Thursday, September 3, 2009

Congressional run a lesson in not-so-special interests

Asheville Citizen-Times Editorial Reprint
November 19, 2008

I now understand how Alice felt when she stumbled into the rabbit hole. Instead of a Mad Hatter and grinning Cheshire Cat, my congressional run was an adventure with special interests. Alice would recognize the connection.

At best, special interest groups inform. The temptation to manipulate is what creates a selfish interest group. The common interest quickly surrenders to money and power in that all too widespread transition.

The faucet of lobbyist money turns on immediately for congressional primary winners. In fact, if you are an incumbent, that faucet is never turned off. I refused to drink and watched over 300 lobby groups from outside of WNC give $1.5 million to my opponent. My self-imposed limit to a home equity line and individual contributions fell somewhat shy of that amount.

Going with the flow

The endorsement questionnaires are more transparent in their self-service - if you support their efforts, then they will endorse yours. Most candidates reaching for higher office quickly recognize the necessity of going with that flow. I preferred Alice's model of sincerity.
One memorable "Wonderland" moment involved the Military Officers Association candidate questionnaire. I agreed with one of their four interests, but believed the other three leaped over a fair deal to an elite deal.

I hesitate on any deal that comes from borrowed money resting on the backs of our children and grandchildren. Then too, most of us as veterans fought to preserve America, not rob her.
The Queen of Hearts did not appreciate Alice's candor and nor did the MOA's membership appreciate mine. It became the mission of some to assure a candidate who dared suggest that veterans, especially officers, deserve only fair treatment should not be in Congress.
Further adventures involved the Manufacturers Executive Association and their Chamber of Commerce affiliate. Again with Alice in mind, I suggested that many area businesses actively employ illegal aliens.

The group seemed surprised that a Republican candidate would dare risk "alienating his base" - the inference being that I was expected to walk in lockstep with another group willing to rob America just because they were businessmen. I must have overlooked that item on my party's authentic principles list and thus triggered the wrath of those who view themselves more enthusiastically as victims than champions of industry.

The bigger picture

These experiences and others provided a troubling glimpse into what is wrong with today's America. A vision of something really special, the "American Dream," is being replaced with a selfish nightmare called the "American Deal."

Alice made it through "Wonderland" without becoming cynical. I grant myself no exception. Besides, there were refreshing glimpses into an American ideal that remains intact in WNC.
Paradoxically, one of my finest exposures came some months back in the Snowbird Community of Graham County. There I stood before 50 or so skeptical Cherokee Indians in the community center and fielded questions.

Most had a clear understanding that I was the guy who, early in his primary campaign, challenged the special gambling and lobby interests of the Cherokee reservation.
Toward the end of the event, one of the attendees got right down to business and asked, "What will you do for us?" It was a pivotal moment, but I remembered Alice. "I will do nothing more than fight to see that you are treated fairly - I am not about special deals for anyone," I replied. It was probably my imagination, but there was a long and intimidating silence, and then came the applause - stinging in its selflessness.

Those members of a Cherokee Nation conditioned by decades of government entanglements understood the true meaning of America better than our champions of industry and officer elite.

The people of Snowbird had been on the receiving end of hollow promises and the self-serving long enough to know the corruptions of that fantasy version of America.

Ongoing mission

Going forward I plan to retain my interest in special interests. There is nothing special about those willing to sell out the "American Dream" and giving them an occasional reality check is going to be my special mission.

I also plan to smile at my grandkids and tell them that dream was worth a home equity loan, a year of my life and a glimpse into the devil's eye. To make sure I do not forget, I have a locked memory of 120,000 voters - and the people of Snowbird Community who taught me something truly special about the real American deal.

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