Michael Fjetland is running as an independent in the CD22 race against Tom DeLay. He's run against DeLay twice before, both times in Republican primaries, garnering 16% of the vote in 2000 and 20% in 2002. I don't think there's any question about where my sympathies lie in this election, but I had the opportunity to ask Fjetland a few questions about his campaign, and I thought he gave some pretty interesting answers. Click on the More link to read the interview.
CK: You ran against Tom DeLay twice in Republican primaries. Why did you choose to run against him as an independent in the general election?
MF: Because winning the GOP primary was not possible, and in a 63% GOP district designed by DeLay for a Republican, it would not be possible to win as a Democrat because Republicans I know wouldn't cross over. But the Republicans don't feel negative towards an independent - and an independent group asked me to run, so I decided to try it to appeal to the moderates who dislike DeLay and needed someone to vote for.
CK: Would you call yourself a former Republican now? If so, do you think you're an anomaly in Fort Bend, or do you see yourself as being at the forefront of a trend?
MF: I call myself a moderate Republican running as an independent. DeLay has kicked all the moderates (who call themselves conservative) into the corner. I had so many come up to me when I ran in the primary and encouraged me because they hated DeLay and were glad someone had the guts to challenge him. I just didn't have the money to get the word out, and spent most of 2002 fighting to get back on the ballot after DeLay had me kicked off, so I didn't have time to campaign. I'm not sure the independent is a trend but it has impacted this election. The reason DeLay is under 50% is because I'm pulling votes from those moderate Republicans - otherwise he'd be at 60%. But what I see is that having more time to build a base may allow me to go back in '06 with enough votes to beat DeLay in the primary since a tiny number of people vote in the primary. In 2002 we had only 28,000 voters, so I would need only another 15,000 votes to beat him in the primary versus a lot more than that in a general.
CK: If you win, would you caucus with either party? For whom would you vote as Speaker - Nancy Pelosi, Dennis Hastert, or someone else?
MF: I will vote for Diane Sawyer or Jon Stewart. We could use either a pretty speaker or a witty one. Whoops, they aren't in Congress, Ok, I would attempt to be the go-between and attempt bipartisan solutions. With DeLay gone we might be able to get back to some kind of civilized behavior in Congress. For speaker I would favor the person who is the least partisan, but if the GOP controls then their won't be much choice - I'll have to vote for Daffy Duck in that case.
CK: What are your top legislative priorities? Where do you differ from DeLay and Richard Morrison?
MF: Getting the budget back in balance is No. 1. Stopping tax breaks for companies outsourcing jobs is also a top priority. Unlike either DeLay or Morrison, I have extensive international and terrorism expertise and would push for more effective action - TSA is a big failure so far. I've heard reports that terrorists have been making 'dry runs' on airliners. Another 9-11 is possible. But we can't blame all Arab Americans. I also differ from the other two in that we must be an honest broker and get an Israel-Palestinian solution in order to end the source of terrorism (and get our focus back on the global killer Osama bin laden).
CK: In touting your candidacy, you have said "Fjetland pulled in 20%+ of the GOP vote against DeLay without a mailing or TV ad, and claims the 40% Republicans who skipped DeLay's name (but not Bush's) on the March 9 GOP primary in Ft. Bend - his home. But they won't vote for a Democrat." What is your strategy for reaching those apparently disaffected Republicans? Does the recent KHOU story about Sugar Land yards with Bush and Morrison signs affect that strategy?
MF: Good question. I saw the KHOU story. I think Richard found the only Republican in the district who would also have a Democratic yard sign. I haven't met anyone like that - I have met a number of Republicans who would consider me, but only because I ran in two GOP primaries. Otherwise they probably wouldn't give me the time of day as an independent. With the partisan distrust in a red district, no way in hell they are voting for a Democrat. I thought in 2000 I could win the GOP primary if Dems crossed over - no way in hell they would do it. For the same reason Reps won't cross over and vote for a Democrat, not even with a gun to their head. Nice story but not real - I've been doing this for 4 years and know how they think. Even getting the Chronicle endorsement won't help - Reps think it is a "liberal" paper, so they discount it.
That 40% is the key - my problem has been getting the money to reach them and let them know I'm running. If it doesn't happen, DeLay will win. Dems have been dumb not to help me get funding (you don't think the GOP will fund me, do you? They didn't even when I ran as a Republican!). Without $$$ those moderates will vote for DeLay or leave it blank and DeLay will win with a plurality. I could pull them off DeLay if I could advertise. That probably helps the Dem more than me - if I only pull DeLay down another 10%, Morrison would take it. But if I could pull DeLay down the full 40% then either Morrison or I could win. But as it stands, DeLay is "safe" because I am running on fumes and the moderate Republicans don't know I'm in the game. I've been an entrepreneur for 20 years and have to think outside the box. I'm amazed the Dems haven't "got" it and tried a new strategy. The same old play will get the same old result.
CK: Do you believe DeLay's ethical troubles will cause him to lose support in this election? If so, how are you taking advantage of that?
MF: Most Republicans think it's all politics, so they discount it. The ones who don't like him won't vote for a Democrat - so I'm still trying to let them know they have a choice. When I can, I tell them DeLay had my signs stolen in 2000 and me kicked off the ballot in 2002 - so I've seen his "ethics" in action. He sets a poor example of democracy for Iraq, etc. But again, without funding, it's hard getting the word out - when Reps see a former Republican candidate calling DeLay's conduct questionable, then it means something.
CK: You have a number of issues regarding "fair elections" on your webpage. Do you consider them all to be federal in nature? Which of these issues do you think is the most urgent to be taken up by Congress?
MF: Another good question. Our democracy is under attack. Electronic voting without paper backup is a recipe for gross cheating. Ironic that we are supposedly fighting a war for democracy in Iraq while losing it in the U.S. I am not a fan of Nader because I don't think someone with 1% or 2% of the vote deserves to be on the debates, etc. But I can see that it's tough for an independent to get any time on TV, etc. The Chronicle ignored my global and terrorism experience and endorsed someone who has zero knowledge of the world - how does that help us if he doesn't know Lebanese from Lemons? I heard Richard say during his kick off speech (I was invited) that if the next President said we needed to invade Country X "Hell, I wouldn't know; they've got a thousand times more knowledge about that than I do." Yep, that's why we got into Iraq despite my writing before that it was a mistake and Iraq was not the threat the President said it was. Two thirds of Congress don't have passports. Being a good bug killer doesn't make a great Congressman in a global economy and worldwide terrorism.
CK: You support scrapping the current tax system. Tell us how you would replace it.
MF: Stop all the special interest tax breaks. It's gotten out of hand. Breaks for importers of Chinese ceiling fans, etc. - makes no sense. Writing off Hummers makes no sense. I have to agree with Kerry that it's not right to give the top 1% tax bracket all the breaks. Trickle down doesn't work. Anything would be better than the present system - as long as its fair and gives the middle and lower class a break.
CK: If you wake up on November 3 and find that your level of support was less than the difference between DeLay and Morrison, will you regret running?
MF: No, because if I wasn't in this DeLay would be laughing and grabbing a solid majority. I know this district. I take votes from DeLay and that's the key. My only regret will be if DeLay gets re-elected because the Dems were goofy and didn't help me pull more GOP votes from him. DeLay has wreaked havoc and abused power and hurt this district and I have worked for 4 years to get rid of him for that reason. He's had his revenge on me but I had to do something to try to stop him. My only regret will be if the bastard gets back in. I did my best but I have had to do it alone.
P.S. If for some reason Richard gets in (it will be because I pulled DeLay down, not because of his funding) I can guarantee he'll be defeated in 2 years by the next Republican who wins the primary in '06.
This is still a 63% GOP district, so it will be a short run. If by some miracle I win, I'll have to switch back to the GOP (as a non-crazy moderate) to stay in -- and even I could lose it in '06. A ton of folks will jump into the primary - whoever wins that will win the general.
But the main thing is that if people give me some help now, we have our last best shot to defeat DeLay (because I'm not running again as an independent for sure) and that will make it all worthwhile. Any replacement won't be as bad as that power drunk moron.