It was a few days after his 29th birthday that I did the phone interview with an exuberant and focused Jonathan Powers, a newly declared congressional candidate for a competitive seat in Western New York, currently held by egregious rubber stamp Republican Tom Reynolds. A few upstate New York bloggers had first tipped me off to Jon last winter when he was running War Kids Relief and when I talked to him back then he was weighing the possibility of jumping into the race in his hometown against Reynolds, who had nearly lost (52-48%) last November after being exposed as a key cover-up artist in the Mark Foley scandal.
Even more than his maniacal devotion to music, Jon Powers is like the biggest booster you ever heard for Buffalo and the surrounding area. He was born and raised in NY-26 and he sounds like someone who wants to dedicate his life to seeing Buffalo come back as the thriving and vibrant regional hub it once was. The 26th actually is west of Buffalo proper– all the way to the Rochester suburbs– and has a slight Republican lean. Bush won there twice; he wouldn’t fare nearly as well today.
Three-quarters of the way through my chat with Jon, I interrupted to tell him how much he reminded me of another Blue America candidate, Illinois’ John Laesch. And it wasn’t just because they are both young veterans of the War in Iraq or even that they are dedicated progressives who were fighting in Iraq. I had asked Jon why he thought the voters would embrace him when they haven’t embraced Reynolds’ past opponents. His fervent answer could have come right out of Leasch’s mouth: “I’m embracing them.” Jon Powers thrives at the picnics and parades and small town meetings that encompass campaining in his district– and in listening to what his neighbors have to say about the way they would like America to change. “Tom Reynolds has demonstrated a blind loyalty to his party over what’s right for the country– or even over competence. That’s not the America I grew up believing in and it’s not the America I went to war for. But the America of extended family and community exists and it exists in places like western New York.”
Jon, who was an Army captain in Iraq, has a wealth of experience from his time there, but his campaign for Congress goes way beyond his frustrations with how badly mishandled the Iraq war and occupation have been. For his hometown, Clarence, and for all the small towns that make up NY-26, he believes what people crave is clear-eyed, honest leadership.
“People want to be part of the solution. The problem with the current leadership is that they haven’t asked people to become invested– not just in the war but in economic and social solutions. What made our country so great was our leaders getting everyone invested in community and solving our problems together.”
Jon has been in the spotlight of the public forum before. His was the unit profiled in the film Gunner Palace and Jon was one of the most articulate voices in Trish Woods’ gripping book What Was Asked Of Us– An Oral History of the Iraq War by the Soldiers Who Fought It. And, perhaps most important, Jon got used to the spotlight as the founder and CEO of a nonprofit organization called War Kids Relief. Their mission statement:
War Kids Relief cares for the children of war-torn nations, combating recruitment by terrorists and extremist groups through education, training, employment and other programs.
It’s brought him back to Baghdad a lot, as a different kind of warrior fighting a different kind of war. “Our military is supposed to be a tool in our national security, not the tool. From my work as a platoon leader in Baghdad and my work at War Kids Relief I learned about economic and social programs and how they are sometimes even more effective in adding to our security than the all-military approach.” Jon ran a sector of Baghdad inhabited by 50,000 people. Cheney and Rumsfeld had contemptuously rejected the 12,000 page reconstruction plan for Iraq– a bureaucratic turf war in many ways with the “do-gooders” from the State Department. Jon and his men did what they could for the area. “The relationship,” he told me, “was a good one. My men were eating in the homes of Iraqis and patrolling the streets in vehicles without doors.” It didn’t last. Eventually they were fighting the same people in the streets. Why? Jon told me the story of the piles of garbage and pools of sewage collected on the streets and how the U.S. authorities turned down a budget of $40 a week for cleanup, instead awarding a contract to Bush-friendly war profiteers, probably Halliburton subsidiary KBR, who just never showed up.
I know Jon, who describes himself as a “social liberal,” wants to talk with us today about the two most crucial issues in his district: jobs and healthcare. But before I turn it over to him, I want to ask you to join me at our Blue America page to help replace a veritable Bush clone with someone who wants nothing more than to fight for the interests of his extended family and for the country he loves. While doing my research on Jon I wound up talking with author (and blogger) Trish Woods. Greatly impressed with Jon, she generously offered to donate 10 autographed copies of her book, What Was Asked Of Us as a thank you gift to the first 10 people who contribute $30 or more towards Jon’s campaign. People who contribute $5 today will get something else– the satisfaction of knowing that I was so impressed with Jon that I will match every $5 contribution personally.