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Wednesday, January 23, 2008
By SHAWN HOPKINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
For Tom Perriello, a Democrat seeking to run for the 5th District seat in the House of Representatives in November, service to others is a matter of faith.
"I was called by my faith at a very early age to try and serve vulnerable communities, both here and overseas," he said.
At the age of 33, the Albemarle County resident and Yale University law school graduate has a long rÃ©sumÃ© of such work.
He believes that if voters look at his record of working for change in places such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and the United States, they will be able to see that he has met challenges and produced results.
In fact, he said, his early fund-raising efforts seem to show people already are discovering that.
Perriello said his campaign raised $263,000 by the end of 2007. His campaign knows they raised more than the current congressman, 5th District U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Rocky Mount, raised in the third quarter, but it is not sure yet if it was more than Goode raised in the fourth quarter.
When asked if he thinks he has a chance of beating Goode, who has been elected to state and federal seats since 1973, Perriello said he is building "the largest grassroots effort" the district has seen. He will be opening offices in Danville and Rocky Mount, he said, and he plans to be "living out of my truck for the next 10 months" as he travels to share his "positive vision for development in Southside."�
The No. 1 complaint he hears from people in the district about Congress is that it never gets anything done - that people aren't seeing the job creation, vocational education and training, or results in Iraq that are needed.
"I think the biggest reason for that (fund-raising success) is that people in the district, and in the country, are hungry for a new kind of results-oriented politics," he said, adding they are tired of the focus on "right and left." Most people are basically independents who care more about "right and wrong," he said.
After graduating from Yale, Perriello worked in the western African country of Sierra Leone, helping give amputees and others a voice in peace talks during the 11th year of a civil war.
Perriello also helped establish a war crimes court in the area and is proud of his effort to establish regime change in neighboring Liberia.
He became special adviser and spokesman for the international prosecutor during the showdown that forced Liberian dictator Charles Taylor from power. Perriello after that was a national security analyst for the Century Foundation and has worked in Darfur and twice in Afghanistan, where he compiled a report with suggestions on how to improve its security situation.
He also created FaithfulAmerica.org and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, bringing various faith communities together to fight for children's health insurance, raising the minimum wage, environmental stewardship and responsible solutions in Iraq, according to his campaign literature.
He lives in Ivy, Va., and works as a guest lecturer at the University of Virginia School of Law.
From these experiences, Perriello said he has learned important lessons.
"When you really dig in deep and are willing to fight like hell, you can produce results," he said.
He also has learned that "we're all in this together" in what he refers to as the "culture of the common good."�
"I'm better off when my neighbor has health care. I'm better off when my neighbor has a job," he said.
Perriello sees his move into politics and his candidacy for Congress as a way to continue his work.
"It (politics) can and should be a place to make a difference in people's lives," he said.
Job creation and economic growth for the district and Southside are important priorities, Perriello said.
In the short term the area needs immediate jobs, support and training, he said, while in the long term it needs to attract and develop the kinds of next-generation industries that can support higher wage jobs.
Perriello said there are new industries worth hundreds of billions of dollars developing in places such as Europe around energy efficiency and new energy sources.
The 5th District is one of the best districts in the country to take advantage of new energy opportunities because it has an agricultural base to produce crops for things such as biofuels, colleges to support development of technologies and larger communities such as Charlottesville where sources of capital can come from, he said.
A move toward biofuels is part of the switch to greener, more sustainable technologies, he said, but not the whole of it. Perriello said he trusts "American ingenuity" to find solutions to and take advantage of the opportunities available.
Those solutions also will help address the problem of global climate change and wean Americans off dependence on foreign oil, which Perriello said has been one of the "greatest threats to national security for decades."�
Perriello said he has been developing a "new generation of security strategies."�
For example, he said, in Iraq, the American public is being offered a false choice: "stay the course" or "cut and run."�
"The only solution in Iraq is a political solution," he said.
That means negotiating with all "internal" factions, including Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites, empowering appropriate mediators and committing to withdrawal. Committing to withdrawal is an important element because it will bring the Sunnis back to the negotiating table, he said.
Improving access to vocational and higher education is another of Perriello's goals. There are not enough opportunities for people to go to college, and those who do graduate have such enormous debts that they cannot afford to stay in their home areas to earn enough money to pay them off, he said.
Providing access to health care also is an important priority for him.
"Every American should have access to a doctor," he said, and that should be done in the most "affordable way."�
Perriello said he could support a range of plans to make that happen and acknowledged there is no shortage of them being proposed this political season, but what is most important is seeing results.
"It certainly seems like a moral priority to start with health care for poor children," he said.