Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Interview with Doug Pike, Democratic Candidate for the 6th Congresstional District

Doug Pike is one of two Democratic candidates for the 6th congressional district. Incumbent Republican Jim Gerlach decided to run for governor, thus making the 6th an open seat. Gerlach later changed his mind and is now running for re-election.

Pike was on the editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer for many years, and worked as a journalist for most of his life. He also served on the board of a hospital in New York. I've had the opportunity to say "hello" to Mr. Pike a couple of times but no extended conversations and so cannot offer any personal observations. His answers, though, are intriguing. I especially liked his response to the question on manufacturing in the 6th district.

A few months ago I posted an interview with the other Democrat running for the 6th district. This is the first time I've interviewed two people campaigning for the same office. In the interest of fairness I've asked Mr. Pike some of the same questions about the district that I asked the other candidate.

A significant amount of the money you had raised by the end of Sept. was self-financing. How much of your own money are you willing to spend on the campaign?

We recently reported over $1.1 million cash-on-hand, which represents over 1400 contributions as well as the grassroots support of many hard working Democratic families here in Pennsylvania. I am willing to invest at least $1 million of my life savings because we need to turn this seat blue.

This is shaping up to be a tough election year and Jim Gerlach is a career politician who will be difficult to beat. Our party needs a nominee with the resources to be competitive with Jim Gerlach; otherwise, Gerlach will continue going down to Washington to vote against our Democratic values. The truth is that even leaving aside self-contributions, I’ve raised more money from other people than any other Democratic candidate in the race. We need a candidate who not only supports our Democratic values, but who has a strong enough campaign to beat Jim Gerlach and bring those values to Washington.

Several of the editorials published under your name in Inquirer indicate a fiscal conservatism. Is my impression of this accurate? If elected would you ally yourself with the Blue Dog Coalition?

I would say that I am a progressive deficit hawk – not a Blue Dog. As an opinion writer I attacked the wasteful and misguided priorities of the Republicans in Congress like Gerlach who endorsed the borrow-and-spend policies of Republican President George W. Bush and Halliburton’s contribution to the team: Vice President Dick Cheney. Here is an excerpt of an 2006 Inquirer column of mine:

“George W. Bush couldn't have made such a mess of things for the last six years without reliable support from Republicans in Congress. He and GOP lawmakers were strongly united on invading Iraq, tilting tax relief toward the wealthy, exploding the national debt, letting the minimum wage wilt to inflation, and much more.”

A strong public option will keep health care costs down. While many Blue Dogs supported the Stupak Amendment, I spoke out against its untenable restrictions on a woman’s right to get health care – and that’s what choice is all about: the right of woman to make decisions about and have access to health care. I spoke out at the time and will continue to stand up for women’s rights.

Tell us what role you played as a board member for the South Oaks Hospital on Long Island and what effect that might have on your health care views.

As a board member for a total of 15 years I have first-hand experience in dealing with the problems plaguing our health care system, such as insurance companies whose main goal was profit maximization, not patient care. The board of directors helped our dedicated doctors and nurses deliver quality care despite the intrusiveness of health insurance companies. As our former Senator Harris Wofford said in 1991: If criminals have the right to a lawyer, every American should have the right to a doctor.

When my brother Rob developed cancer five years ago, problems with our health care system hit home. Although he’s been fighting ever since and it has been an ordeal for his wife, their kids, and our entire family, my brother has been relatively lucky: He has health insurance – unlike millions of Americans. We should all have access to affordable, quality health care. In Washington, I’ll fight for that, no matter how much resistance is put up by the Republicans and the special interests.

While you were on the board was South Oaks a full service hospital, with an ER and staff physicians or was it geared more towards specific health services?

This well-respected hospital specializes in treating patients for mental illness, substance abuse and eating disorders.

Journalist and hospital board member seems an odd combination. What qualified you for the hospital board work?

Most strong corporate and community boards benefit from having people with various backgrounds as active participants. My journalistic experience at asking tough questions helped me to guide the institution to safeguard patient care quality at a time of financial pressures.

The biography on your website lists types of work and years in that field but can you tell us where you lived and worked when?

I came to Pennsylvania almost 23 years ago for my dream job on the Editorial Board at the Inquirer. So I have lived here for most of my adult life. I spent 5 years in Florida at the Orlando Sentinel and 5 years in DC doing freelance writing and working for U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas. Pennsylvania is my home and I am not leaving.

Tell us some of items that would be in your ideal health care bill.

Fixing our broken health care system should be one of the top priorities of Congress. If I am elected, I can guarantee that it will be one of my top priorities.

For real reform, we need to see several changes. First, we absolutely need a strong public option. This is the only way to create real competition and to bring down the skyrocketing costs of health insurance. Second, we need to bar private insurers from disqualifying people from coverage based on pre-existing conditions. This practice has gone on far too long, and it has cost the lives of men, women and children. Third, we need to transition over to electronic health records. Studies have shown that a fully-electronic health record system will both lower the cost of medical care and increase the safety of care though automatic warnings that are triggered if, for instance, a doctor accidentally prescribed a drug that the patient was allergic to. Finally, to make it a truly ideal bill, we need to take a holistic look at our overall health care delivery system. We need to focus on the areas where our system is weak. This would include transitioning from a system where we manage disease to a system where we manage a person's health. This focus on improving and maintaining the health of all Americans will not only reduce the burden on our health care system and save money, but it would also allow the next generation to live happier, healthier, and longer lives. To do this, we need to put a much stronger emphasis on preventative medicine, routine checkups, and the efficient and routine delivery of health care services to all Americans. When your doctor says you need a checkup, we want you to get a checkup! In fact, getting that checkup is the patriotic thing to do – good for you, good for your country!

There is a school of thought that the government should bail out or support newspapers in some way. What is your opinion on that?

Let’s be realistic, the era of hard-copy home-delivery newspaper dominance is over. In this digital/internet age, as you well know, information delivery systems are changing rapidly: from cable news and e-mails, to texts, to tweets. Newspaper “presses” are going to end up in museums everywhere so that those who hope for some sort of bailout for the newspaper business wait in vain. In the years ahead the newsgathering and distribution business may be supported through nonprofit enterprises in the same way that National Public Radio has survived. Preserving an informed citizenry is critical for a democratic society. Preserving access to information and facilitating free speech are constitutional imperatives; however, saving profit-making enterprises that have not been able to adapt is not the role of government.

On your website you talk about closing tax loopholes. What are two tax reforms you would champion if elected?

1. Eliminate the tax incentive for companies to shift jobs overseas.

2. Restore a federal tax on the estates of the wealthiest 1% of all Americans. Eliminating this progressive tax for 2010 only was a gimmick that we cannot afford.

How do you balance a need for new energy sources against, say, local residents who don’t want windmills blocking their view?

I understand the importance of aesthetic values and the feelings of those who fear that windmills will block views, kill birds, and diminish property values. Not everyone loves the look of solar collectors on rooftops nor do they want to cut down their trees to expose roof-tops to the sun.

However, we do need to encourage the development and use of renewable energy sources while recognizing that for any number of reasons not every location is appropriate of the production of wind or solar or geo-thermal energy.

I support research and development of storage and transfer systems for renewable energy sources. As you know, most industrial wind turbines don’t even begin producing energy until the wind blows fairly fast, so that windmills should to be built in areas that average at least 10 mph much of the time in order to effectively and reliably produce energy. There are not many places in Southeastern Pennsylvania that are that windy every day just as major solar installations are probably most suitable for development in the southwestern part of the United States where there are more sunny days, fewer leafy trees, and less snow to move off of roof-tops so that the solar collectors can work year round. We need an alternative energy and clean jobs revolution, but for now, our neck of the woods is best suited for the intellectual effort: laboratory-based research, design, and development for the multiple aspects associated with the transition from the fossil fuels to new energy sources.

In the meantime, each and every one of us can work on recycling and energy efficiency in our homes and when using our cars. Support for quality education and research is critical in this regard. The key is encouraging kids to think out of the box, to study math and science, and to become responsible adults who understand how to conserve and save finite resources while using renewable resources efficiently.

Manufacturing is the 6th largest industry in the district; with your emphasis on new technologies and green jobs, do you see this industrial base as growing or shrinking?

Our manufacturing base can and should be growing! We have tremendous intellectual talent in the 6th District at our fantastic local colleges and universities. We need to encourage this extraordinary talent pool to innovate. New technology and green jobs can to be developed and products produced right here in existing facilities in our own back yard.

Moreover, we have enough retired executive talent available in this District to help start-ups get going. These individuals can bring a world of expertise to young entrepreneurs. We can build a senior service corps to help with mentoring, business development, and problem solving. There is no reason we can’t make this region a green technology and manufacturing center.

The 6th district is oddly shaped and often mentioned as one that might be re-made or disappear entirely in the redistricting after the 2010 census. Are you concerned about running for a seat that might not be there in 2012?

I’m running because we cannot afford even one more term with Congressman Gerlach in office – the hard-working people of the 6th District deserve better. I would not be investing my time and energy in this race if I did not believe that it is important for all Americans to help me get Jim Gerlach out of our Congressional seat.

I will be very different from Gerlach. Here are 3 examples:

1. I’ll never vote for a pay raise. I’ll never accept a pay raise.

2. I won’t take government health care coverage until Congress has made quality, affordable health care available to every American. How can Gerlach take generous taxpayer-paid health care insurance while obstructing quality, affordable health care coverage for all Americans?

3. Instead of having a press secretary to polish my image the way Gerlach does, I’ll hire a 6th District Economic Development Specialist who will work directly with local businesses and organizations to build our economy right here at home.

Tourism is a small industry in the 6th district. Would you like to see this grow and if so how would you encourage tourism in the area?

We can better promote our historic sites, charming communities, and great restaurants. Our outstanding colleges and universities are great venues for educational tourism by life long learners. We can promote opportunities to welcome visitors of all ages from all over the world who want to see America as it really is: charming, caring communities of concerned citizens. Regional rail can bring people to our shopping centers and antique stores. I see new opportunities for tourism as our population grows older and wants to visit Valley Forge, Philadelphia, and other locales where the American dream took root.

Having been a journalist in Philadelphia for so many years you must know a few good stories about local politicos. Any chance you would share a juicy tidbit or two?

Let’s get together sometime and we’ll swap some stories, reporter to reporter.

What question didn’t I ask that you would like to answer?

The question of the day is, "Why are you the best candidate to face Jim Gerlach in the general election?" It's a question that I hear every day from voters and one that deserves a clear, straightforward answer. Without question, Jim Gerlach has been a disaster for this district. For 7 years he has sat on the House Financial Services Committee and stood silently by as the special interests and the Republican Party drove our economy into the ditch. All the while he was collecting over $1.6 million dollars from the special interests in finance, real estate and insurance. He is a poster child for what is wrong in D.C. I will be a different kind of Congressman. I have spent my career fighting against excess and waste in Washington – and insider deals that always leave the middle class out. I'm not seeking election because of the glory or perks. I'm running because I want to fight for the people of the 6th District.

But let’s face it, Jim Gerlach is a tough guy to beat. In order to do it, I'll need to create clear contrasts between my record and Jim Gerlach's record. I'm ready to do that. I have a team in place, working full time, ready to execute our campaign plan. And most importantly, in this day and age, it costs millions of dollars to run an effective campaign. I've got a warchest of over $1.1 million, the backing of 15 labor unions, and the grassroots financial support of over 1400 individual contributions.

We are organized, we are well-funded, and we are ready to hold Jim Gerlach accountable for his disastrous tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives.

My thanks for Doug Pike for taking the time to answer questions.

Just as an aside, let me note for my reporter friends, that I have a very health respect for what they do, and I consider myself a blogger, not a reporter. However, I am very flattered that Mr. Pike would put me in that category.

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