Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The C'Ville Talks with Tom Perriello

Will Goldsmith has a good piece in this week's C-Ville (here) on Tom Perriello's first year in office and the launch of his re-election campaign this weekend. The article -- combined with Goldsmith's interview with Tom (here) -- reinforce my belief that he is doing great work as our representative.

Goldsmith emphasizes (1) Perriello's work ethic and (2) his willingness to buck the party line in order to remain true to his convictions, 5th district priorities, and/or campaign promises:
He has focused on constituent services and appears regularly in the district to explain his votes in Washington. He bucked his party in voting against releasing the second round of TARP funding, and voted for the Stupak-Pitts amendment to the health care legislation, which restricted funding for abortion. The latter cost him points with some Democrats, but, as with all of his votes so far, Perriello is unapologetic: “I made a pledge to my district that I would not support a bill that would include federal funding for abortion.”
I've read a number of articles about Tom working night and day on legislation and listening to constituent concerns (it sounds as though his town hall listening tour on health care was second-to-none). This work ethic is very appealing to me; I get enormously frustrated by legislators who seem more interested in television appearances and pressing the flesh than digging into the weeds of policy debates and figuring out what would actually work best.

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Goldsmith reviews the potential Republican opponents in next year's race and says that Robert Hurt may not garner the far-right's support because he supported certain tax increases proposed by Mark Warner. Based on what I've read, Hurt would be the strongest challenger. Geography is a key factor in the 5th (re: Hurt's Danville/Pittsylvania roots) , and I just don't see Ken Boyd attracting the rural vote to the extent that Hurt would; if the Republicans don't want to nominate Hurt because of ridiculous anti-tax orthodoxy, then that's all the better for Tom's chances at re-election.

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Goldsmith's interview questions are top-notch (better than many that are posed by Post reporters, even), and Perriello's answers show that he is seriously invested in thinking about governance and policy. Here's my favorite:

How have you approached the job so far in terms of balancing interests—those of your district and those of the nation as a whole?

The most important thing is to not accept at the beginning of a debate that the only two choices are “yes” or “no.” You’ve got to try to fight to make the options better, and do so based on what you think is going to work for the district and the country. When you think about it, and you take these issues that I think are about trying to get some relief to the middle class, that’s similar whether you’re talking about folks in Charlottesville, Danville or around the country. So I think at the end of the day, people focus on whether you vote “yes’” or you vote “no,” but the real work of Congress is how you can shape something before it gets to that vote.

I really like the emphasis on shaping the debate rather than focusing on yes/no. It reminds me of a particular American political theorist -- I'm not sure if it was James Madison or someone else -- and it's in contrast to the overly partisan way that many politicians frame the issues.

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