DS: First, thank you for joining the Kentucky Democrat for an interview today. How are things going in Frankfort/Western Kentucky?
Mike Weaver: Frankfort takes the majority of my time while we are in session and prevents me from doing the intensive fundraising that is essential to a successful campaign. We are having a major fundraising event in Bowling Green on March 11, 2006. My daughter Cyndi Crocker is leading the charge; Jody Richards is the chair; and Senator Max Cleland will be the guest of honor. My wife Lois will organize and lead the charge for a fundraiser in Elizabethtown with a guest of honor that we have not selected yet. Lois and Cyndi will organize the charge in Owensboro with Wesley Clark as the guest of honor. We will have a date from Clark this week. We will also have a fundraiser in Louisville after the other three. The DCCC has this race as a top tier and is very supportive with arranging guests of honor.
DS: You're a veteran who has honorably served our country and now, you are running for Congress. What are your thoughts on the fact that there are so many veterans running this year?
MW: On Wednesday, February 8, 2006, I stood on the Mall looking up at our nations Capital with forty of the fifty-two Democratic Veterans who are running for Congress. Max Cleland was the featured speaker and the center of attention as the Band of Brothers rallied around this American hero. Max gave so much of himself for his country only to be branded as a non-patriot during his last campaign for the Senate. It is true that not many veterans have run for congress in the past because veterans, especially those who made the military a career, find the profession to be less honorable than being a professional soldier. Additionally, fundraising is a huge obstacle for a professional soldier who has never had to ask anyone for donations. Personally, I would rather do some of the most dangerous and uncomfortable things that I did as a soldier again than ask for money for my campaign. I, along with fifty-one other veterans, am willing to endure this arduous process because I am convinced that our country needs more combat veterans as part of the decision making process. There are hard questions that should be asked and answers demanded before this country ever engages in war again. I think combat veterans are qualified to ask the questions and bold enough to demand the answers.
DS: You're running against Ron Lewis. How is that looking right now? Any idea as to what the latest polls are saying?
MW: I have respect for Ron Lewis but he is not a person of action. I bring experience in leadership, decision making, taking care of soldiers, and wisdom from age and experience. I have asked hard questions and made difficult decisions. I can and will do the same in the Congressional environment. A poll commissioned by the DCCC that covered all counties in the Second Congressional District convinced me that this seat is winnable. According to the poll, when my military experience and General Assembly record are communicated to the voters, I will win. Again, fundraising is the key to telling the story.
DS: Do you believe that the state party is heading in the right direction in order to take back the state senate and keep control of the house?
MW: Based on the election results in Louisville last week and the low popularity rating of the governor, I think the House is not only safe in the fall elections, I think we stand a good chance of gaining more seats.
DS: Any thoughts as to the current image of the national party? It seems that from the past few elections, many people want to know what Democrats stand for.
MW: In my opinion the current image of the national party is that the party is too far to the left. That image is a combination of the Republican Party emphasizing our left wing and our party remaining silent on our diversity. We have allowed the Republican Party to claim faith and family values exclusively as their own and many from our own party accept this. It is time for anyone running for office as a Democrat to change that image. It is important that a candidate be a person of faith and have the courage to defend it. My faith was taught and nurtured at home, in private school, in church and confirmed in a foxhole. It is important to discuss religion because every decision we make is influenced by our beliefs.
DS: Have you heard anything about Governor Julian Carroll's plan for 2007? If so, do you endorse it?
MW: Governor Carroll has traveled with me supporting my campaign. He has mentioned his concern for a good candidate but has never mentioned himself.
DS: I know 2008 is a few years away but are any potential candidates that you see having a good chance to reach the White House? It seems like a lot of Kentuckians support Sen. Evan Bayh including myself.
MW: For a democrat to have a chance of reaching the White House, he or she must appeal to people like me. In the Army, a good officer was one who could crawl in the foxhole with a private, talk to an elected official at the highest level, and communicate with everyone in between. It appears to me, the candidates from New England have not given the impression they can do that; they appear to support only the liberal wing of the party. A candidate who can communicate a message that includes faith, family and freedom can win. A serious candidate will also have to evaluate southern democrats. A presidential candidate should look to a state like Kentucky where Democrats, the majority party, have elected two Republican senators and five Republicans to Congress. Evan Bayh could be the one who can do that.
DS: What three issues in your opinion should be priorities for Congress? What about for your fellow state legislators?
MW: The top three priorities should be the war on terror, education and healthcare. The war on terror affects the other two and influences the economy.
DS: Speaking of the legislature, do you think that the General Assembly will pass legislation dealing with expanded gaming so the revenues don't head to Indiana? Is a statewide constitutional referendum likely?
MW: We are now halfway through the legislative session and the gaming issue has not been openly addressed. I think we will discuss the issue in caucus within the next two weeks. If casino gambling had stayed in Las Vegas, Reno, and Atlantic City, it would not be an issue in Kentucky. However, there are too many opportunities to gamble on the other side of the border for the commonwealth to ignore the economic impact any longer. Gamblers are crossing the border, dropping their money at the tables and slots and bringing the problem home. Kentucky has the problem but not the revenue.
DS: How are things looking with the funding for higher education? Will funding be generally high or too low? I know that the Student Body Presidents have set March 8, 2006, as a rally date down in Frankfort.
MW: Education will always be a priority for the Democratic Party and will always be a high priority for me.
DS: What about the Military Veterans Families' Bill of Rights? How much legislation do you think will pass?
MW: My primary reason for running for the open House seat in 1996 was because I did not think enough was being done for veterans. We now have standing committees in the House and the Senate that address the issues of veterans and their families. We have added two Veterans Nursing Homes; built a State Cemetery at Fort Campbell, have one under construction at Fort Knox; opened a Homeless Veterans Transition Facility; created the Troops to Teachers program; passed free tuition legislation for veterans and their families; and created the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs. As a Vietnam Veteran who arrived home to a country that blamed the soldier for an unpopular war, I am thankful for the change. The attitude of the country, regardless of support or non-support for the war on terror, appears to be to honor and respect the soldier while he or she is fighting and welcome them home when they return. We will continue to pass legislation that makes life better for the returning soldier transitioning from war to peace and we will continue to be supportive of the military family.
DS: It looks like Democrats will field candidates in all 6 districts. How do you think the party will do?
MW: If I can raise the money to tell the story of private to colonel and a conservative ten year voting record in the House, I will win. General George S. Patton once said, "When everyone is thinking alike, someone is not thinking." To me, General Patton was describing the present Congress. When one political party controls all there branches of our government, it has proven to be unhealthy for our country. There is no one in Congress to ask the hard questions and demand answers. Returning the House to Democratic control is within reach; doing so will be healthy for the nation. I think it is time for a change and the mood of the country appears to agree.
DS: Is it likely that Democrats will take back both the US Senate and Congress?
MW: My focus is on my race.
DS: This is a question that I have asked every political candidate so far. Do you have a campaign song yet? If yes, what is it? If not, I play guitar.
MW: I would like a song but I do not compose and do not play the guitar. Are you offering?
DS: What makes you feel qualified to be a United States Congressman?
MW: The Congress should have diversity in background and experience. Our country has been involved in the war on terror longer than we fought in WW II. There is a prevailing question out there concerning our reasons for being at war and how long it will last. I think the time has come when voters will place trust in someone who has been there. I know what it is like to carry the lifeless body of a young soldier off the battlefield; I know what it is like to carry a wounded soldier to the medical evacuation helicopter; and I know that the lives of the families who love them will never be the same again. I carry that with me every day and I will not forget where I came from when I get to Congress. It is time for a change.
DS: In light of the Jack Abramoff scandal, what do you think needs to be done with lobbyist reform in Washington?
MW: The reason it is so difficult to form a winning campaign is because of the money. The incumbent has the ability to far out raise a challenger because of the money available inside the beltway. In my case, we will have to break the cycle with numerous small donations from a concerned democratic base. Supporters should visit my web site, www.weaver2006.org, where they can make a difference with their donations. There will also be large donors and PAC money but nothing compared to what an incumbent can muster.
DS: Jon Stewart or Bill O'Reilly?
MW: Jon Stewart.
DS: Thank you again for joining us and keep up the good fight. I hope to call you Congressman Weaver come next January.
MW: Danielle, it's been my pleasure; because I am in session, this is the first in-depth interview I have given. Thank you for your questions, support and patience. I too look forward to hearing "Congressman Weaver" soon.