Friday, April 9, 2010

Can Voting In Non-Career Politicians Fix Broken Washington?

An Interview with MA 9th District U.S. Congressional Candidate Keith Lepor

With polls and protests reflecting the discontent with Washington, there is a growing anti-incumbent position with voters from all political parties loudly voicing it is time to “take back our country” by “voting out incumbents”. Many voters believe the vast majority of the members of Congress are no longer “of the people and for the people” with Congress ignoring their constituents expressed desire of fiscal responsibility and job creation being their top priorities. Many feel current legislation is being pushed through against their will. They see arrogant career politicians that believe they know better than those that sent them to Washington to represent them on how to spend their money and how to live their lives. Voters are worried about the creation of massive new entitlement spending and record breaking deficits especially during a recession. They are concerned about the effect this will all have on the country’s future economic stability and on the tax rates their children will have to live with throughout their lives to pay for it. They watch career politicians minimizing voters and calling them names for expressing their opposition views. Many voters feel Congress is out of control. With congressional approval ratings at an all time low, there is a loud cry for House and Senate term limits. They notice the loyalty in Washington has become to a party and political machine, not to the voters. Voters are stunned by what they see as a shaping up of two classes in America – the non-political class and the political class.

More and more voters are dissatisfied with politicians they realize have little or no private sector job experience managing large programs and trillions of dollars. They see career politicians demonizing profit, bashing American capitalism, and taking over free market industries. They watch as career politicians take over private companies and know they have no business doing this. They also realize they have little or no business experience to successfully run a company and no consequences if it’s not successful. They see career politicians minimize obvious corruption and rally around members and their party as opposed to investigating it and holding people accountable. They realize the main job creation efforts are in reality establishing a larger government that is increasing intrusion into their lives, businesses, and ability to pursue happiness as intended by our founding fathers. Voters see government printing money and career politicians raising the debt ceiling as though these are acceptable answers to more spending. They see what has amounted to over a trillion dollars in bailouts and stimulus spent with political overtones which has not solved economic problems or positively affected their lives. And many understand that seniors on social security did not receive a cost of living raise while all members of Congress received thousands in an annual raise.

Can voting in more non-career politicians fix our broken Washington? Voters are now more aware than ever of the real world value in having citizens whom have actually worked within the private sector and have paid their taxes represent them in Washington. They realize Congress might be more realistic with their money if it had more members that have balanced a budget, met a payroll, and had to make a profit to stay in business manage the government. Voters want to be represented by those whom have lived and worked among them in the real world and will live by the same laws imposed upon them by Congress. They want what the American founding fathers originally envisioned for Congressional members – citizen politicians. This is what was the intent and spirit described in “of the people, by the people, and for the people”. The founding fathers were not career politicians. They were every day citizens who returned home to their real jobs, homes, and lives after representing and serving the people of their districts and states in the Congressional session. Being a politician was not their life-long profession. Our founding fathers did not want a ruling class for America exempted from laws and programs imposed on other citizens and receiving a better life and more perks simply because they were in government.

Everyone has heard the sentiment, “If you don’t like something, stop complaining and do something about it”. Some Americans whom have never held public office are doing just that – they are running for Congress as a non-career citizen politician. More and more voters definitely want the out-of-touch career politicians replaced. The obvious question then becomes - Replace them with whom? What qualities would voters want the ideal non-career politician to have to govern effectively with practically? After much thought, I developed a common sense criteria list: no political background; well educated; common sense; business experience; military understanding; international affairs understanding (especially of the Middle East); fiscally responsible; socially moderate; lived within a middle class income; overcoming hardship understanding; honest; new realistic ideas; committed to representing constituents; supports term limits; and respects voters.

Would it be possible to actually find a non-career politician that fit what voters want or at least most of it? I researched the Internet, and as things often happen, an answer came to me in an unexpected way. Unrelated to my research, my husband emailed me a Youtube link of a NATO combat photo journalist in Afghanistan who was captured on video by a camera mounted on the helmet of a marine. The photo journalist Keith Lepor was shot by a sniper and pulled to safety by two marines in this video.  In my non-career politician research I came upon the name Keith Lepor again. He is a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Congress in the Massachusetts 9th district. Upon deeper exploration, I realized Mr. Lepor met the non-career politician criteria list developed with what voters want in a representative.

Mr. Lepor was raised in a financially challenged household by a single mother after his father died when he was 13. He understands hardship having overcome cancer as a child. He graduated from Boston University and continued his education at Oxford University not with scholarships, but with student loans and work in a variety of part-time jobs including in restaurants and college security details. Mr. Lepor has a business background having worked for a boutique consulting firm focused on East Asia, has undertaken business development work for clients in business and finance and has contributed to articles on international and strategic relations in several publications. He published a book in 1997 entitled After the Cold War (University of Texas Press, 1997) whose foreword was written by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. This book helped focus the international debate and discussion of the emerging world order and the US role therein and is available now on in paperback.

As a photojournalist Mr. Lepor has worked throughout Africa and his last assignment there was in Central Africa with the UN Department of Peace Keeping Operations and Office of the Spokesman covering instability in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. His most recent significant international assignment was a year spent as a Forward Media Team Leader for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF/NATO) in Afghanistan. He managed a team of Afghan print and radio journalists in addition to his work as a combat photojournalist working in support of US and Coalition forces in eastern (Kunar, Ghazni, Nangahar, Parwan, Kapisa) and southern Afghanistan (Helmand & Kandahar).

An Interview with Candidate for U.S. Congress MA-9 Keith Lepor:

BKH: You were born and grew up in Massachusetts. Tell me about that experience.
KLepor: I was born in Boston and am a former ‘Jimmy kid’ having survived childhood cancer thanks to the generosity of the people of Massachusetts who donated to the Jimmy Fund in support of cancer research. My father was a pilot, so I actually grew up all over the place including Switzerland, Holland, Hawaii, California, the US Virgin Islands and Seattle

BKH: I’ve read you graduated from Oxford University. That’s impressive.
KLepor: Education has always been very important to me. I completed my undergraduate work at Boston University earning two BAs. I continued my graduate work in Middle East Studies in Cairo, Egypt, and continued post graduate education at (St. Antony’s College) Oxford University in Political Economy.

BKH: What made you want to run for U.S. Congress in Massachusetts?
KLepor: I am very concerned about the future of our country. The out of control spending and taxes are hurting the small and medium size companies that account for 80% of the job creation in the US. We must also address our foreign energy dependence, and I believe we should aggressively pursue realistic alternatives such as natural gas and nuclear energy. Finally, my concern for national security has made me realize it is necessary to take responsibility and make a difference. I can provide the leadership and new ideas required to address these important concerns. For all of these reasons, I have decided to enter the race for Congress in the 9th Congressional District.

BKH: What do you believe you would bring to Congress for the people of Massachusetts?
KLepor: As a fiscal conservative and one who is strong on national defense, I would bring a fresh face, new ideas, and a unique background. I had been an independent voter for years before joining the Republican Party, and I believe I have the temperament which will facilitate my ability to work with members of Congress from both parties. My ability to think outside of the box would lead to creative solutions which will of course be developed over time. As a photojournalist who specializes in guerilla warfare and counter-insurgency, I am tough and have a background that will lend itself to following my own instincts to do what I believe is in the best interest of my constituents and country irrespective of the political leadership.

BKH: Do you see running as a Republican in Massachusetts more difficult than running as a Democrat considering the history of Massachusetts as a strong blue state?
KLepor: Certainly Democrats have a better track record of winning elections in Massachusetts, yet I firmly believe voters are looking for change. They are fed up with the arrogance of power and how out of touch many members of Congress are. They are looking to change the status quo, and I believe being a Republican may now have certain advantages. The un-enrolled, Independent registered voters are looking for change. A balanced, competitive two-party system provides the checks and balances that are necessary for a functioning democracy, so Republicans need to be more competitive in Massachusetts.

BKH: What do you think of the recent Scott Brown Senate win?
KLepor: Scott Brown’s success in the Special Election is indicative of the level of frustration with Washington. His election in January was meant to send a message which appears to have been ignored by Congress and the Administration. The Democrats may pay for that in November.

BKH: What are the three main differences between you and the other Republican primary candidate?
KLepor: I believe that my passion to help our men and women in uniform and our veterans in part differentiates me from other candidates. Having run with front line combat units in Afghanistan for a year, I am highly motivated to ensure that our men and women in uniform have the best equipment available when they are deployed into hot zones (Afghanistan & Iraq). I am also concerned about vets that return to the U.S. with traumatic brain and other injuries. We must also ensure that vets from Vietnam, Korea and WWII have what they need. Another significant difference between me and other Republican candidates is the nature of the opponent that I face (Stephen Lynch). All of the MA Congressional delegation are perceived as tax and spend liberals.

Stephen Lynch on the other hand is falsely perceived by many as a ‘conservative’. [BKH Note: My research reflects Mr. Lynch voted with the Democrats 98% of the time. Some of his illustrative votes included support for continued federal funding of ACORN, burying the investigation of Charles Rangel, embracing Cap & Trade, and his stance on illegal immigration (border security, interior enforcement, amnesty) that seems very much out of step with his constituents.] The Boston Globe published an article on March 24th, titled "Evasive Maneuvers" discussing Mr. Lynch’s recent vote against ObamaCare while last fall he voted in support of it.
Educating the constituents of the 9th to the reality of my opponents’ voting record will be crucial and make fund raising to get the message out that much more important. Finally, although there are others like myself, whom have never run for public office before, I believe that my international background differentiates me from my peers and will give me a better perspective from which to look out for the interests of the country, Massachusetts and the constituents of the 9th Congressional District. This will be particularly important vis-à-vis Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, Intelligence Policy and Homeland Security – all issues relevant at the federal level.

BKH: What do you think of the healthcare legislation passed by the House on March 20?
KLepor: I have serious misgivings about ObamaCare and believe that it does nothing to help improve the healthcare system in the country. This legislation represents billions in new taxes not to mention the price tag of $940 billion. It raises taxes and premiums while rationing healthcare with no reduction in costs and pricing. Tort reform and allowing citizens to purchase insurance across state lines would help drive down costs by keeping insurance competitive and medical costs down.

BKH: How do you think Washington can bring down the growing deficit?
KLepor: The Government must live within its means. Reduced spending is desperately needed. Out of control costs and programs continue to add to the national burden. We as individuals must all live within our means, and I believe it is necessary that government do the same. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

BKH: What do you believe are the best ways to get the economy growing again and for creating jobs?
KLepor: The biggest problem we face is the need to create jobs. We will not do that if government keeps raising taxes on business. We need to simplify the tax code. You should not have to hire an accountant to pay your taxes. Much of the tax code unnecessarily works against small business. I will work to simplify government, so that it is more responsive to the needs of the people and creates a better environment for the growth of business that creates jobs in Massachusetts. Government needs to be more efficient in the way it spends our money. It makes no sense to tax to death sound businesses to prop up failing ones.

BKH: If elected to Congress for MA-9, what can the people of Massachusetts count on from you?
KLepor: They can count on me to always look out for the best interests of Massachusetts. I will not be dictated to by any political party. I will always do what I believe to be the best policy for the people. The people of the 9th should also know that I will serve no more than three terms in Congress. Frankly, if I have not been able to accomplish what I have set out to do in six years then I have done a disservice to my district. What we need are citizen politicians. The Internet and social media helps me stay in touch with voters and get my name and message out in real time. Voters can follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.
BKH: Do you believe there will be a rise in citizens without a political background running for Congress in the political climate of today? Will there be more ordinary citizens getting involved? What do you see as the negatives and positives of this?
KLepor: Indeed, I believe there will be. I am one of them. I have encountered some negativity as I have been advised that I need political experience before going after such an important office. I have also been told in no uncertain terms that I need to ‘pay my dues’. Frankly, the one thing that we don’t suffer from in Washington is a lack of professional politicians. What happened to the concept of the citizen politician? I only see positives from the involvement of political ‘novices’. We need a new approach, fresh ideas, less cynicism (willingness to look at bipartisanship) and perhaps even a little enthusiasm. That may sound naïve, but we just need to change the mindset.

I believe Keith Lepor, , perhaps like other non-career politicians from both parties that run for offices this November and beyond, is indeed running for U.S. Congress MA-9 for the right reasons – to get back to truly representing constituents and serving America. I believe he is sincere in wanting to make a difference in politics, for our country, and for veteran citizens. Our founding fathers certainly wanted politicians crafting legislation affecting American citizens to be “of the people”. The intent and expectation was those making laws would ensure liberty within those laws if they themselves had to abide by the same laws imposed on those they represented. Well, we know how that has turned out. Is it here - the time to go back to the intent of our founding fathers? I believe so. Americans can begin to fix broken Washington first by supporting and electing those running for offices that really are “of the people”. We have all seen that power does corrupt and career politicians are more susceptible to corruption. Term limits should be a part of the representative equation now for Congress.

More and more citizen’s with no political background (state or national) are considering and taking action to run for political offices. Our political system generally gives an incumbent the advantage over challengers with the established party machine behind them, enjoying better name recognition, and having well organized money to campaign. If voters want to send more non-career politicians to Washington to represent them, they will have to put their money where their mouth is in supporting these candidates by seeking out new faces, educating themselves about new non-career candidates, contributing time and money to their campaigns, and helping energize a base to vote them in. The proof will be in the founding father’s fig pudding as they say.

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