A Blue District Gone Red, Coming Back

By David Swanson

If you live in a solidly red (Republican) or blue (Democratic) district, then the Fifth Congressional District of Virginia might strike you as a moderate area being contested by two moderate candidates. The historically Democratic district, which continues to vote for Democratic state governors, switched when its current congressman, Virgil Goode, left the Democratic Party in 2000 to join the party he usually voted with anyway. But Goode does not always vote like a Republican. This huge area of farmland has been hard hit by corporate trade policies, and Goode has voted against CAFTA and every other “free trade” proposal put before him. Meanwhile, Goode’s Democratic challenger this November, Al Weed, is running on his record as a soldier and a farmer, promising to crack down on immigrants, and citing Jesus as the inspiration for some of his positions.

But first looks can be deceiving. From a nearer angle, the contest between Goode and Weed, in which Goode’s lead is dwindling rapidly, is one between a radical right winger and a progressive with a vision for enlightened change. The top issue on the minds of voters this year is the war in Iraq. And, of course, we’re dumping such a financial fortune down that drain that every other issue is affected by this one. Virgil Goode’s website pretends that the war (along with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, global warming, and a health care crisis, among other things) does not exist, except in this comment from Goode on energy:

“Being free of a need for foreign fossil fuel will enable us to be less involved in the shifting sands of the Middle East.”

Of course, so would refusing to vote for wars in the Middle East. Goode voted for the war, has voted for every additional round of funding for the war, and has opposed every proposal to end the war, investigate the case made for the war, or assist veterans of the war. In contrast, Weed makes ending the war his top issue. And what underlies this major policy difference between Goode and Weed appears to be Goode’s xenophobia and Weed’s lack thereof.

Goode is a major proponent of militarizing the U.S. border with Mexico, denying citizenship to immigrants or their children, and demonizing immigrants as the root of American problems. Goode wants to drastically reduce foreign aid, make English the official language of the United States, ban flag burning, refuse to place U.S. troops under U.N. command, promote the Pledge of Allegiance, and defund the IMF and World Bank. His comment about foreign fossil fuel, like his opposition to the IMF and World Bank, is motivated by hostility to non-Americans, not by concern for the environment or for the nations victimized by global loan sharking. Goode reserves some hostility for Americans, gay Americans, who he thinks should not be allowed to marry, form civil unions, or adopt children. Demonizing immigrants and gay people: these are Goode’s big issues, together with warning that Weed favors “national health care.” Weed, of course, favors national health coverage of the costs of private health care, the same system that works so much better than ours in dozens of nations around the world.

Goode avoids any substantive discussion of most issues voters care about. He’s refused to appear at debates with Weed. And his website covers all of his policy positions in fewer than 1,500 words total. On health care this is all he says:

“I support increased funding for research aimed at combating and curing illnesses such as diabetes, lupus, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and heart disease. I hope that we can continue funding for health initiatives like community health centers in rural areas. I support refundable tax credits to encourage assistance for the uninsured to get health care assistance coverage.”

On peace and war this is all he says:

“We need a strong national defense. I support policies to encourage the recruitment and the retention of personnel in the Armed Forces. Strength is a necessity for deterring foreign aggression and combating terrorism.”

But what can he say? He’s been in office for years and has almost always voted wrong. He backed the bankruptcy bill and the PATRIOT Act. He opposed internet neutrality. He’s voted against every step to protect our environment, or the right to organize a union, or support for public schools, or steps to reform campaign financing. Virgil Goode is a loyal corporatist militarist Republican except when those positions conflict with his xenophobia or his religious bigotry. Knowing that much, you can safely predict how he will vote on almost any bill. His opposition to “free trade” even derives from his xenophobia: he’s opposed to giving Americans’ jobs to foreigners. Goode opposes restoring value to the minimum wage on the grounds that a decent minimum wage would attract more immigrants. Meanwhile, Al Weed supports restoring value to the minimum wage, arguing that doing that will reduce immigration.

Weed’s website lays out his positions in some detail on a long list of issues, and I’ve spoken with him about some of them. He has a vision for peace, prosperity, sustainability, and sprawl prevention, a central component of which is promotion of the biofuel industry. Weed wants to let farmers continue farming profitably by encouraging the production of crops for biofuel. He also proposes “a generation of federally funded research universities in areas hurt by free trade. We have benefited greatly from land grant universities such as Virginia Tech and Virginia State, and we can do this again. We can start in Danville with a world class, four-year research University.” Needless to say, this would cost very little compared to Goode’s Iraq War or even the militarization of the Mexican border.

It’s always tricky to take on sprawl in areas that have not yet suffered gravely from it and therefore still view it as desirable. But Weed does so very well. Here’s an excerpt from a recent campaign press release:

“Last week Congress voted to weaken the power of local governments against reckless land developers. The bill, co-sponsored by Virgil Goode, allows developers to take claims directly to federal courts and ignore concerns from local communities.

“‘This flawed bill is just one more example of how Mr. Goode does not consider the citizens of his district. He dutifully does what the Republican leadership and his contributors say without considering the consequences here in central and Southside Virginia,’ said Al Weed.

“Goode has received over $90,000 in campaign contributions from real estate and construction PACs. Goode and the Republicans ignored the United States Supreme Court assertion that local and state governments are better equipped to handle matters regarding zoning disputes.”

Weed doesn’t shy away from the issue of taxes. He uses it, as with many issues, to pit ordinary Americans, not against gay people and immigrants, but against the people who are actually abusing us: corporate owners and the super wealthy. Weed proposes these tax changes:

• Making permanent the expanded Child Tax Credit, the elimination of the Marriage Penalty, and new tax bracket that allows people to save $350 dollars on their first level of income.
• Barring giant corporations from pretending to relocate overseas to avoid the taxes they are supposed to pay here in America .
• Ending corporate welfare and closing corporate tax loopholes that leave even more of the country’s tax burden on working families.
• Making speculators pay the same rate on unearned income as people pay on earned income they get by going to work and getting a paycheck.
• Simplifying the tax code so that a family doesn’t need to hire a professional to help them file their taxes.
• Enforcing the tax law so that big tax cheats pay what they are supposed to pay.
• Repealing recently passed, unneeded tax breaks for those who earn more than $200,000 a year.

Weed offers even better proposals in the area of electoral reform, including instant runoff voting, elimination of the electoral college, a duty to vote with a “none of the above” option, and public financing. He says nothing, however, about verifiable voting, the lack of which may actually decide his fate.

Assuming an honest election, Weed has a good chance – but we all need to step up to help him. He’s backed by the United Steelworkers, the National Farmers Union, and the Sierra Club. Progressive Democrats of America and Democracy for America are both pitching in. But it’s not enough. The outcome of this campaign depends on which issues are talked about, and we should not let that be determined by Goode’s advertisements. Al Weed needs money and volunteers. Congress needs a Democratic majority, and one composed of Democrats who, like Weed, are worthy of the name.

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