My choice in the Sixth District: Jennifer Lewis

Jennifer LewisOK, at first glance, I get it. Jennifer Lewis? For Congress? Who is she, what has she done?

Her opponent, Republican Ben Cline, you know what you get with him. Cline has been a member of the Virginia House of Delegates since 2002. He cut his teeth in politics as a staffer for the current Sixth District congressman, Bob Goodlatte.

He knows his way around Capitol Hill, and he learned a lot about how to get things done in his years representing the Valley and Central Virginia in Richmond.

This Jennifer Lewis, though, again, what has she done? Her campaign website tells us, vaguely, that she is a mental-health worker.

Her government experience is as an elected member of the Headwaters Soil and Water Board, which, OK, I’ve been a government and politics reporter and columnist for more than 20 years, and I have no idea what that means, so you’re forgiven for not knowing, either.

We also learn from her website that she’s a community advocate, again, pretty vague.

You should look at voting for candidates for elected office like you’re hiring somebody for a job, because in actuality, that is exactly what you’re doing.

It’s not a popularity contest, not us vs. them tribalism.

People talk about voting for the candidate, not the party, about voting the issues, but you need to consider as well how the person you want to vote for can deliver on what they promise.

What you get with Ben Cline

So, let’s look first at Ben Cline. I’d presume that he can deliver what he promises, based on his track record of working as a Capitol Hill staffer and his years in Richmond.

Next, then, what will he deliver, since we can rest assured that he will? This is where you need to have some concerns with Ben Cline.

Ben Cline is going to be a rubber-stamp for the Trump agenda, quite obviously.

What that means for you as a Sixth District voter: well, if you’re doing well right now, he’s going to make sure you continue to do well.

If you have a healthcare plan that you can actually use, for instance, you will continue to do well with the continuation of the status quo that Ben Cline will fight for.

But if you don’t have health insurance, or if you have a plan that costs you $1,000 a month with a $10,000 annual deductible, which basically means, you’re paying through the teeth for something  you can’t use, mainly to protect yourself from something catastrophic that, when push comes to shove, won’t even do that, well, Ben Cline wants to maintain what we have now, for now, before we roll back even the minimal improvements to the healthcare system made under the Affordable Care Act.

Same for you job-wise. If you have a job that pays your bills, pays for good health coverage, lets you enjoy life, Ben Cline is a safe choice for you.

But if you’re struggling to make ends meet, well, those Trump policies that Cline is going to rubber-stamp aren’t going to do you much good.

You’re not going to benefit from those Trump tax cuts, for starters. We know from the Reagan trickle-down economy of the 1980s that tax cuts don’t really trickle down from the 1% to the rest of us.

The trade wars that the president has started and is insistent on perpetuating, and will continue with the help of the Ben Clines of the political world, don’t help farmers, don’t help people working in factories, don’t help you if you’re in business for yourself, don’t help retirees who have money in the stock market, which has been on a roller coaster of late, for not coincidental reasons.

If your kids are in private school, again, go Ben Cline, who will rubber-stamp Trump initiatives to take money from public schools to fund private-school educations, which you don’t need help with, but hey, if somebody’s offering money to you to do something you’re already doing anyway, you take it, of course.

But if your kids are in public school, and you’re hoping they get the kind of education that gives them the chance to do better than you’re doing, which is every parent’s dream, well, that Ben Cline rubber-stamp for Trump doesn’t do you any good, does it?

Your kids will have to learn in an environment where teachers and administrators have to do more with less.

To get themselves ready for jobs that, let’s be honest, do you have any idea what the Trump administration’s ideas are on bringing economic prosperity to the heartland are?

And no, #jobsnotmobs doesn’t qualify as a policy idea.

What you get with Jennifer Lewis

Now, flip the page over to Jennifer Lewis. When I began breaking down Ben Cline, I asked the question, can we presume that he can deliver on what he promises, and I answered, yes.

What about with Jennifer Lewis?

To be fair, we don’t have much of a track record to go on with her, in terms of her ability to deliver. Were she to win, and, honesty being the best policy, it’s a long, long, long shot, in the Sixth District, but assume for a second that she does, she’d be seated in a majority Democratic House, but as a most junior member, without a background in the political art of wheeling and dealing that you’d be best advised to have, or at least develop quickly, to be able to get things done for your folks back home.

So, then, let’s look next at what she’s promising. Looking at the Policy page on her website, healthcare is the first highlighted item, and she’s right on that issue, noting her support for the Medicare for All Act that would establish a national healthcare system, which we know guarantees, as it says, healthcare coverage for all, and saves us as a nation $1.7 trillion a year in terms of what we spend on our current terribly inadequate and wholly inefficient healthcare system.

This is good, no, great news, for the bulk of you reading this who don’t have adequate healthcare coverage. And to be brutally honest, even for those of you who do, it’s good news for you, because even though you’re already good to go, it’s better for us all when we save money and deliver better healthcare outcomes on the aggregate.

Jennifer Lewis is also very much in the right on her positions on education, backing the College for All Act and measures to protect those with student loan debt and to modernize public schools.

I’m disappointed at what I see as a glaring omission in terms of jobs and economic development from her platform. Where I live, in Waynesboro, we’ve seen our economy lose thousands of manufacturing jobs over the past 30 years, with those jobs replaced primarily by jobs in the retail and restaurant sectors that pay about 60 percent of what manufacturing jobs pay.

Final analysis

Ben Cline, parroting Trump, doesn’t offer anything that moves us toward where we need to be in terms of our jobs future, either, so we’d have to call this part of the comparison a disappointing draw.

But, on the other two issues that matter most, healthcare and education, we’d have Jennifer Lewis joining with the new House Democratic majority to enact Medicare for All and Jennifer Lewis joining that new House Democratic majority to improve public schools and make college accessible for all, regardless of income.

Whereas with Ben Cline, we’d get someone voting lock-step with partisans who would perpetuate a failing healthcare system and seek to take money from public education to finance a private system that only a select few have access to.

All this having been said, Ben Cline is almost guaranteed to not only win, but win in a landslide. The Sixth District is maybe the most reliably Republican congressional district in America.

And I’ll just say, it’s not that because the Republicans deliver anything of value to voters in the Sixth, which has seen its manufacturing base erode, its small farmers lose out to big agribusiness with the explicit consent of Bob Goodlatte and other top Republicans , and its families less likely to improve its fortunes through education, economic development and access to adequate healthcare.

It’s tribalism, pure and simple, and the effect is akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face.

You have a chance on Nov. 6 to make a choice not to perpetuate politics as usual.

That choice is Jennifer Lewis.

Column by Chris Graham

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