnessed thousands of jobs going overseas as wages for the remaining jobs waning. We need to make a major reinvestment in our workforce, universal healthcare (the primary cause of work stoppages today), and a new approach to trade.
On our campaign, we talk a lot about principles of “right and wrong, not right and left.” Most progressives and conservatives share the common belief that every American who works hard and plays by the rules deserves the ability to make enough money to keep a roof over their family’s head. That’s not the situation right now. People are hurting and they just want to see some progress from Washington, but all they see are the political parties jockeying for power and the big corporations gaining more and more influence over the decisions that affect our lives.
Many conservatives and independents around here care less about agreeing with me on every issue than about knowing there are principles I will never compromise. My strong opposition to torture, wiretapping, and limits on gun ownership all represent the same dedication to our core Constitutional principles, and people here understand and respect that about me.
Did Senator Webb’s win in 2006 help pave the way for additional inroads by Democrats among the moderates of Virginia?
Senator Webb’s success is one of the main reasons I decided to run for Congress this year. Sen. Webb ran without ever sugar-coating his views, pulled off an historic upset, and then topped that off by getting more done for veterans in 18 months than the rest of them had done in 18 years. The media didn’t know how to describe Jim Webb, because he didn’t fit into any of their preexisting molds. Like Mark Warner, he cares about getting things done and has little time for partistan games. Virginians have seen in recent years that Democrats are the ones with vision and solutions for the problems we face.
Sen. Webb also showed that, more than anything else, Virginias are independents, and we are willing to throw off the most entrenched incumbent when a better alternative comes along.
I spoke to Senator Webb, and he was very passionate and outspoken about Virginia’s changing political landscape and how the Democratic Party should focus more on issues of economic fairness in order to win over lower income, white voters- like those in Southside and Central Virginia. Do you agree with this assessment? If so, how are you representing that in your platform and message to voters?
Sen. Webb is right; we must revive the idea that economic fairness lies at the heart of the American promise. The citizens of Central and Southside Virginia have been punched in the gut three times recently, as we lost furniture jobs, textile jobs, and our tobacco industry. I have made jobs and economic prosperity the cornerstone of my campaign. In July, I launched my economic REVIVAL tour, introducing my seven point R.E.V.I.V.A.L. plan to all 22 counties and municipalities in the district. This is not about reinventing the wheel. It’s about revitalizing and reviving an area that was once the economic engine of Virginia. We need to focus less on the old 3,000-employee plants, and focus instead on small business relief. We also have a chance to put our area at the forefront of the new energy economy, and revive vocational and skills training programs that can help people move towards a living wage. We need to remember that the economy trickles up as well, when workers make enough to rejoin the middle class.
Is the Virginia electorate turning more blue, or is the Democratic party doing a better job of connecting with the electorate?
It’s both. Virginians have always been independent, and right now the Democrats are doing more to bring in jobs, improve schools, and balance budgets. AT the end of the day, most people care a lot more about what helps their family than what party you are with. Obviously the economic and intelligence failures of the Bush Administration are an albatross around the neck of any state Republican party, but I believe that Virginia Democrats have offered a particularly strong alternative of results-oriented politics. I cannot say enough about Gov. Warner’s leadership on this – I sometimes call him the “Godfather of git-r-done politics.” Gov. Kaine has been unwavering in his commitment to building the party and bringing faith voters back to the fullness of social justice teaching. And Sen. Webb has become the face of a new national security agenda that puts what’s right ahead of what makes a good soundbite.
This trend in Virginia is accelerating nationwide. I see a new generation of Democrats coming into politics who are more concerned about getting things done than about partisanship – Darcy Burner shaping Iraq policy before she arrives in Congress. Obama changing our assumptions of what constitutes a “likely voter,” much to the frustration of pollsters everywhere.
Do you see any national coat tail effect for you, personally?
No doubt. Obviously Senator Obama has inspired an entire generation to throw out the old political playbook, taking power from corporate interests and giving it back to the citizens. He has inspired hundreds of thousands to register – and his campaign has made sure to see that through. As a major bonus, the Obama campaign is making Virginia the Ohio of 2008, and we are glad to see the major investment in the offices, organizers, and operations that will translate into victory on Nov. 4. This election will be won in the field, and we have a great working relationship with their team on the ground.
A conversation about coat tails here cannot happen without mention of Mark Warner, whose statewide support is almost ridiculous. He is one of the greatest Governors in Virginia history and will be a great addition to the US Senate. When I do events with him in the Fifth District, it’s like traveling with a rock star. He is a hero to the etrenpeneur and the worker alike, and nearly everyone respects the sheer scale of results he produced here. His dedication to Southside and those left behind by the global economy is legendary and has reminded a lot of folks here about who cares about the working and middle clas. The Obama campaign, the Virginia coordinated campaign and our campaign are converging in a perfect storm to flip the Fifth and turn Virginia blue.
Is the national campaign or party assisting yours in any fashion?
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has elevated our race to the Red to Blue program, which has not happened here before. The national party saying in August that our race is one of their top priorities this election cycle is a testament to the hard work of our staff, our volunteers, and the tremendous response we’ve gotten from every county in the district. People here are ready for new solutions, for an end to corporate control in Washington, and for new leadership that will work as hard as they do.
What are the primary priorities and issues facing voters in VA-05? Have those priorities changed since 2004, compared to now? How do the issues change between voters in Charlottesville, compared to Martinsville or Danville?
People all over my district are paying the same high prices for gas and the same high prices for groceries. It is causing real pain. My number one priority in Congress will be jobs and economic revival for Southside and Central Virginia. Obviously the areas that have been hit the hardest are manufacturing and textile towns like Martinsville and Danville, but farmers in Cumberland and teachers in Charlottesville are hurting too. What people want more than anything else is results, results on energy solutions, jobs, health care and national security.
Obviously, the energy crisis is one of the biggest differences between 2004 and now. Our leaders – and here I blame both Democrats and Republicans – should have seen the energy crisis coming a decade ago, and should have worked to prevent us from getting to the point we’re at now. We need short-term relief as well as leadership focused on the long-term solutions…right now we have neither. Like so many in Washington, Rep. Goode is offering a 2-cent solution to a $4 crisis, and is so blinded by desire to help the oil companies drill that he even suggested that ANWR was his answer to the crisis in Iraq.
Our district wants results, not rhetoric offered to empty rooms.
I thought you performed admirably in the recent debate you held with Virgil Goode; I was appalled he even had the audacity to publicly slam a fourteen-year old who felt inspired enough by your message to raise a whopping $587 dollars for your campaign. Are you scheduled to do any more debates with Congressman Goode?
Thanks. Unfortunately, Rep. Goode has been hedging on a flood of debate invitations. We are scheduled for one this Wednesday in Danville though, and we will continue to push him to step up for some more across the district.
We’ve been really lucky to have such great support from the Netroots in the past and I hope it will continue in the future. I believe in people-powered politics, and the Internet is the best way yet of letting ordinary folks take control of how elections are run. Rep. Goode often blasts me for spreading my message across the Internet. “He knows how to use the Internet,” he says. Someone who considers the Internet a bad thing doesn’t know what kind of skills the next generation of jobs is going to require here. That is just one of the glaring reasons he has been ineffective at putting the VA-05 at the forefront of the new economy.
And this is less of a direct question than looking for a statement, but what advice or takeaway would you offer to the folks at The Motley Moose and the progressive community as a whole, both on the Netroots and off, either looking to make a difference, wanting to help, or perhaps someday to follow in your footsteps?
The best thing we as a progressive community can do to advance our policy priorities is to stick to our principles. The Netroots are a sign of a healthy political movement, keeping the country’s leaders focused on an agenda for working families, Constitutional principles, and security through justice. Sites like The Motley Moose and Raising Kaine are invaluable, especially for me, in keeping in touch with the problems facing Americans today; your site in particular, given it’s community-based effort rather than Markos’ (Moulitas’ DailyKos), which still runs largely under his purvey. My advice would be to get involved and stay involved. Donate your time and your treasure to causes and candidates you believe in. Write to your deepest convictions and do not stop when elected officials fall short of that. Talk to your friends and family, your neighbors and strangers, and build the movement that starts at the grassroots levels. That’s the way we’ll get leaders who stand up for what is right and who are willing to fight to get things done.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Tom is one of the good guys. We seriously need to get him into Congress this year. Please, if you can still spare a few bucks, throw some his way (second down on the list). If nothing else, drop him a line via email and let him know you appreciate the job he’s doing to take on Virgil Goode.