Update #1: Ethics-challenged or not, Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia's Eighth District won reelection June 12. Scroll to the end for my advice for his possible foes in the 2014 Democratic primary.
Update #2: Jim Moran has since told me there was no quid pro quo, that the real estate developer's contributions were part of an arrangement by which he contributed to many people at once. I appreciated his responding. What was I to think when his news secretary ignored my original questions?
You don't have to love Fox News—or strip mining, state-imposed abdominal ultrasound exams or endless wars abroad—to root mightily for Jim Moran's retirement from Congress if a good successor is in the wings.
Progressive or not, Mr. Eighth District makes me uneasy.
I've spent two decades working toward a well-stocked national digital library system (a nonpartisan cause endorsed by the late William F. Buckley, Jr.). But these days I would hesitate to approach Rep. Moran for congressional support, lest he ultimately try to turn this into a contracting opportunity for his donors.
Asked for details related to the much-hated BRAC-133 towers at Mark Center near me in Alexandria, Moran stonewalled me. I wanted to know why CEO Denny Oklak of Duke Realty in Indianapolis—a prime BRAC-133 beneficiary—had given thousands to the Moran campaign. No, Oklak wouldn’t talk, either; same for other BRAC-linked contractors who had donated to Moran. I held my nose and voted for Moran anyway because of his progressive politics and his Republican opponent's lack of them. I'll even do so again if need be in the general election. But I'd rather not, especially since a worthy challenger has appeared in the June 12 Democratic primary in the person of Bruce Shuttleworth of Arlington, an ex-fighter pilot whose views you can hear directly in the YouTubes accompanying this post, as well as read on his campaign site.
Shuttleworth is a stranger to me, and simply for that reason, I can't absolutely, absolutely promise that he himself will be angelic. But going by his answers to the ethics questions I asked, he'll be a much better risk than Moran, a proven menace to the credibility of us progressives as reformers. Shuttleworth has his own donors from the corporate and legal worlds. But read that part of the Q&A ahead for some essential context.
His mother and father, both nonsmokers, died of lung cancer, very likely the result of toxins in the air; and I am pleased that he has taken a special interest in environmental issues.
While I'm a lifelong registered Democrat, I normally stay away from endorsements. Bruce Shuttleworth merits an exception. If you live in the Eighth District here in Virginia—Arlington County, Alexandria, Falls Church and parts of Fairfax county—vote for him on Tuesday. And now here are emailed questions and answers on some issues dear to me.
Q. My pet issue is the need a well-stocked national digital library system blended in with local libraries and schools—not just run for well-off research institutions. Ideally there would even be two separate but intertwined systems: one for public libraries and one for academic libraries with rather different needs. The national digital library initiative should work with local library systems and tutoring organizations and others to encourage family literacy and recreational reading by Americans of all ages. The initiative also should provide resources for self-improvement, training, and small business. Would you support this proposal, and push for enough federal money to make the vision a reality in time, especially given the connection between recreational reading in K-12 and academic achievement?
A. I agree. Not just our citizens, but the world, should have convenient access to all reading and multi-media material. Digital content obviously makes that possible. The world will be a safer place when all countries have access to unbiased content and better understanding.
Q. In the wake of lessons learned from BRAC-133 and the related traffic and air quality challenges, should the federal government pursue a policy of deliberately locating fewer people in the D.C. area, particularly in places well removed from subway stops? I'm not against development when the circumstances justify it. But is it possible we've overdone it around here?
A. The Mark Center was a colossal mistake. The government should lead on green initiatives like more comprehensive mass transit, telecommuting and ultra-low emission or no emission vehicles. It is time to create a national supergrid to finally enable the scale use of clean energy sources [more information on supergrids is here].
…and yes, it is possible that we've overdone it around here.
Q. What congressional committees would you like to sit on?
A. Armed Services, Energy and Commerce, Ethics, Foreign Affairs, Intel, Natural Resources, Oversight and Gov't reform, Transportation and Infrastructure, Vet Affairs.
Q. How will you work to end or reduce mountain top removal and other coal-related threats to the environment and health of people in Virginia and West Virginia?
A. I'll work so hard to end this travesty. Both my parents died of lung cancer as non-smokers. I see the cost of unclean air in terms of life and death. I intend to do something about it.
Q. Would you support or introduce legislation banning political donations from top executives of government contractors, as well as those in heavily regulated industries such as financial services? Here's some background on this topic, at least in regard to contractors. I do notice that yourself have some individual donors from financial services and from at least one federal contractor, IBM.
A. Congressmen must avoid conflicts of interest. We wouldn't accept this behavior from our Judges, CEO's or President. Political donations must not lead to influence peddling. I support all efforts to reduce this pernicious effect.
Q. All kinds of questions have arisen over the years about Jim Moran, some of them here in this blog, even if I think his critics at times have overdone it. How do we know you'd be different, given your donations from at least 17 attorneys employed by the Dickstein Shapiro firm, including some out-of-staters?
A. These are friends of mine who know me as a man of honor and integrity.
Q. What issues have you discussed with them, and were there any promises in either direction?
A. Never will any promises be made in exchange for money or favors.
Q. Did you attract the donations simply because they like you and respect you and your wife, who works at Dickstein? Her title and duties there?
A. She is a partner.
Q. Any possibility of a conflict of interest in that direction?
A. Not from me. I'll recuse myself or give money back if ethically conflicted.
Q. Would she stay with the firm if you won the general election?
Q. I've also found other individual donations from people with other corporations in areas ranging from financial services to pharmaceuticals and construction, and I don't see an avalanche of small donations from, say, teachers and firemen. No evil hereby implied! How many campaigns can exist without well-off contributors, and I can understand the challenges of raising money from non-affluent people unfamiliar with you at this point. I'd simply appreciate your responses for the record.
A. People give to me precisely because they know that I will be honest. By the way, I've prioritized voter outreach to fundraising—as I am doing here!
Q. I'm appalled that we're still in Afghanistan, given all the failures of invaders over the years. Your thoughts as an ex-military guy?
A. Our military is better at breaking things than making things. Nothing good happens when soldiers are too concerned with safety to interact with the population. And how would we respond to foreign tanks rolling down our streets?
Q. Should we greatly accelerate our disengagement?
A. We should accel.
Q. Both morally and as a practical matter, how do you feel about the use of drones in that area of the world and elsewhere, given all the civilian casualties?
A. Congress must not differentiate between piloted and non-piloted aircraft. When acts of war are to be committed, that is the standard. Not whether a constituent may be at risk. Congress has the power to declare war.
Q. Also, where you do most agree and where do you most disagree with the President on foreign policy matters?
A. Getting Bin Laden was a courageous and honest decision. I won't play the 436th Secretary of State here except to say that America needs to be the world's honest leader. Where the facts substantiate Armenian Genocide for example, we should embrace them—as painful to other countries as it may be. We need to be true to math, facts and science.
Quick thoughts: I would have welcomed more detailed responses to some of the questions, and I would disagree that piloted and nonpiloted aircraft aren't worthy of differentiation. Automated warfare increases the chances of more U.S. intervention abroad. But overall, I liked Shuttleworth's replies. For instance, his energy policies would help reduce the need for future Iraqs and Afghanistans. I also appreciated his supplying answers instantly even though every minute counted so late in the primary campaign. I'm far more comfortable voting for him than for Rep. Moran, the stonewaller. Best of luck, Bruce!
Addendum, 12:31 p.m.: Just to be clear, I'm well aware of and have written about about Jim Moran's public opposition to BRAC-133. But there are still several issues here. First, why did Duke Realty's CEO feel that the Moran campaign could be a good investment? What kind of perception of Jim Moran did he have? Was this just a routine buyout effort, without any reflections on Moran? Or was there reason to believe that Moran could be bought? Second, without the money, would Moran have tried harder behind the scenes? Third, in a more general but related vein, why did Moran decline my invitation to speak out for tough laws against donations by executives of corporations doing business with the government?
More thoughts, June 11: Many and perhaps most of the major contributions to Shuttleworth are from people who did not give to other candidates. That strengthens his claim that friendship—as opposed to the usual influence peddling—was the big motivation for the donors.
Post-election, June 13: Yes, as Ben "Not Larry Sabato" Tribbett has written, "the most important vote that either candidate would cast would be for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker on the first day of the next Congress." So I'll indeed vote for Jim Moran in November. Ouch!
Meanwhile here's a little advice for Shuttleworth or anyone else possibly running against Moran in the primary in 2014. Show up as often as possible at local Democratic Party functions, and join and participate in and otherwise grow closer to major progressive activist groups that can endorse you. Truly understand their agendas. Develop your own in-depth position papers for the media and the Web, perhaps even start up an online brain trust with an accompanying blog, publish op-eds on the great issues in local and national publications, start campaigning early, and whatever you do, avoid excessive reliance on robo-calls. It isn't enough to tell emotional stories, personal or otherwise, of cancer and other byproducts of pollution. Or even simply to offer solutions to that or other problems. In a district with a high education level like the Eighth many potential supporters will prefer all the grubby details, so you come across as someone able to shape legislation even if you're new to Congress. They won't read everything you and your people write. But at least they'll see tangible evidence that you've done your homework, and in detail be able to compare your promises with your performance, should you reach Congress.
If Bruce Shuttleworth wants to make another go at this, great—I really wish he'd beaten Jim Moran, and I'm willing to cut him lots of slack, given all of Moran's negatives. But I hope Shuttleworth will listen to the above advice. The best way to fight off rumors of being a Republican plant is to live the life, walk the walk, as a committed progressive Democrat in an extremely thoughtful, high-profile and ongoing way. Perhaps, too, he could focus more on going after donations and other support from well-meaning people in the tech community and elsewhere who are sick of Moran's ethics lapses. The strategies laid out in the paragraph above this one—assuming he wants to devote all the hours needed—just might win them over. A full-time job or close to it? Perhaps. But that is what it could take to defeat Moran.
What's more, Shuttleworth should think about seeking out a good mentor whose thought processes and beliefs would be sufficiently close to his. I wonder if John Glenn might be a good fit. Someone like Glenn might also be good at helping Shuttleworth relate better to voters at large, not just those with military backgrounds. Flowery formalities, like "I am honored," might fly in military circles or the Mafia. But they may have badly hurt Shuttleworth with voters at large.
I would also recommend that Shuttleworth not accept donations from members of his wife's law firm or similar ones with political connections. If he does his homework and develops as a viable candidate, he can still do well and use this as yet another way to show his sincerity and separate himself in people's minds from the Moran crowd. In addition, I would like to see him hold himself to higher than usual factual standards in his phone calls, campaign ads and other efforts. Many party veterans expect more of newcomers than of themselves.