Home 2012 races Blue Virginia Interview: Afghanistan Vet Adam Cook for Congress in Virginia’s 1st...

Blue Virginia Interview: Afghanistan Vet Adam Cook for Congress in Virginia’s 1st CD

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Back in January, I had a chance to sit down with Adam Cook, the Democratic nominee for Congress in the 1st Congressional District. Currently, that district is (mis)represented by a Teapublican who likes to pretend to be a “moderate” – but most certainly isn’t! – named Rob Wittman. In 2010, the annus horribilis of the Tea Party, Wittman won reelection by a 64%-35% margin over Democrat Krystal Ball. In 2008, a presidential year, Wittman defeated Democrat Bill Day by a narrower, but still substantial, 57%-42% margin. That same year, John McCain won the 1st CD, but with just 51% of the vote, to 48% for Barack Obama. So, clearly, this has been a Republican-leaning district, but far less in presidential years than in off-year elections.

Also worth noting, as Adam Cook points out in his interview on the flip, “this district isn’t nearly as red as it used to be…the district also pushes significantly farther North than it used to, including roughly 40% of Prince William County. If the President does well in Virginia again this will be a competitive district in 2012.”

Anyway, I was impressed with Adam Cook when I met him back in January. He struck me as serious, smart, thoughtful, and level headed. Same thing with the interview he conducted with me via email over the past week or so. Again, you can read the entire interview after the “fold,” but a few highlights from my perspective include:

*His bio, which includes being the “son of a pastor;” a law school graduate who decided on 9/11 to “give something back” to our country by “join[ing] the Air Force as a Judge Advocate;” volunteering in 2010 “to deploy to Afghanistan in support of the mission at the central detention facility in the country…reviewing the evidence and intelligence concerning each of the roughly 3,000 Al Qaeda, Taliban and Haqqani network detainees in our custody.” Impressive.

*His main reasons for deciding to run for Congress: a) “I was, and am, deeply offended by the Paul Ryan budget which makes roughly $5 trillion in cuts to services for seniors, students, veterans and the poor and turns them into $4 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations;” and b) while serving in Afghanistan, watching “a totally dysfunctional Congress unable to execute even the most basic functions of government, largely because we had a newly elected Republican majority in the house that was determined to use their newfound power to try to effectively repeal the 20th century.”

*The fact that he’s “proud to be a member of the party of working people, civil rights and equal rights for all Americans.”

*His focus on jobs and economic growth, as well as the pressing need to “invest in our infrastructure,” including clean energy. I also like his recognition that states need assistance “to help prevent the layoffs and hiring and pay freezes for teachers, police and firefighters,” as well as his support for “equal pay for women” and “protection of collective bargaining rights for public and private sector workers.”

*Almost needless to say, Adam Cook is deeply committed to, and cares “deeply about taking care of our returning veterans.” I couldn’t agree more that this is an absolutely pressing, moral concern of our nation to the people who sacrificed to keep us all safe.

*As for why Rob Wittman needs to be replaced, Adam Cook points that Wittman’s a “nice guy and a good family man, that doesn’t change the fact that he has one of the most extreme voting records in Congress and has consistently voted against the best interests of the district.” That should be the end of story right there, if people vote consistently with their own self interest at least. Let’s hope they do!

*As for winning the district, clearly it will be a challenge, but Adam Cook appears up for it. He’s got a strategy that looks to “minimize fall-off from Obama and Kaine voters and, second, we have to find another 5-7% of the vote.” Can this strategy succeed? I don’t know, but one thing’s for sure is that he can’t do it without our help. If you want to volunteer or donate to Adam Cook’s campaign against the abysmal Rob Wittman, please click here. Thanks, and go Adam!

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COMPLETE INTERVIEW WITH ADAM COOK

1) Who are you and why are you running for Congress?

I grew up here in the Fredericksburg area as the oldest of six kids and the son of a pastor of a small church and a hospital administrator. I was able to finish college (University of Pennsylvania) and then law school (UCLA) with the help of Pell Grants, federally subsidized student loans and federal work-study programs.  

During my final year of law school, I had arranged a series of interviews with all the big national law firms through UCLA’s on-campus interview program when I had one of those life-changing events. The first day of the on-campus interview period was September 11, 2001. As I was sitting there watching those attacks and their aftermath on TV, I made a decision that I wanted to give something back to the country that had allowed me to go to a great college and law school that neither I nor my parents would have been able to afford on our own. As a result, shortly after I graduated law school I joined the Air Force as a Judge Advocate.

After tours in Montgomery, Alabama; Kunsan, Korea; and Washington, DC over the next six years, I transferred from Active Duty to the Reserves and took a position with the Social Security Administration’s Office of General Counsel, where I worked on civil rights and equal access issues. At the same time I left active duty, I married my wonderful wife Melody, a program analyst for the Navy’s Office of Naval Research.

Toward the end of 2010, I started hearing from my military friends and colleagues that there was a need for JAGs to deal with the sharply increasing number of detainees captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan. After securing my wife’s blessing, I volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan in support of the mission at the central detention facility in the country. From May through November of last year, I served as the Officer in Charge of Investigations and the Chief Legal Advisor for Detainee Review Boards. In the first of those roles, I led a team of Army CID agents and intelligence analysts tasked with reviewing the evidence and intelligence concerning each of the roughly 3,000 Al Qaeda, Taliban and Haqqani network detainees in our custody. As the Chief Legal Advisor, I reviewed each of the Detainee Review Boards to make sure it was compliant with international law and US policy.

I first considered running for Congress after seeing the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives and seeing their vision for the country and their refusal to compromise or accept basic realities that were inconsistent with their world view. I was, and am, deeply offended by the Paul Ryan budget which makes roughly $5 trillion in cuts to services for seniors, students, veterans and the poor and turns them into $4 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations.

What really convinced me to run, though, was my service in Afghanistan. I had the honor and privilege of serving with men and women who consistently worked with their sister services, coalition partners and even the Afghan government, putting the needs of the mission ahead of their own particular interests and petty turf battles. At the same time, I saw a totally dysfunctional Congress unable to execute even the most basic functions of government, largely because we had a newly elected Republican majority in the house that was determined to use their newfound power to try to effectively repeal the 20th century. I believe our country deserves better.

2) What “flavor” of Dem are you (progressive, moderate, conservadem, etc.)?

It’s funny, as I’ve travelled around the district talking to largely Democratic audiences and giving largely the same stump speech and issue positions, I’ve been described as everything from a solid progressive to a conservative Democrat (or conservadem if you will), sometimes at the same event. While I’m not sure I fit neatly into any of the traditional categories, I will say that I have been a Democrat my entire adult life and am proud to be a member of the party of working people, civil rights and equal rights for all Americans.

3) What are the main issues you plan to run on in this election?

The two biggest substantive issues facing the country right now are that we have 13 million Americans who can’t find a job and a deficit that is a trillion dollars this year and is red for as far as the eye can see. I believe we have to focus in the short term on building some sustainable momentum in our economic growth to get people back to work. To make that happen, I think now is a great time to invest in our infrastructure, which includes everything from modernizing and expanding roads, bridges and rail systems to finally making sure that every town in Virginia has access to broadband.  We should also invest in clean energy developments like off-shore wind turbines. I also believe that anything that puts a little more money in the pockets of middle- class families will help to increase consumer demand and give our economy the push it needs. Along those lines, I favor aid to states to help prevent the layoffs and hiring and pay freezes for teachers, police and firefighters; aid to homeowners underwater on their mortgages; guarantees of equal pay for women; and protection of collective bargaining rights for public and private sector workers.

Building strong, sustainable economic growth would also help significantly in deficit reduction efforts. The CBO has estimated that lowering the unemployment rate to normal levels would by itself reduce the deficit by $300 billion per year, or roughly 1/3 of the total deficit. Second, we do have to reduce wasteful spending, particularly in the health sector, which is the biggest driver of long-term deficits.  My favorite example is that Medicare currently pays 40% more for the same prescription drugs than the VA because Congress caved to the pharmaceutical industry and banned Medicare from using its purchasing power to negotiate lower rates. Finally, we have to increase revenue. I would end the Bush tax cuts for income over $250,000 and various other unjustifiable tax breaks like the carried interest loophole for hedge fund managers.

I also care deeply about taking care of our returning veterans. Many of our returning warriors are struggling to find work in the private sector while thousands of others are dealing with long term physical and mental injuries suffered over the last 11 years in combat. I am totally opposed to the cuts in the VA and other veterans programs that are included in the Ryan budget.

4) What are your main lines of argument why Rob Wittman should be replaced?

While Rob Wittman is a nice guy and a good family man, that doesn’t change the fact that he has one of the most extreme voting records in Congress and has consistently voted against the best interests of the district. He claims to be a great friend of veterans and the military yet voted against Jim Webb’s 9/11 GI Bill and voted for VA cuts in the Ryan Budget. He claims to be an environmentalist yet has a 26% rating from the League of Conservation Voters during his congressional tenure and wants to neuter the EPA. He claims to believe in pay equity yet voted against the Lilly Ledbetter act. He says he wants to grow the local economy yet has repeatedly voted against investments like broadband which are so needed in rural parts of the district and for pay and benefit cuts to his many constituents who work for the federal government.

With a 94% party line voting record in Congress, Congressman Wittman has consistently put the agenda of the national Republican party over the needs of the constituents who elected him.

5) How you plan to win this race in an obviously “red”-leaning district?

First of all, this district isn’t nearly as red as it used to be. In the last several high turnout elections, the district has gone from 39% for Kerry in ’04 to 44-45% for Kaine and Webb in 05-06 to 48% for Obama and 61% for Warner in ’08. Under redistricting, the district also pushes significantly farther North than it used to, including roughly 40% of Prince William County. If the President does well in Virginia again this will be a competitive district in 2012.

Our basic strategy is two-fold. First, we have to minimize fall-off from Obama and Kaine voters and, second, we have to find another 5-7% of the vote. On the first, we are working closely with OFA and the coordinated campaign to make sure that all three of our campaigns are working effectively together. On the second, we are focusing heavily on veterans, who make up approximately 17% of this district, as well as independent women and younger voters. I think the fact that I am a complete outsider to the political system and have an unusual resume for a Democrat will be very helpful in attracting swing voters, many of whom are just disgusted with the whole system and career politicians in general.

Overall, I’m very excited about where we’re at and think we’re as well positioned as a first-time candidate in a district like this can be. I believe all these elections in Virginia are going to be close but if things break the right way and we do our job and get support from Blue Virginia readers and other Democrats from around the state we have a great chance to pull this off.  

  • Dear Lowell,

    I wanted to take a minute to introduce you to Adam Cook, an Afghan War Veteran and Democrat running for Congress in Virginia’s 1st Congressional District. I’ve gotten to know Adam well over the past months campaigning with him, and he’s exactly the kind of leader Washington needs right now…

    Adam is the son of a pastor, and grew up in a middle class family that knows the importance of service and hard work. Through Pell grants, subsidized student loans, and work-study, Adam was able to attend an Ivy League University and then law school. He understands firsthand that to continue to grow our economy, we need to embrace talent and help all of our students reach their potential, regardless of their circumstances.

    In a time when Congress has become so partisan that it can barely execute the most basic functions of government, Adam knows what it means to serve when failure isn’t an option. After law school, Adam decided to join the military and give back to his country.

    As a Major in the Air Force Reserves, Adam spent last year in Afghanistan as the officer in charge of a team of 25 that led investigations at the main detention facility at Bagram Airfield. His service leading a team that evaluated intelligence concerning over 3,000 Al Qaeda, Taliban, and Haqqani Network detainees earned him the Joint Services Commendation and the Afghan Campaign and NATO Medals.

    Adam has a great record of public service, and we need him in Congress. I hope you’ll join me in supporting his campaign…

    Sincerely,

    Tim Kaine