Exclusive Blue Virginia Interview: Jeff Barnett (D-10th CD)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The following interview is with Jeff Barnett, Democratic candidate in the 10th Congressional District (currently misrepresented by Frank Wolf). The other announced Democratic candidates are Dennis Findley (interview published on 12/15/09) and Rich Anthony, (interview published on 12/8/09).

Also, full disclosure: I endorsed Rich Anthony back in December 2009 and am now consulting to his campaign. I am posting this interview as a public service to our readers, to voters in the 10th CD, and because I thought it was important to find out Jeff Barnett's views on the issues. Thanks to all three Democratic candidates for responding to my interview requests!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself, and specifically, what made you decide to run for Congress at this time?
Lowell, thank you for giving me an opportunity to express my commitment to this race.

My name is Jeff Barnett. I am a father, husband, military veteran, corporate planner, and author. I’ve lived in Virginia since 1986, and I have lived in the 10th Congressional District since 1999. I currently live in McLean with my wife Katherine. We have two daughters, both of whom I am proud to say followed me into the military. Our youngest daughter, Courtney is currently deployed to Afghanistan with the Air Force. Our eldest daughter, Marit is an Army doctor at Walter Reed.

After graduating from the College of the Holy Cross I followed in my father’s footsteps and joined the United States Air Force. My career spanned 26 years.
During my career I served as a campaign planner during the first Gulf War, a strategic planner for the Secretary of Defense, and a strategic planner for the Air Force. At the end of my career I was the Chief of Staff for a 6,000 person UN Peacekeeping force in the Balkans; the UN Transitional Authority in Eastern Slavonia is regarded as the most successful UN peacekeeping mission in history.

In 1999 I retired from the Air Force as a colonel. I spent the next 11 years advising corporate and government leaders on how to lead their organizations in the information age. I began this second career with Booz-Allen-Hamilton and then moved to Toffler Associates (the executive advisory firm founded by Alvin Toffler).

I’ve written two books: Future War (1996); and, The Job Box (2009).

I’m running for Congress because I am sick and tired of seeing our government work harder for big corporations than for the people. I’ve seen the value of vision and facing up to problems. Our Congressman isn’t doing that right now. We need to fix the housing crisis, ignite job growth, build a vision on transportation, and get out of our ill conceived and mismanaged wars. I keep hearing people say the next generation won’t live as well as our generation. I reject that notion. They can we if we make strides towards fixing these problems. I want to partner with our President, our people, and leaders from both parties to get things done now.

2. What three issues are you most passionate about and why?
The three issues I am most passionate about are the economy, transportation, and ending our wars.

The economy is an incredibly broad topic, obviously, but there are two main goals I will bring to Congress: creating job growth; and, helping families through the housing crisis. Today’s housing crisis is my #1 focus. The bank-fueled housing bubble should never have happened in the first place and must never happen again. Government rushed to help the Too-Big-To-Fail but told the middle class we are Too-Small-To-Save. That is wrong morally and counterproductive economically. We can take positive steps to help people keep their homes. We can re-institute common sense regulations to ensure another bank-fueled housing bubble never happens again.

As for transportation, we need a two-pronged approach. As a first step, we need greater efficiencies in our current networks. Better interchanges, high-speed busses, etc. These improvements will make life more bearable for our current population. However, they won’t absorb the continuing flood of people to Northern Virginia. They won’t accommodate the job growth we all want. We must do more than just “tweak” transportation infrastructures designed decades ago. Previous generations of leaders built I-66, I-81, the American Legion Bridge, the Beltway, and Metrorail. Since then, every solution to our traffic woes has been to widen or lengthen what we inherited. We need a new vision for transportation. I can lead a consensus towards that vision.

Finally, we must end our wars. The War in Iraq was a monumental mistake. We need to stay on the withdrawal timeline that starts this summer. I believe the temporary surge in Afghanistan is correct, even though my own daughter is currently deployed there. While Congress should never micromanage these wars, specific decisions will come to Congress for approval. I know the right questions to ask. I will ensure we stay on track for withdrawal from these ill-conceived and mismanaged wars.

3. How would you describe yourself ideologically – “progressive,” “conservative,” “moderate,” “liberal,” or something else?
I am a Democrat. Period. Democrats believe in social justice and economic progress. These are not separate ideals; they are equal sides of the same coin. Social justice means equal opportunity, which ignites competition and creativity, which fuels economic growth, which underwrites social justice. Democrats understand that social justice and economic progress work together to fuel the American Dream. That’s why I’m a Democrat.

4. Who is your favorite Virginia politician and why?
Linwood Holton. Governor of Virginia in the early 1970s. He led our state during turbulent times with courage and vision. He stepped up to forced busing by sending his own children to Richmond’s public schools. His kids turned out pretty well: one is an accomplished historian and author; the other is an accomplished lawyer and judge, and former First Lady of Virginia. Governor Holton led the way on education (he created the Virginia Governor’s Schools Program), the environment, and healthcare. He was the ultimate bi-partisan leader, working with both parties to create Virginia’s future. It may surprise some people to learn that Governor Holton was a Republican. He combined fiscal prudence with social responsibility. Almost 40 years after he left elective office, his endorsements of President Obama and other leading Democrats still carry great weight in Virginia. We should all embody the guts and vision of Governor Linwood Holton

5. Arguably, the biggest debate politically this year in the United States has been over health reform. If you were in Congress right now, how would you vote on: a) a robust public option; b) allowing public funds to be used to provide abortion coverage; c) allowing undocumented immigrants to buy health insurance (with their own money) on the proposed insurance “exchanges;” and d) a surcharge on wealthy Americans in order to pay for this bill?
Real healthcare reform should expand coverage, protect people with pre-existing conditions, and lower costs immediately for small businesses and the self-employed. It should also lower overall healthcare costs for the Nation – but any mechanisms to do this will be untested. It will take lots of work to make sure savings come to pass. As Senator Warner said, no bill will be perfect the first time out. Healthcare will be a continual issue for years to come. In my view, never let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Congress should get a good bill through the system and then focus on implementation.

A) I would support a bill in Congress that has a robust public option because it expands coverage and controls costs.
B) If faced with the choice of passing comprehensive healthcare reform with the prohibition against public funding for abortions, or not passing healthcare at all, I would vote to pass healthcare reform. If forced to make this choice, I would work tirelessly to publicize the private money available for women who need abortions but don’t have the means to cover the procedure.
C) I support allowing undocumented immigrants to buy health insurance with their own money.
D) How we fund government today is completely out of whack. The tax burden carried by the wealthy in our country does not reflect economic reality. Their contributions to all government programs, not just healthcare, fall short.

6. With regard to another top issue – energy and the environment - if you were in Congress right now, how would you vote on: a) a revenue-neutral carbon tax; b) a strong cap-and-trade bill; c) aggressive mandatory renewable energy standards; d) sharply increasing energy efficiency standards for vehicles, appliances, etc.; e) oil drilling off Virginia’s coast or other environmentally sensitive areas (e.g., ANWR); and f) mountaintop removal coal mining.
A) A carbon tax is essential to combating climate change. The only way industry polluters are ever going to agree to meaningful reform is if it becomes more costly to operate under the status quo than to make a meaningful push towards energy efficiency and renewable energy. A carbon tax, while not being the answer to stemming climate change, is an important first step. It is vital that this carbon tax be revenue neutral. It protects our most vulnerable citizens and kicks the legs out from under those who yell and scream about a carbon tax being another new tax.

B) Corporate executives do what they are incentivized to do. If we want corporate energy users to decrease their carbon emissions (and we do) then we must give them positive and negatives incentives – or they won’t change their behavior. We need carrots and sticks; rewards and punishments. Cap-and-Trade is a positive incentive that rewards corporations for doing the right thing. It is a long term solution, not a quick fix. Cap-and-Trade can’t be our only solution but it is part of the overall solution. Cap-and-Trade worked to reduce acid rain emissions; it deserves an opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions.

C) I support aggressive mandatory renewable energy standards. They force industry to invest time and money into researching things like solar energy and wind energy. More than half of all states in the US have such a standard to varying degrees. Virginia’s is currently voluntary and far too low. I would encourage the Governor and the State Legislature to join those states that have mandatory standards, and to increase our standard (although Governor McDonnell may be too busy yelling “Drill Baby Drill!” to listen).

D) I support increasing energy efficiency standards for vehicles and appliances. There is a huge misnomer that increasing standards will cause prices to skyrocket. This is simply not true. In fact, when America’s engineers build affordable, fuel-efficient cars we will regain global leadership in the car industry. That is a goal worth investing in.

E) I will never support drilling off of Virginia’s coast. In a way solving our energy problem is a lot like solving our transportation problem. People suggest the same flawed solutions over and over again and then are shocked when the problems persist. Drilling off the coast of Virginia is not going to solve our energy problem. We need new vision. Fortunately the path has already been laid out, and that path is renewable energy.
F) This question is easy to answer. I like our mountains. I especially like mountains with tops. I do not support mountaintop removal for coal mining.

7. In 2006, Jim Webb talked about America dividing into “three pieces,” with the “rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and the middle class getting squeezed.” If you are elected to Congress, what will you do about this situation?
The way we fund government is out of whack. We shifted the tax burden to the middle class, to people who get W-2s. We gave big tax breaks to the most wealthy with the “hope” that trickle-down economics would lift everyone up. It didn’t work out that way. Under current laws, wealthy Americans now pay a smaller percentage of their income and capital gains than the middle class. This is not acceptable. To fix Senator Webb’s “squeeze,” we need to tax the rich at the same rate as the middle class.

But that won’t be enough. We also need to start treating the middle class like they matter. We need to provide the same health care premiums to small businesses and the self-employed that big corporations are getting. We need to provide individuals with the same bankruptcy protection that big corporations get.

Our philosophy for who government helps first and how we fund government needs to change.

8. Education is crucial to our nation’s future, yet there are indications we are falling further and further behind to rising nations like China and India every year that goes by. What would you do to reverse this trend and ensure that America remains the best educated nation in the world?
My mother was a teacher. I understand many of the challenges educational professionals face every day.

We need to stop blaming teachers for shortfalls in our public schools. We have loaded more and more requirements onto our education system. Our teachers are on the front lines. We expect them to do more with less every day.

Two current initiatives to improve education have particular appeal to me.

First, I support accountability. Set goals for students and teachers, measure attainment of those goals, and then reward and adjust accordingly. However, in our fast-moving information age, our measures must change over time. We can’t expect today’s standards to always prepare our students for their emerging future. We must also ensure we assess teacher performance using apples-to-apples comparisons (such as Secretary Duncan’s growth model).

Second, our national system of education must support a lifetime of learning. The concept that we can complete our education in our late teens or early twenties and then embark on a single career is obsolete. Americans must have the opportunity to continually go back to school – not just for training (to do a new task) but also for education (to understand the ever changing professional environment). Community colleges are key to filling this need. They demand immediate attention.

9. On GLBT issues, where do you stand on: 1) repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” 2) allowing gays and lesbians to marry; 3) “hate crimes” legislation?
1) I fully support the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and applaud President Obama’s decision to repeal it. I stand beside the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, plus more than a hundred retired generals and admirals, in calling for an end to this policy. It undercuts military readiness by shunning individuals who volunteer to serve our Nation.

2) For millennia couples have used the bond of marriage to deepen their love and help them through tough times. The value of this bond speaks to all humans; it is not and should not be exclusively heterosexual. How two adults love each other and decide to express that love should not be the business of the government. Should the issue come up in Congress, I will always support marriage equality. As the Congressman in the 10th District, I will argue for repeal of the abhorrent Marshall-Newman Amendment.

3) I support federal hate crimes legislation. I would have supported the Matthew Shepard Act, and I am glad that we broadened the stroke of federal hate crimes law to include crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. I applaud the 11% increase in funding for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to help implement this law. In Congress, I will monitor funding and ensure that all parties have the resources they need to investigate and prosecute heinous crimes of all types.

10. Finally, given that you have a Democratic opponent, why should voters – whether in a primary or a convention – support you as opposed to the other Democrat in the race?
If Massachusetts can elect a Republican senator, the 10th District of Virginia can elect a Democratic Congressman. President Obama carried the 10th. So did Senators Webb and Warner and Governor Kaine. So will Congressman Barnett. We can win in November – and I’m the guy to do it. Three reasons.
First, I am electable. My background, professional experience, and ideas will appeal to the coalition of Democrats, Independents and moderate Republicans we need to win in November.

Second, I am focused. Virginians want us to soften the blow of the housing crisis and make sure it never happens again. They want their government to ignite job growth, lead a new consensus on transportation, and make sure we stick to timelines for getting out of our mismanaged wars. These are the things our people have wanted years. Our incumbent congressman hasn’t delivered. I will.

Finally, I champion and articulate core Democratic values. I understand that our party’s commitment to social justice and economic growth are not separate themes – as I mentioned before, they are twin sides of the same coin. Each fuels the other. Both are necessary to achieve the American Dream. Both are necessary to build freedom, prosperity and security for America. We must never apologize for our Party’s commitment to social values – they make America great.