Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Interview with New Hampshire State Rep. Peter Sullivan

DS: First off, thank you for agreeing to the interview with the Kentucky Democrat. How are things going in New Hampshire?

Peter Sullivan: Well, fall is the best time of year in New England, so of course things are going good. The Patriots just beat the Steelers, the Sox are in the middle of a hot pennant race, and the UNH Wildcats are the top football team in Division 1-AA. It's a great time of year!

DS: Since you're from New Hampshire, one of the first states to hold the primary election for the presidency, how do you feel about the current system changing the dates for each state?

PS: I believe that the NH Primary has served the Democratic Party well over the years. It has allowed candidates like Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart and Paul Tsongas to bypass the Beltway conventional wisdom and bring their message to a wider audience. Ultimately, that's good for democracy and for the party.

If other states want to move up, that's fine with me, so long as they wait until the day after New Hampshire!

DS: How is the campaign against Jeb Bradley going? Do you plan to run a positive campaign?

PS: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. A lot of people have grown fed up with a political culture that seems rooted in complacency and corruption. They want leaders who speak from the heart and offer solutions, who aren't cogs in a party machine. Jeb hasn't given them that leadership. As a state legislator, I have taken tough stands and stood by them. It doesn't always endear me to the old guard, but I really believe that those of us in public service have an obligation to do what we think is right, regardless of partisan pressure.

DS: You're one of the few politicians I've seen that has a personal blog. Do you find that as a positive mark for your campaign?

PS: I do. I think the blog gives me an ability to communicate with the public directly, to engage in a conversation that isn't filtered by the press or by the political wise guys. More importantly, by giving people a way to respond, I can learn a lot from the exchange of ideas. I learn to look at an issue in a way that I otherwise might not have.

DS: What prior candidates have or will influence the way that you will run your campaign?

PS: That's a good question.

I'll start by citing someone with whom I almost never agree on policy, former Senator Bob Smith. Smith and I have very little ideological commin ground, but he ran a grassroots, participatory campaign to be proud of. Every nook and cranny of New Hampshire had a Smith volunteer, someone who would write postcards, make a few dozen phone calls, and put up those infernal red and white signs. He beat more "established" candidates to win his seat, largely by outworking them and never giving up in the face of tough odds. I feel the same way about Paul Taongas and his 1992 presidential campaign. There weren't more than a handful of prominent NH Democrats with Tsongas, but he had a sharp, focused message, and ran a campaign that welcomed new blood, new ideas and new ways of doing business. It was fun, and incredibly, it worked, at least for a while.

DS: Do you have a campaign song yet? If yes, what is it? If not, I play guitar.

PS: Brush up on your Dropkick Murphys repertoire! I'm an Irish-Catholic thirtysomething from New England, so I love the DKMs Celtic populist punk.

DS: Do you expect a bloody primary?

PS: Bloody? No. Spirited? Yes. Gary Dodds and Peter Duffy will have their issues and their agendas. We will talk about the issues in a spirited way. If I think they are out to lunch, I'll say so without hesitation.

What I won't engage in is the politics of personal destruction. There are some so-called leaders in the NH political community who aren't happy unless they are smearing an opponent's sanity, credibility, or integrity with baselss whispering campaigns. We don't need that sort of garbage, and I won't be part of it.

DS: I know someone who headed up Students for Gore in 1988 named Jonathan Miller. Did you ever meet President Bill Clinton while you were at the University of Arkansas Law School?

PS: I guess that was a good career move for Jonathan!

I actually met Clinton a few times before my Arkansas sojourn. Growing up in NH has its benefits, after all. I first met Clinton at a ribbon-cutting at a Paul McEachern for Governor headquarters in Salem, NH in 1988. Strangely enough, the only time he visited the law school while I was there was during the last month of my third year. The President and Hillary quietly visited a historic marker outside of Watterman Hall (the law school building) with no notice or fanfare. They were gone before anyone realized what had happened!

During law school I did have the chance to campaign for both Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. Blanche and Mark are terrific young senators who will be major voices in the Democratic Party in the coming years.

DS: What makes you feel qualified to be a United States Congressman?

PS: Ultimately, it will be up to the voters to decide whether I have the qualifications and the platform they are seeking in their congressman.

I believe that I offer a combination of legislative experience and political and personal independence that is in short supply. I am the only Democrat in this race who has turned ideas into law. I am the only candidate of either party with a record of working to create a political process that is less encumbered by special interest influence.

In addition, I believe that my New Democrat philosophy is a good match for my district. A Democrat who combines a sensible, fiscaly responsible, business savvy approach to economic issues with a traditional Democratic committment to social justice, who takes an approach to foreign policy that recognizes the importance of both military and moral strength, and who recognizes the importance of empowering people with the tools to better their lives can break through the stale political clutter of the last few years.

DS: Do you want the first national press interview you have to be with Jon Stewart of the Daily Show?

PS: I was afraid you were going to suggest Jerry Springer. Hey, if I ever had the chance to be on with Stewart, I'd jump at the opportunity!

DS: What are your thoughts on the current image of the national party?

PS: We are in flux at the moment. I am going to say something that might surprise some folks. I think Howard Dean is doing a good job at the DNC. He has kept the liberal base motivated, while at the same time he has reached out to Democrats who don't always meet every activist litmus test. That's the right approach.

I do think that both the New Dems and the progressive faction will have to focus on areas of commin ground. There's more than people realize. I think bloggers like Ed Kilgore and Josh Marshall have done a good job of drawing the wings of the party together by stressing a message of reform and accountability. It's a good place to start.

DS: What three issues in your opinion should be priorities?

PS: Expand the economic winner's circle while restoring fiscal responsibility. The current approach saddles future generations with mountains of debt while doing nothing to build a better future. That's fiscal child abuse. Part of this equation also involves developing new approaches to retirement savings, such as a universal, prtable penson system; and addressing the uncertainties too many Americans face as a result of the lack of affordable health care coverage.

Restore a sense of maturity to the foreign policy debate. The Bush Administration squandered an untold volume of good will by failing to act cooperatively with both our allies abroad and with the pposition at home. We need to return to the hard-nosed internationalism of JFK and FDR, which understood that force may sometimes be neccessary, but it is not a substitute for smart, effective diplomacy.

Achieve real energy independence. This requires a combination of tough fuel economy standards and a vigorous committment to investing in new renewable energy technologies. By lessening our reliance on foreign oil, we stengthen our position economically, environmentally and strategically.

DS: Thank you for your time and best of luck. Keep fighting the good fight.

PS: And keep up the good work on your blog!

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