This past Saturday, I listed my 8 criteria for choosing the Democratic nominee in the 8th CD race. How do these criteria apply to specific candidates? I started with former Virginia Lt. Governor Don Beyer and now turn to Del. Mark Sickles.
1. The next Representative from the 8th CD should be a strong, rock-solid progressive.
I saw saw this article, which claims that Mark Sickles is the “most conservative of the serious candidates” in the 8th CD race, who “supports payday lenders and has run as a Chamber of Commerce endorsed Democrat in every election since first becoming a state Delegate.” I wanted to find out if that was true, and also generally to get a feel for Sickles’ voting record and political philosophy. Fortunately, Sickles has a long voting record, so it’s not that difficult to figure out. Here are a few key ratings courtesy of Project Vote Smart.
*100% from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro Choice Virginia
*83% from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce
*100% from Equality Virginia
*94% from the League of Conservation Voters
*An “A” rating from the NRA in 2008, a 92% NRA rating in 2005, and a 33% NRA rating in 2013 on “Positions on State Legislature Elections”
What these ratings tell me, generally speaking, is that Sickles is a liberal on issues related to sexual orientation and reproductive freedom, but is fairly conservative on guns and business. With regard to the environment, he’s gotten good ratings and was endorsed for reelection in 2013 by the Virginia Sierra Club.
As for the payday lending and car title loans, there’s no doubt that Sickles has received a lot of money from companies like LoanMax ($10,500), Title Max ($3,500), Community Loans of America ($2,500), Ace Cash Express ($2,246), Advance America Cash Advance ($1,200), etc. Whether coincidental or not, Sickles has generally been supportive of this (predatory, disgusting) industry. For instance, this article notes how “dozens of new car-title lending businesses have popped up in neighborhoods across Northern Virginia – the result of recent regulations opening the door to a business that charges as much as 264 percent a year on loans.” Mark Sickles voted for those regulations. In this recent Washington Post article, Sickles argues that “the industry’s expansion illustrates a demand for small loans that banks are not meeting.” That may be the case, but it doesn’t change the fact that this industry preys on people when they’re most desperate, then locks them into outrageous interest rates (e.g., the aforementioned 264 percent). On the other hand, Sickles has previously offered legislation to “limit payday loan customers to two loans at a time and give borrowers more rights when they are harassed for defaulting,” among other things. I’d also refer you to Del. Sickles’ Context to Washington Post Car Title Lending Story.
Other issues: Sickles voted to repeal Virginia’s estate tax, which to me is strongly anti-progressive (the estate tax is arguably the most progressive tax we’ve got) as wel as a huge mistake from a budgetary perspective (we lose over $100 million per year because of that repeal; money that could be spent on mental health care, for instance) — one of the biggest we’ve made in Virginia in a long time, and the #1 issue that infuriated me about Gov. Kaine, who signed the repeal into law (ugh). In addition, Sickles also voted to require state police to conduct immigration checks and enter into deportation agreements with ICE, to extend E-Verify undocumented immigrant checks to local governments (like Arlington, which wanted to opt out of federal immigration enforcement programs), for requiring “legal presence” or citizenship to receive public assistance, for concealed weapons in restaurants, for de-regulating local phone companies, and for the ridiculous/crazy “Mark of the Beast” bill.
Bottom line: Sickles is progressive on some issues, certainly not on others, but most definitely NOT a “rock solid progressive” by any means. I’d give him a C- grade on this criterion, and that may be generous come to think about it.
2. I want to see a tenacious, indefatigable FIGHTER for progressive values.
See the answer to item #1.
3. We need a Representative who will fight for the 8th CD.
My guess is that Sickles would fight for the Congressional district the same way he’s fought for his House of Delegates district. If you like what’s described in item #1, then you’ll be happy with Congressman Sickles. If not, you won’t be.
4. We’re going to be losing some big-time seniority and need to build it back up.
Sickles would be 57 years old in January 2015. Not old, but not particularly young. He should have a decent amount of time to build up seniority.
5. We want, need, and deserve a Representative who has the highest ethical standards and who makes us proud every day.
I’m not aware of any personal ethical issues with Mark Sickles.
6. A superb, impressive track record of accomplishment over the years.
Sickles is the chair of the Virginia House of Delegates Democratic Caucus. He’s served in the House of Delegates since 2003, and “works full-time for a national marine construction company and federal government contractor.” He has “two Masters Degrees from Georgia Tech and a B.S. from Clemson University.” It’s a solid record, but I’m not sure I’d call it “superb, impressive” in terms of progressive leadership, eye-popping accomplishments, etc. Also worth noting is that while Sickles has been Democratic Caucus chair, we haven’t done well in terms of winning seats in the House of Delegates. Just pointing that out, not that it’s all his fault or anything.
7. Obviously, we want someone who will do a great job on “constituent services.”
Presumably, since Del. Sickles keeps getting reelected, his constituents must be satisfied with their constituent services. Of course, Congress is a whole different level. UPDATE: I forgot to mention that part of constituent services in the year 2014 involves effective use of social media. I really haven’t seen that from Del. Sickles, who apparently doesn’t have a Twitter account and who is known to be hostile to “the bloggers” (whatever THAT means, given that anyone can set up a blog in about 5 minutes and be “a blogger”).
8. I want to see a “heavyweight” in this job — someone who is a serious policy wonk, someone who really loves diving into the weeds of legislation, someone who can go toe-to-toe with Republicans and Tea Partiers (and conservative and/or corporate Democrats for that matter) in the battle of ideas.
Mark Sickles certainly is smart, but I honestly have no idea how he’d do on this criterion in Congress. He certainly hasn’t stood out as someone who fights Republicans/Tea Partiers on the floor of the House, and I’ve never thought of him as a policy wonk particularly, but we’ll see what he talk about (and how he talks about it) during the campaign.
Overall: I’d give Sickles a slightly higher grade than Don Beyer (who got a C-/D+); a C/C- seems fair to me. Your thoughts?