In the face of a major home-grown disappointment on health care reform, where can North Carolina Democrats look for inspiration - for confirmation that who we elect to Congress can make a difference? How about right across the state line in Virginia's 5th Congressional District?
First-term Representative Tom Perriello (D-VA 5th) won his seat in 2008, knocking out a long-serving Republican in a district that had been all but written off by Democrats. Perriello prevailed in the closest Congressional contest of the year, winning after a recount by a margin of 727 votes.
After a squeaker like that, you might think that the newly-minted Democratic member of Congress would be "triangulating" like mad, cozying up as close to the conservative edge as his constituents would allow. Instead, Perriello stepped up to vote "yes" on key climate change legislation (the showdown American Clean Energy and Security Act, or ACES), and for health care reform not just once but both times.
Perriello explains his thinking in a short piece that ran in America's Quarterly and sounds pretty persuasive to me: http://www.perrielloforcongress.com/content/activist-politician
Naturally, the Republicans are positively frothing about taking him down in November. I'd kind of like to see him stay in Congress.
With the start of comprehensive health care reform legislation now signed into law, we need to turn more attention to how we can improve and expand coverage in future sessions of Congress. One way to do that will be to help keep in office members of Congress who have proven that they're willing to do the right thing even when it's hard and involves personal political risk.
I'm sure I won't always agree with Perriello on every issue of importance, but I think that a history of stepping up on the hottest close votes deserves extra credit.
I'm planning to send a contribution this week to the re-election campaign of our Virginia good neighbor Rep. Tom Perriello. I'd encourage other North Carolina Democrats to consider doing the same.