Rasoul wants to ‘redefine politics’ in Sixth
Story by Chris Graham
He barely has to shave, and he wants to be your congressman.
“In all honesty, it’s a shock at first,” said Sam Rasoul, 26, of Blue Ridge, who has been running hard for the past year for the Democratic Party nomination to challenge incumbent Republican Bob Goodlatte for the Sixth District seat in the United States Congress.
The usual first response – “Wow, you’re a young guy running for Congress.”
“And then I tell them, I’m running for Congress because I am young, because I have more invested in the future than the people that are sitting up there right now,” Rasoul said in an interview for today’s “Augusta Free Press Show,” recorded last week in between campaign stops in Staunton.
“That makes a whole lot of sense to people – at least enough sense to say, OK, what are your thoughts on these issues? We can have an educated conversation about a variety of issues – and usually by the end, they appreciate my candid nature, even though we may not have agreed on all the issues,” Rasoul said.
The issues are manifold. I talked with Rasoul about three things in-depth, and well go into detail on two of them here in this story – the war in Iraq and the economy.
(To hear Rasoul offer his thoughts on health care, listen to our podcast – which you can access above.)
“The surge has worked to diminish the amount of debts – I think largely due in large part to the great work of our soldiers, and partially, from what I understand, because the Iraqi people are starting to get sick and tired of killing each other. But the reality is that the whole point of the surge was to give us more time for political reconciliation, and they’re seeing a little bit of that, but largely it’s gone empty,” Rasoul said, speaking about the current political and military situation in Iraq.
Rasoul advocates a third way as far as U.S. policy should be concerned – a strong middle ground between immediate withdrawal and eternal occupation.
“We have to begin a withdrawal out of Iraq, and I believe that it has to be a phased withdrawal,” Rasoul said. “The people who say that we need a withdrawal from Iraq right away unfortunately are wrong, because we logistically cannot do that. It would take us a full year to actually physically move our troops out of Iraq. So the reality is that I believe that over the next 18 to 24 months, we need to begin a phased withdrawal coming out of Iraq and telling the politicians, Look, this is your country, you need to start coming up with some compromises that work for the people. And pressuring them – putting some political pressure on them to come up with some real solutions that really help.”
Rasoul is more focused on the economic issue – “that’s what’s more important to the voters of the Sixth District,” he said. And his focus is less on the short-term aspects of economic stimulus than it is on the long term and economic fairness.
“If you listen to the promises that I make, they’re talking about an America decades from now. I try to avoid making promises for the short term, because our problems that we have in our republic are far-reaching. And there’s no way that an individual who is seeking a seat that is two years can make good promises to you and be able to keep them,” Rasoul said.
“I think that with the abuses of the Constitution, the damage done to the value of our dollar, the doubling of our debt over the past seven years or so, these are fundamental problems that unfortunately are dwindling the fabric of our republic. And what we’ve done is we’ve created a stimulus package that is borrowing money from China so that most people will take that money and buy clothes from China.
“But you know what, you’re going to get those checks in the summer, and the people in Congress are going to be campaigning this summer, and they’re going to be able to say, You know what, I just sent you a check, or I just funded this program to try to stimulate the economy, I’m doing a good job, please vote for me. All they did with the stimulus package – the Democrats and the Republicans came together on this – is to try to get themselves re-elected, in my opinion. Because it will do very, very little – and if it does anything, it does something in the very short term,” Rasoul said.
The fairness issue, to Rasoul, “is a symptom of the greater problem of the corruption that has gotten out of control with the lobbyists and special interests using their fund-raising dollars to get people elected.”
“Today we don’t elect leaders or statesmen; we elect the best fund-raisers. And we will never be able to have any real progress on that front when it comes to economic fairness until we pull these lobbyists out. The lobbyists and special interests – the vast majority of people that they represent are people that make up the upper echelon of society. So that leaves the middle class and working people behind – because they don’t have a fair voice,” Rasoul said.
“If we can take money out of the equation, for example, with complete, real, campaign-finance reform, with these federal elections. Having real term limits, not just making empty promises about them – that way we don’t have power just building up, and have these career congressmen. Making government more transparent with competitive bidding – the reason why is these contractors who have buddies in the government, and they go and get these contracts that make them extremely wealthy. It’s an abuse of our federal taxpayer dollars – because we are not accounting for those monies correctly.
“When we have a more balanced government, that gives a voice back to the American people – and that means that the American middle class, which makes up the largest chunk, will have more say-so. Their voice will actually be parallel in the legislature,” Rasoul said.
Now to the selling of the message …
Rasoul acknowledges that the battle that he is waging is of the uphill variety. Goodlatte would be running for a ninth term representing the Sixth District in Congress – and he hasn’t even had a major-party opponent since 1998.
And the Sixth is a tough district geographically for a challenger trying to make inroads – stretching from Harrisonburg to Roanoke and snaking across the mountains to include Lynchburg.
“We feel as though because the area is so large that the Sixth Congressional District covers that it is important to understand that there are varying constituencies. And we want to make sure first and foremost that we are readily available to people in all corners of the district, but secondly be able to give a voice to all of the different constituency bases. That’s very, very important to me,” Rasoul said.
Running as a Democrat in a district that has a reputation for going strong on the GOP side has Rasoul’s attention as well. Of note here is that Rasoul grew up Republican and now considers himself a Mark Warner Democrat in the style of the former governor and 2008 U.S. Senate candidate.
“For me, I think that Mark Warner redefined what it is to be a Democrat in Virginia. I’m proud to be a Virginia Democrat, because the difference being that we understand that we have obligations as a government, but we need to be fiscally responsible about it. That’s why Mark Warner turned Virginia into the best-managed state in the nation. And that’s the type of responsibility that I believe in,” Rasoul said.
“As a small-business owner myself, who grew up in the area, I understand that we can’t just throw empty rhetoric around and not have a plan to back it up. And not only do we need a plan, but we need a way to be able to finance that plan in a responsible manner,” Rasoul said.
“What we’re trying to do is redefine politics as a whole. We’re trying to reach out and work together. It’s very difficult to find a conversation that Mark Warner has where he’s not talking about bringing Democrats and Republicans and independents all together to work on a solution. And that’s really my frame of reference. That’s the way I am.
“I’m proud to call myself a Virginia Democrat because I think we understand that we have obligations, but we want to do it in a responsible manner. And I think in the end, that’s what people are looking for,” Rasoul said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.