byrnesmall.jpg(Please welcome my neighbor, Leslie Byrne, who is running for the House seat Tom Davis vacated. She was recently endorsed by our other neighbor, Jim Webb. The dogs are holding a $5 fundraiser in the comments — jh)

A month or so ago Jane called me and asked me what I knew about the race to replace her congressman, retiring rubber stamp Republican Tom Davis in VA-11. I had read some stuff on the Virginia blogs and knew it was a crowded Democratic field but I didn’t have a clear idea of how it was coming down. She had just had lunch with one of the candidates, Leslie Byrne, and Jane had a very clear idea. She asked me to look into the race and talk with Leslie and it didn’t take more than a few minutes to see why Jane was so excited. Leslie is the newest progressive candidate to be endorsed by Blue America and we’re proud to welcome her for her first official visit to FDL today.

Aside from being Jane’s future congresswoman, there is something else different about Leslie and all of the other candidates we have endorsed. She already was a member of Congress– in 1992– and she is starting with an incredible wealth of knowledge about how Congress works and how to get things done. And getting things done is why she wants to run again.

Leslie isn’t shy about admitting she has a point of view. Since she’s already been in Congress, if she’s elected in November she goes in as a sophomore, not a freshman and gets her choice of committees. I asked her what it is, specifically, she wants to accomplish.

I had served on the Transportation Committee and that is a very big deal in Northern Virginia where our infrastructure is at a complete standstill. Around the country– whether it’s roads, rail, airports, the bridges that are falling down– we need to have a massive infrastructure investment. And that ties in to what I believe we’ve got to do in the long run for the economy and that is to get people into good-paying jobs. We can use that infrastructure investment to create those jobs. That’s a very specific thing that I want to do. On a greater scale the thing that propels me is the idea of social and economic justice. That’s why I got into politics– the idea that government should treat people with fairness and dignity and respect. That is my touchstone; everything about government should be viewed through that prism.

By now you’re probably catching on to why Jane and I have gotten so excited about Leslie’s candidacy. Before she can get to Washington, though, she has a primary on June 10 and then a multimillionaire self-funding wing-nut to beat in November. The district is perfect for a red to blue switch, which has a lot to do with why Tom Davis decided to retire, something Leslie has mixed emotions about. “He won the seat by wrapping Bill Clinton around my neck and I was kind of hoping to return the favor this year… but he left town before I could.” Back in 1994, the year Gingrich led his counter-revolution which caused a 54-seat swing from Democrats to Republicans, giving the GOP a majority in the House for the first time since 1954, VA-11 had a 48% Democratic performance. It was redistricted in 2001 to make it more Republican but the demographic tide is not on the side of the right-wing in Northern Virginia and the district went for Mark Warner for governor, Tim Kaine for governor, and Jim Webb for senator. Most important, though, the district went for Leslie by a healthy 55% when she ran for Lt. Governor in 2005.

Leslie has 3 opponents in the primary. She’s polling in the lead but her main rival, a Fairfax County Supervisor named Gerry Connolly is a Blue Dog/DLC-type “business Democrat,” a darling of the Chamber of Commerce and an acceptable substitute for a Republican. He’s good at one thing, raking in large sums of money… the old fashioned way– don’t look for him on ActBlue; he’s not there. Local bloggers have told me he uses his position as a Supervisor to raise money for his congressional campaign. Fortunately, Leslie knows how to do primaries. “My race for Lt Governor was also a 4-way primary and I won that with 49.3% of the vote.”

When I asked her what the top issue in the primary is, she didn’t hesitate to say it’s Iraq. “Democratic primary voters know,” she told me, “that in order to accomplish anything, we’ve got to start getting our troops home. It’s hard to address the economy, health care, education, transportation infrastructure– all the things the district cares about– when there’s no money and we’re building roads and schools in Iraq and can’t build them here The 11th district has the highest household income of any congressional district in the country [medium income is over $83,000] and even in a district like this, the economy is starting to really hurt people. I meet people who tell me it’s a good thing we’re producing these jobs because they have 3 of them! Most of the households here are two-income families.” The Republicans will pick their nominee in a convention but they have been unsuccessful in recruiting a first tier candidate. All the members of the state legislature and other credible candidates have said “thanks but no thanks.” So they wound up with a vanity candidate, like so many GOP challengers this year– a self- financing businessman named Keith Fimian, a big supporter of Rick Santorum and a member of an offshoot of Opus Dei called Legatus. It was founded by the Domino’s Pizza guy, Tom Monaghan, for Catholic CEOs worth more than $10 million. (Same guy who is trying to build an all Catholic town, Ave Maria, in Florida where no contraceptives will be sold). Fimian claims God told him to run but God asked him to wait to see what Tom Davis did. (Even some of the local wingnut sites don’t like him… but he’s raised over $700,000, half of it from himself.) “I don’t think he’s a good match for the district,” said Leslie, “but in no one’s imagination is it going to be a cakewalk.”

Still, 2008 is not shaping up to be a good year to run as a Republican.

“It’s my personal belief that we’re going to have more bad economic news for the next several months and the economy will become more of a factor in the general election. [The next day, the NY Times reported that "the worst fears of consumers, investors and Washington officials were confirmed on Friday, as deepening paralysis on Wall Street collided with stark new evidence of falling employment and a likely recession. In a report that was far worse than most analysts had expected, the Labor Department estimated that the nation had lost 63,000 jobs in February. It was the second consecutive monthly decline, and third straight drop for private-sector jobs."] Here in Fairfax County we now have 4,000 homes in foreclosure as of last September. Foreclosures are coming in so fast they can’t keep up the data. And in Prince William County you can see entire blocks where houses are either in foreclosure or where people are trying to short-sell to get out of their mortgages… We’ve had housing slumps before– there was a small one in the early 90s– and in certain areas of the country there have been real estate slumps but never anything as widespread or as systematic as this has been.”

I believe very strongly– and this comes from my experience as the nation’s Consumer Advocate– that in Bush’s systematic attempt to destroy consumer protection in this country, which includes almost all of the federal regulatory agencies, the Federal government has turned a blind eye to what has happened in the subprime mortgage lending arena. Figuring out how you save people’s homes without propping up the corrupt and fraudulent loans that were made is an important issue for me– how you help people and not a corrupted, paper-churning system… If we don’t put the regulatory infrastructure back we’re just setting ourselves up for another fall down the road; this constant bail ‘em out and make ‘em whole for these big corporations and not doing anything to straighten out bad practices, you just have to bail them out again a few years later. The regulatory agencies, which have been dismantled, have to be put back together again… I think you’re seeing something that even the corporate Democrats can’t deny: a public outcry… between the biggest beef recall in history, to parents being afraid to buy toys for their kids for Christmas because of safety issues… I mean there were toys with lead based paint and toys with paint that turns into a date rape drug! Even the most cavalier Democrat or Republican can’t ignore those kinds of things from their constituents. It’s an issue that’s hard to sweep under the rug. I can tell you that I’ll be a voice for change.”

Let’s help Leslie get to Washington to she can be a voice of change– for Jane, for Kobe, for all of us. Even $5 and $10 contributions add up and have helped us collect nearly a million dollars for our candidates since we started. Leslie is our newest addition to our Blue America page. Don’t make Jane suffer through the indignity of have a Representative who works for special interests instead of people’s interests.