Vanke fights Capitol Hill convention

A question for Jeff Vanke. You’re an independent candidate for Congress. Let’s say you’re elected. Who do you caucus with?

The answer will surprise you.

“I wouldn’t caucus with either party. I would have a vote on the House floor,” said Vanke, a self-described “independent centrist” from Roanoke who is challenging Republican incumbent Bob Goodlatte for the Sixth Distict seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A third candidate in the race is Libertarian Stuart Bain. The Democratic Party is not fielding a candidate in the Sixth after Sam Rasoul ran head-to-head against Goodlatte in 2008 and received just 36 percent of the vote in the two-way contest.

Vanke’s move to say that he wouldn’t caucus with either party if elected is, by his own admission, “a unique situation.”

“But the party system isn’t in the Constitution,” Vanke said. “I’m sure an independent in Congress can work out a fair set of committee assignments appropriate for a freshman. They can’t run a duopoly to the point where somebody comes in and says, I don’t want to be in your clubs, they can just shut you out.”

Vanke has made fixing the federal budget the centerpiece of his campaign. Goodlatte, at first glance, would seem to have as a conservative Republican some political insulation on budget issues, but Vanke points out the congressman’s support for big-business and agribusiness subsidies and his votes for deficit budgets under President George W. Bush that added trillions of dollars to the national debt.

The disenchantment with Washington reflected in recent polling numbers from Public Policy Polling that have both parties facing voter-disapproval ratings approaching 60 percent is something that Vanke is hoping to be able to capitalize on in the 2010 election in the Sixth.

“The system is broken,” Vanke said. “What can we do about it? That’s what we’re trying to do with this movement. We understand that we’re in it for the long haul.”

Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at


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