Andy Schmookler is running for Congress in the 6th Congressional District of Virginia, challenging the incumbent Congressman, Bob Goodlatte. An award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, Andy moved with his family to Shenandoah County in 1992. He is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.
Here's the statement I read at news conferences across the 6th District yesterday, August 2, 2012
The American people recognize that their political system isn't working right. They are frustrated and angry - and for good reasons. No wonder approval of Congress has sunk to an all-time low.
Our "public servants" are supposed to serve the public. Not their own personal ambition, not their party's advantage, but the needs and interests of the people. And the people have an interest in seeing the two major candidates for Congress on the same stage at the same time.
In that spirit, I invite you, Bob Goodlatte, to join me in a series of debates in the main population centers of the 6th District. These debates will let our citizens get a clear view of their choices. This is the American way.
For sixty years our presidential candidates have debated their opponents in front of the voters. Even popular incumbent presidents - like Ronald Reagan in 1984, and Bill Clinton in 1996 - are expected to put themselves on the line, and not just rest on their advantages, so that the voters can compare their options.
That principle applies even more to congressional races, where the voters are much less acquainted with the candidates. Citizens, for whose sake we have these elections, do not have a real choice if they are given little opportunity to assess who best will represent their interests and values.
I have been declaring that you, Mr. Goodlatte, are betraying the trust of the people who sent you to Washington, the good people of Virginia's sixth district. I believe strongly sir, that you have put your own ambition, and your partisan interests, ahead of serving the interests and values of the people of Virginia. Your policies - however well you can sell them to your supporters - are hurting those same people. Further, I declare that the Party you so consistently rubber stamp has been lying to the American people, like no major political party in the history of our country.
Ideally, the voters get to hear such a case argued and then render their judgment. That way our democratic elections safeguard our liberties. That is how our democracy is supposed to protect itself.
Of course, with all the advantages of your 20-year incumbency, you might be tempted to continue to serve your own interests over the interests of your constituents by avoiding such encounters. But that's not what best serves our citizens. That's not what upholds our democratic ideals. And it's not what I will do, if elected, in any future election.
In boxing, the champion cannot keep his crown if he refuses to defend it in the ring. The crown must be earned anew. So should it be in politics.
I therefore challenge you to a series of debates-at least one in Roanoke, one in Lynchburg, one in Harrisonburg. The format for these events can be determined by some nonpartisan group like the League of Women Voters, which organized the first presidential debates between Kennedy and Nixon, however they think would best serve the voters.
Let the voters compare their choices, and decide who would best represent them in Washington.
How about it?
As it happened, between my second news conference (in Lynchburg) and my third (in Roanoke), word reached me that Bob Goodlatte had relented and had agreed to debate me.
We'll see whether he agrees to debate me in the several venues necessary to reach the voters in our vast District. And we'll see whether he's willing to allow the format to be determined not the candidates or the political parties but by some independent organization (like perhaps the League of Women Voters) who will put the interests of the voters first.
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