ORANGE – Democratic novice Wayne Powell, first-time congressional candidate in the race for Virginia’s Seventh District, continues to beat a drum of confrontation aimed at six-term incumbent Eric Cantor of Richmond, a high profile national figure in the GOP.
It’s 9 days before Election Day, and Powell – a retired Army colonel and Midlothian-based law firm partner – is not letting up.
Eric Cantor is “the chief obstructionist” in Congress, he said during a sit-down interview with the Star-Exponent Tuesday at El Vaquero Mexican, where Powell and his newlywed wife, Katherine, both communicated in fluent Spanish with restaurant owner, Manuel.
Cantor is a power hungry corporatist only concerned with protecting the interests of big business, Powell continued, saying it’s the corporate world from which Cantor earns the broadest financial support.
Since Cantor, 49, first got elected in 2000 along with George W. Bush, 2.8 million jobs have been sent overseas, said Powell, 62, again taking aim at the incumbent who consistently earns broad support from voters in Culpeper County, the northernmost county in the Seventh District, which was recently redrawn to appear even more conservative.
The Democratic congressional candidate carried on undaunted.
“Eric Cantor is bought and paid for by the same multinational corporations who get special tax incentives which encourage them to send the jobs that were in this country, high tech and skilled labor jobs, to some other country,” said Powell
A major issue in the presidential race as well, the tax incentive debate has two clear sides with Powell pretty much following his party.
“We bring tax incentives to the people who bring jobs back, and we punish – we do not give tax incentives – to take jobs away,” he said. “Eric Cantor called that increasing taxes. The fact of the matter is that’s protecting our work.”
American companies profiting off of American ideas manufactured overseas don’t have to pay taxes on that profit, Powell said.
“And yet they put millions of dollars in Eric Cantor and other’s coffers to make sure they stay in office and those jobs stay overseas and not here,” he said. “People ignore the truth and what really happens and it’s not going to stop until people like Eric Cantor are replaced.”
Powell hopes he’s the one to do that in spite of many political insiders saying that’s a long shot.
Why he’s running
A native Richmonder raised in a Republican family, the Democratic candidate says the opposition party has “gone too far right,” naming as example the GOP’s hyper-focus on woman’s reproductive issues.
“This is crazy what the Republicans are doing,” Powell said. “What is it about small government except when it comes to women? It’s nuts. That issue alone would make me a Democrat.”
Powell, giving another example of where he leans right, said he does not support deficit spending. He said he wants to maintain and reform Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and cut defense spending, in spite of his military background.
“This outsourcing of Department of Defense services and supplies needs to be looked at, needs to be audited,” Powell said. “By and large the DoD is not doing that. They weren’t doing it when I was on active duty or an active Reservist. There are so many ways we can cut excessive cost in defense that would never impact our readiness, but nobody wants to talk about it.”
Cantor and others in the GOP like vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan never served in the military, and don’t know what it means to develop a military budget, Powell said, adding he’s done it for most of his 30-year service.
Powell’s military service is what prompted him to run against one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress, he said, pointing to his mobilization to active duty after 9-11.
“I saw a lot of inefficiencies in our defense work,” Powell said, adding that the Iraq War, during which his son served beginning in 2006, also spurred him to seek political office. “I was dead set against the Iraqi War when it began because I knew a lot from my military intelligence background that told me there was no reason to invade Iraq, and I was right. My son was almost a casualty – he came back at least physically fine, but he saw and experienced a lot which stayed with him.”
Two years later, the country plunged into the worst financial situation since the Great Depression, Powell said, and that was it.
“I knew that my country needed help,” he said. “I was a leader in my military career and in my legal career and I decided I didn’t want to stand on the sidelines. It so happened I lived in the district of Eric Cantor.”
Powell said he was unimpressed with Cantor’s terms in office.
“Since he became leader in 2010 what he has done has been abysmal, has been dangerous for our country,” he said. “He is the problem. He doesn’t provide solutions.”
Powell described himself as a leader who aims to solve problems in an inclusive way – something Congress seems unable to do.
“At the end of the day, if you have a problem to solve you need consensus,” he said. “You have to try to be a coach, not a dictator.”
If he’s elected to Congress, Powell said he would build consensus through communication.
“I visit people. I make appointments,” he said of what he did in the military. “I have lunch with people. I talk with people about what the issues are, even people that may be viewed as nutcases. I view them as people I need to work with. We need to sit down, come to some commonality.”
A trained mediator, Powell said he believes strongly in alternative dispute resolution – unlike Eric Cantor.
“He’s an obstructer. He’s a significant factor why things aren’t moving in Congress,” he said.
Asked how he would reach out to the many Republicans in the Seventh District, Powell said he would get out and visit them, something he said Cantor doesn’t do.
“I may have big ‘D’ by my name on the ballot, but if you look at my history and resume, it is of a loyal American – served this country 30 years. Something Eric Cantor never did,” Powell said, noting he’s also created and run two successful businesses including one in real estate. “When you’ve been out there as a real entrepreneur and you know what it’s like to sign payroll taxes and see how much money you’re spending you start to see this is serious business and taxes are important.”
Powell said, by the way, he is not interested in increasing taxes on Middle America.
“What I have said is I believe people that earn $500,000 or more need to not have their tax cuts extended,” he said. “The tax cuts in 2003 were reductions from what the regular tax rate was so they would be resuming the tax rate. That occurred during two unfunded wars and was fiscally irresponsible. Everybody needs to pay their fair share.”
On the issues
Regarding job creation, Powell said government could help facilitate it by creating an environment where it’s easy, for example, for entrepreneurs to get government loans to start small business, something he said has been cut completely during the Cantor years.
Powell said he would have not supported the bank bailout, which he said resulted in big bonuses for executives even as hundreds of thousands of Americans went under on their mortgages.
“That’s just not right,” Powell said. “The banks should have provided protection for mortgagees and there should have been a moratorium on foreclosures. Let everyone go through the process. That could still happen if enough people in Congress support it.”
Regarding campaign contributions, Powell has received about a half-million dollars to Cantor’s more than $6 million this election cycle.
How can Powell expect to compete with that?
“Money only goes so far,” he said. “The character of the person, the lack of core values (Cantor) exhibits, and people see this. Basically, my task is to get my name out there. We can never hope to match his millions, but I think the people who recognize what a disservice he performs in Congress are tired of him, and I don’t think any amount of money will help that.”
Powell said, in addition, that investing in American infrastructure is long overdue and that he would support public works projects as a job creator. He said the president’s healthcare package was “a good start” and that all Americans deserved access to affordable quality medical care.
“I’m a military guy so I have free medical care for the rest of my life,” Powell said. “I do think that people in this country also contributed to what I defended and what my son is now in Afghanistan defending, and I don’t think that makes me a Socialist or a Communist. What’s happening – especially since deregulation of the health industry in the ’80s – it’s become a profit motive business. Making excessive profits for sickness and disease, I don’t approve of that.”
Immigration reform would help the fiscal situation in America, he went on, by getting millions more folks on the tax roll. Powell said he supports getting American military forces out of Afghanistan immediately, and not in 2014 like the president has said.
Powell said he believes gay people should be allowed to marry or enter in legitimate civil unions calling otherwise yet another inappropriate example of “government intruding in the affairs between people.”
Turning his attention back to the district, Powell said Culpeper is his favorite place to visit in spite of its politically red roots.
“There’s something about Culpeper I really like,” he said. “The people are earthier, close to earth. Once I’m in Congress, I will visit like I do now and tell them hey just because I’ve got a ‘D’ by my name doesn’t mean I’m not trying to help you.”
What makes him different from all the other candidates who’ve run against Cantor is his level of military and business experience, Powell said. Matter of fact, he added, his competition does not come close to it.
“When Eric Cantor was beginning his political career as intern driving (former Congressman Thomas) Bliley, I was defending this country,” Powell said.
“I think that’s a pretty stark contrast. When he was trying to map out his political career, I was defending my country. I think I represent the best of what the Seventh District, Virginia and this country is all about. I don’t think he does.”