In Praise of Perriello


    He won his seat in 2008 by 727 votes over a longtime incumbent


    McCain carried his district.

    He voted for healthcare reform and for the energy bill.

    He is in the crosshairs of Sarah Palin.

    Republicans and – thanks to Citizens United – corporations will spend millions to defeat him.

    He is one of the very best Congressman around.

    His name is Tom Perriello, of Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, and I want to praise him.  

    I first met Tom at the 2008 Virginia Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Richmond.  For many, that was the event that had to be moved to Virginia Commonwealth to handle the massive crowds with both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama speaking.  I was able to get back to the Marriott before most people, catching a ride with some friends from Richmond.  Thus I was one of the first people into an event which State Senator Creigh Deeds held to introduce Tom to the assembled Old Dominion Democrats.  I got to talk uninterrupted for about ten minutes, then observed his interactions with others as they came.  

    I later was invited as a blogger to an event in DC organized by progressive people of faith, a term very applicable to Tom, who lives and has lived his deep Catholic faith while working for progressive values.  On the Sunday before Memorial Day, when we were in the Charlottesville area for my birthday celebration, my wife and I bought Tom brunch, and my wife came away very impressed.

    During the 2008 campaign, Tom was the only out of town candidate on whose behalf I traveled to campaign, because I support him that strongly.  I took him to the National Democratic Club to introduce him to some people from labor to get their assistance, and they were impressed.  And when he was sworn in, his celebration had to be moved to a large room because so many people wanted to come and celebrate, and I was privileged to introduce new Representative Perriello to the man representing the adjacent district in NC, my friend Brad Miller.

    I could write about what Tom has done as a Congressman.  I will limit that portion of my remarks to this:  last August he held more Town Halls than any other Democratic Congressman, never flinched in the face of the organized Tea Party Protests, heard them out and kept his cool, and in the process developed a huge amount of respect among people in the district.  

    I have attended two very interesting fundraisers for Tom in the past few weeks.  The earlier one was at the home of David and Shayna Englin in Alexandria.  David is a rising star in the Virginia House of Delegates.  Shayna told the assembled supporters that they felt so strongly about supporting Tom that this was the first fundraiser they had held at their home for anyone except David, and that they were giving him more money than they had given any other candidate – other than David, of course.  I saw several families with more than one generation in attendance.  And as is often the case with Tom, during Q &A his intelligence, his passion, and his sense of humor were all on display.

    Last night Tom had a fundraiser at the Town House of the National Democratic Club to which I had first taken him during the last campaign.  I noted two out of state Congressmen who showed up for the event.  Retiring Chair of the House Appropriations Committee David Obey came by early, and Rep. Mark Schauer of Michigan stopped by near the end.  In his own remarks, Tom aptly described Obey as among the last of the Rust-belt populists.  

    Others among the more than 40 in attendance were Steve Shannon, former delegate and nominee for VA Attorney General, was introduced Tom. Others of note included Paul Reagan, chief of staff to Senator Jim Webb;  Mary Ann Hovis (herself daughter to the late Rep. Pat Jennings of the Fighting 9th in SW Virginia), a major figure in the Fairfax Democratic Committee;  Rose Chu, another important person among Fairfax Dems;  and Libby Garvey of the Arlington County School Board.  This was an event put on by a business group, and those in attendance were strong in their support of Tom.

    Dave Obey has said about Tom, “If we could carbon copy Tom Perriello, Democrats would be better off,”   I agree.

    I scribbled a lot of notes during Tom’s remarks and during Q&A, where once again his formidable intelligence and passion were clearly demonstrated.  Let me try to offer a few observations drawn from those notes.

    Tom was especially appreciative not only of the money people have given him:  “You’ve not only sent us your checks, but sent us your children.”  It is worth noting that Tom’s campaigns have had the passionate commitment of young people, both paid and volunteers.  For those who don’t know, during the last campaign Tom tithed his volunteer hours – 1/10 of the time they worked was as volunteers for community groups and non-profits throughout the district.  He is of a generation that believes in service, which he has demonstrated in his own life, so he runs his campaigns that way.  He remarked that growing up in the Charlottesville area  his generation had a sense that change was possible.  We could look back 150 years to when some owned people and women were very restricted.  If we looked ahead 150 years what might they say about our time, the 30,000/day dying from treatable health situations? What else might they say about us?

    Tom worked for non-profits in Africa, dealing with the Blood Diamond situation in Sierra Leone.  He mentioned that the original peace conference was of three different government groups and excluded too many voices.  It was only when the voices of others, such as the women who had been subjected to brutal treatment, were included that a lasting peace became possible.  

    He spoke of his pride in some of things accomplished in his first term, like health care reform, but did not ignore disappointments of still not having a meaningful national energy policy, and expressed his concern at what was happening in the Gulf.

    You can be bold and pragmatic at the same time

    –  an expression that really caught my attention.  After saying this Tom talked about the idea of creating good jobs –  what would a $20/hour job look like?  How can we create those in a district that is hurting?  Southside Virginia, included in the 9600 square miles (around the size of NJ) and 22 counties of the 5th  Congressional district, used to be a major economic driver for the Commonwealth, with furniture, tobacco and textiles.  Now there are communities where the unemployment is exceeding 25%. Tom sees this as he travels around the district, more than a thousand miles on the average weekend.  

    He admires Obama, of whom he said in response to a question that no political figure in his lifetime had inspired the way the President does, both as President and Commander-in-Chief.  He acknowledges that Obama is not a populist, rather more of a centrist.  He is creating transformation, but pretty much through centrist policies.  He disagrees with some of the economic policies of the administration, something he has expressed to the President.  He looks at people like Larry Summers and thinks they have too much of a focus on policies that still amount to helping those at the time and depending upon trickle down.  He wants to see a greater emphasis on jobs.  Yes, the administration averted a depression, which is no small feat, but we still need to create more jobs.  And Tom asked this pertinent question:  

    What are we going to build, grow, or make in this country?

     He said of himself in comparison to the President

    I’m a little more angry.  I think people are getting screwed.

    Since his election, Tom Perriello has been on the radar –  of Dems who know how vulnerable his seat could be, and of Republicans determined to oust him from what they view as “their seat.”  His Republican opponent is someone who does not inspire passion among the Republican base, and there is a possibility of an independent run by one of the handful of Tea Partiers who tried for that nomination.  Tom operates on the assumption that he will need to win 50% of the vote.  He has raised over $2 million, and has around $1.6 million on hand.  He plans to runs a grassroots campaign, already having around 30 people in place doing field operations.  He will need as much help as he can get, financial and otherwise.

    The campaign will be setting up to allow people from elsewhere to make calls from their homes on Tom’s behalf.

    He still wants your children – and you – if you have the time.

    Democrats know the importance of this seat, and even more, of this Congressman. He got onto Transportation and Infrastructure as a freshman, allowing him to be the person who gets credit for the millions of stimulus money that has come into the district.  The administration has already given him an event with Secretary of Education Duncan, and he will shortly be doing a telephone town hall meeting with my good friend Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

    In 2008 Tom came from more than 30% down to win by 727 votes.  So far this cycle he has been leading in what polling is available, but he takes nothing for grante.

    He can’t.  

    Not in a district won by John McCain despite the huge increase in turnout by African-Americans and young people for Obama.

    Not as big a target as he is for some on the right.

    Not when the kinds of attacks aimed at him have already included cutting the gas line to his brother’s barbecue in the belief that it was Tom’s home.

    He is hardworking.

    He is committed to his district.

    He listens, but he is also unafraid of taking a stand on important issues even should it cost him his seat.

    He deserves our support.

    Money is tight right now for my wife and myself.  We have already given Tom $200 this cycle, and will give at least another $400 before it is over, meaning he will have received more from us than any other candidate ever except for Jim Webb in 2006.  

    Time is tight, but we will make time to help him hold that seat.

    We do not live in his district.  But we are progressives, and he is our representative even if his district is 100 miles away from our house.

    I am honored to know Tom Perriello, to consider him a friend.

    I ask that you help him as well.

    Visit his campaign web site

    If you can, get involved

    And even if you don’t have the time, offer some financial support

    I teach government.  I tell my students that in my own participation I have met many outstanding public servants.  I put Tom Perriello at the top of that list, ranking with anyone I have ever met.

    I strongly support him.  I ask that you do as well.


    And Peace!


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