In November, Democrats and progressives in my neck of the woods will have a strong alternative to the 6th District's perennial Republican representative Howard Coble, who will be seeking his 12th term in the US House. Rory Blake made some time in his busy schedule to provide thoughtful answers to questions on the issues and politics that will pave the way to November:
BlueNC: What led you to decide to run for Congress?
Rory Blake: I have the uniquely valuable experience – I ran for Congress before, in District 9 – and still wanted to make a difference in the lives of people, after I’d retired as a community pharmacist. At the end of last year, Laura and I looked at land in northern Moore County for our retirement home. Laura is originally from High Point so our ties to the Piedmont are strong. We both wanted to live here. An elected democratic official heard I was potentially moving to the Sixth District, and began encouraging me to run for Congress. Although I think I would be good at retirement, I still want to make a difference in people’s lives. Now is definitely an important time that we all should try to make a difference. We certainly need change, and I will do what I can.
BNC: What are your key policy concerns? What is your agenda?
RB: My main concern is that actions in Washington have caused us to lose our “sense of community.” In its truest sense, the word “us” no longer applies to us. The current “us vs. them” approach to government just isn’t addressing the problems our nation faces. I mean, we’re all Americans. We face the same problems. We need to face them together. That’s what’s always made our nation great. And working together as a community will once again make us great. What problems?
Well, there are almost as many campaign issues as there are people in the Sixth District, but I’m going to narrow the list down to three for now:
- Jobs and Economic Development. Let’s face it: if you don’t have a job, you can’t support your family. If you don’t have a job, you can’t afford healthcare. If you don’t have a job, if you have nothing to loose, you’re far more likely to commit a crime. Jobs are the number one priority for the Sixth District. We’ve lost far too many jobs in recent years. We must focus on developing our economy and creating the high paying jobs that will allow us to support our families. I believe our government needs to focus on business development, particularly small business development. The potential of our people to do great things is there. We need to offer incentives to small business to develop the technologies of tomorrow. We need to train and retrain our workers for the better paying jobs. We need to assure small business access to technology, telecommunications and energy resources. And we need to make it easier for our small businesses to compete for government contracts and be able to compete in all areas.
- Homeland Security. As you know, The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for immigration, for responding to national disasters, and for protecting the homeland from terrorists. I don’t think they’ve done a very good job at handling immigration; they certainly didn’t do a very good job at responding to Hurricane Katrina; and, fortunately, we haven’t really been tested again by terrorists. I believe we need a sound immigration policy. We need to assure our citizens that they can count on their government to help them in a time of need, be it a national, regional, or local disaster. We need to plan ahead. We must make sure that other potential targets, in addition to our airports, are safe from a terrorist attack.
- The Deficit and the National Debt. When we elected the current Republican Administration, they promised us a “smaller government” that was to be more “fiscally responsible.” What we got was a much bigger government, incompetent government, and a more wasteful government. The national debt is a disgrace. We exchanged a budget surplus for a record budget deficit. We’ve cut taxes in a time of war. We’re offering tax breaks to the oil industry at a time when they’re reporting record profits. We sold the process for writing the laws and regulations establishing Medicare’s prescription benefit to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. We’ve spent billions and billions of dollars to reconstruct Iraq and yet little progress is evident on the ground. We argue over spending millions of dollars in relief for our own victims of Hurricane Katrina. Yes, and little progress is being made there, as well. We’re debating the making of “tax cuts for the wealthy” permanent at a time when more and more of our citizens are falling into poverty. This is crazy. This is not our America. We must reclaim our government and reestablish our priorities.
BNC: Has Congress let us down on security? If so, how, and what remedial steps are required?
RB: How secure do you feel? If you just wanted to feel secure, where would go? You would go to the airport, of course. We’ve developed a whole national program to secure our airports under the banner, “Homeland Security.” This makes a great public relations tool, as in: “You want security, we’ll show you security!” But does that mean our nation is secure? Who manages our ports? Who watches our nuclear facilities? Who protects our children when we send them off to school in the morning? Who keeps the Mississippi River out of New Orleans? Good questions! But, more importantly, fiscal responsibility would assure that no foreign holder of our debt could claim sovereignty over any of our mutual assets. A sound energy policy would insure we not be held hostage for oil. A national health program would go a long way towards preventing the untold loss of life predicted in a worldwide pandemic of avian flu. Homeland security is the number one responsibility of our national government. This Congress has not done its job. We can do better – and we will.
BNC: From a 6th District perspective, what should Congress's trade priorities be?
RB: As I’ve said before, Congress’s primary trade priority needs to be reducing the national debt. The creativity of our workers and the flexibility of our industry can compete favorably with the best in the world. We must reduce our dependence on borrowing and debt in order to better negotiate favorable trade agreements. One problem with deficit spending is that we increasingly lose what leverage we had. The deeper we go into debt, the more dependent we are upon countries like China to continue to finance that debt. How can we realistically gain concessions from China when they hold the keys to the bank? Another example is our relationship with the Middle East. How do we negotiate from strength with the oil producing nations when we so desperately need their oil? Dependency is not strength. Another major problem with America’s trade policy is that our health care system has been turned over to third parties. Ever escalating health care costs becomes a form of “hidden tax” on America’s productivity. The final problem with our trade policy is the failure to account for the total and true costs of the transaction. Too often, environmental costs are simply “not factored into the equation” on one side or the other of our trade policy. Congress should enact a sound energy and environmental policy which should include some form of “carbon tax.” When it comes to trade, Congress’s priority needs to be returning America to a position of strength when we sit down at the negotiating table.
BNC: When you spoke at the Alamance County Democratic Convention, you placed a strong emphasis on family. Can you describe the challenges you see facing families? How can Congress help to strengthen and support families?
RB: My emphasis on family is one that I simply cannot avoid. I’ve been happily married for almost 25 years. My wife Laura and I have raised two wonderful children, Ashley and William. I know what it means to raise a family. I know what it means to be able to support a family. I truly believe the family is the foundation of our American society. If you work a full-time job – or even more commonly, several part-time jobs – you deserve to earn a living wage. You deserve to be able to support your family. You would also like to provide your family with health care, to give your children a good education. Republicans in Congress have been refusing to raise the minimum wage since it was last raised eight years ago. That’s not acceptable. Healthcare costs are forcing more and more of our people to live without medical care and forcing more and more families into poverty. When Mama is sick, someone must stay home to care for her. Often missing the one salary or even missing one or two paychecks is enough to put a family permanently behind. That’s not acceptable. Under the Republicans, the number of billionaires is up, but so is the number of children living in poverty. Although I’m aware of the sloganeering, I like the concept of, “No Child Left Behind.” However, I believe that we cannot commit to “No Child Left Behind” unless we also commit to “No Family Left Behind.” We must first foster economic development so parents can find productive work. We must begin raising the minimum wage. We must implement true healthcare reform. We must begin properly funding public education on all levels: primary, secondary, college, and also importantly, adult education.
BNC: Immigration is a hot topic as Congress tries to work out the right mix of border enforcement, interior enforcement, and pathways to citizenship. What policies and procedures will provide the best results for the 6th District?
RB: Immigration is a challenge:
First, what do we do short term? We have 11-12 million people in our country illegally. What do we do? Kick them out? Just grant them all citizenship? I don’t think so. I think the legislation recently before the Senate is mostly on the right track, way more so than the piece of work passed by the House. Illegals are just that: illegal. However, let’s look at the “crimes” committed and under what circumstances. There are also “other” considerations. How long have the illegal immigrants been here? Are they serious about being good citizens? Are they productive? Do they have important skills? Speak English? Then let’s work on a reasonable approach. Will they pay back taxes, learn English, work for citizenship? We need to review the entire immigration process – a new immigration process, not the old one. Walling off America will not work: a wall didn’t work in Berlin; and it won’t work in Texas.
What are our long term goals? American policies such as NAFTA may be responsible for the worsening of poverty in Mexico and increasing the exodus of Mexican workers. We may need to be more realistic in establishing immigration quotas. If we can reasonably accept 12 million illegal immigrants, we might be able to accept more legal immigrants. We must remain focused on crime and the security of our borders. However, there are minor misdemeanor crimes and misdemeanor crimes as well as felonies. Identity theft should always be treated as a felony. That said, many of the illegal workers in this country aren’t undocumented workers: they may have documents and many of these documents may just happen to be forgeries. We need to look at strengthening federal laws against the forging of documents and to provide increasing penalties for possession and trafficking in forged documents. I think it’s time we faced some unpleasant realities. We indeed have a national ID: the Social Security card. We need to begin treating it as we should, as a national ID. We need to design a Social Security card that can’t be reproduced at Kinko’s. We need a system in which employers can verify documentation and a person’s right to work in this country. And finally, we must make illegal immigration not a virtual certainty, but an increasingly unlikely option by helping our neighbors to the South develop their economies.
BNC: If you were in Congress, would you support a bill to censure George Bush? To impeach?
RB: Great question! Clearly if sufficient grounds for impeachment are established, Congress would have to consider the evidence. However, what we desperately need in Washington right now is change: a change of direction, a change of priorities. As things stand now, President Bush has three more years. We all know that we cannot possibly wait until his term is up to begin to work on the problems currently facing our nation. Censure doesn’t necessarily mean that anything will change. Impeachment, at this moment and knowing what I currently know, would waste precious time needed to begin to turn our county around. We could, with great cost and effort, replace President Bush, but I’m not so sure that even that change would be for the better. Our best bet is to change Congress. Changing Congress can only happen one seat at a time. That’s why I’m running – to make a change – and I believe the voters of the Sixth District want that change. Electing a great Democratic majority this fall should send a clear message, to even the dimmest bulb, that Americans want us to work together to change the direction in which the country is headed.
BNC: What's it going to take to beat Howard Coble in November?
RB: "Voters becoming increasingly involved in the process" is the short answer. "Hard work and money" is the long answer. This election will not be won by me: it will be won by us. We can make a difference – if we work hard and we work together. We offer the people of the Sixth District a new day, a different approach in Congress, a better tomorrow. As a family man, more than anything, I want to leave my children a nation they can be proud of. I want to leave them a nation free and strong, a nation prosperous and safe, a nation respected by a world at peace. I know the people of the Sixth District want the same things for their children and grandchildren. This year, we can send a message to Washington, a message that America must once again prosper, that America must once again be safe, that America must once again be respected around the world.
Join with me. Let’s make America, America again.