ANATOMY OF A MODERATE-- MEET MIKE McGRAW, A BRAND NEW DEMOCRAT WHO WANTS TO HELP RETIRE LYNN WESTMORELAND
"I'm a proud Democrat," Mike McGraw told me on the phone Tuesday morning. I was a little skeptical. A few days earlier Mike had used a different adjective in front of "Democrat"-- a suspicious one to me-- when describing himself: "conservative" and he started 2006 off as a lifelong-- presumably "proud"-- Republican. The first time I had ever heard of him was when I decided to write up his district's representative in Congress, Lynn Westmoreland, after watching him on the Colbert Report about a month ago. (You might want to go back to that story to get a better look at what exactly Mike is up against in his bid to represent Georgia's newly-drawn 3rd CD.) I didn't really look into Mike and his campaign at the time. I figured he was another Jim Marshall or, at best, John Barrow wannabe, Democrats who vote with the Republicans when it matters most (both of whom get "C" ratings from DMI). But something about Mike got me interested in hearing him out anyway.
Maybe it was when he told me he was bilingual-- "I speak Democrat and Republican"-- or maybe when I realized he has no driving personal aspiration to become a professional politician but that he's just a good American and a good family man distressed at what Bush and his rubber stamp Congress have done to our nation. And surely it was when I sensed Mike's sincerity and, although I knew I was going to disagree with him on issues, when I recognized how intelligent he was.
"I'm just an American who is very frustrated and has had enough," he told me while I was slicing up strawberries for breakfast. "I've had enough of this do-nothing Congress. I've had enough of the incompetence in Washington. I've had enough of the mismanagement of the Iraq War." I stopped slicing the strawberries and picked up a pen. "I've had enough of our borders not being secure. I've had enough of hearing about the global economy without any concern for the American economy. I've had enough of the exportation of U.S. jobs. I've had enough of Washington being out of touch with the forgotten middle class, who have no voice in Washington. I've had enough of out of control spending and lack of fiscal responsibility and this borrow and spend approach to government. I've had enough of corruption of power and I've really had enough of absolute power corrupting absolutely. I've had enough of politics being about those who serve rather than about being about the people they're supposed to be serving. I've had enough of the polarization of our political parties-- of the 'you're with me or against me' attitude in D.C."
OK, ok, ok... let's talk. Mike had already mentioned he's not running on "pure party issues." I liked a phrase he had come up with: "It's not about red states or blue states; it's about red, white and blue issues." He didn't stop there though. "It's not about the far left or the far right; it's about what's right and wrong."
Ahhh... Mike. Far right? What do you mean by that? Who is far right? "Ralph Reed here in Georgia is a good example and Bush and his crowd... look how far to the right they have taken the whole political system. I think Ronald Reagan would have a hard time being a Republican today because the Republican Party has moved so far to the extreme right. He would be a moderate in today's political world." I heard John Dean saying the same thing about Barry Goldwater a couple of days ago, although the idea of re-jiggering the system to get back to the good old policies of Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater doesn't exactly thrill me. Mike, I ask, what about the "extreme left" you mentioned. Who's that? Mike's a guy with a lot on his mind and a lot to say. He's never at a loss for words. After some stabs at it he seems to agree with me that in America "the extreme left" doesn't exist except as a straw man construct of the Limbaughs, Hannitys, O'Reilly's and the other components of the well-oiled GOP right wing propaganda machine.
Before the 27 year entrepreneur switched parties in April, specifically to run against Westmoreland, he had been very community-service oriented and as far back as 1997 was named Georgia's "Volunteer of the Year." Now he admits to having been "somewhat euphoric that the 3 branches of government were unified" (under the GOP). Mike sensed an opportunity "to address and deal with the many serious issues facing the country-- tax reform, Social Security, border security, economic security, our dependency on foreign oil." No longer even somewhat euphoric, now he's absolutely appalled by what Bush and his rubber stamp congress have done to make each issue an even worse situation. Congress seems to have chosen "to work on purely political and social issues that divide us. And they've been in a self-interest mode that has been unproductive."
For Mike the last straw was the Dubai ports deal Bush tried sneaking through Congress. He decided to do what he felt a good citizen had to do. Everyone told him the odds were stacked against him but he told me that "If nobody ran we would be sending a clear message to Washington that they are on the track, that they are heading in the right direction, and that we agree with and endorse what they are doing. He doesn't and he doesn't feel that the voters in Georgia's 3rd CD do either.
He may have a point. The new 3rd CD isn't some kind of radical right outpost. It's a pretty moderate district southwest of Atlanta. Ralph Reed, who boasted heavy support from Congressloon Westmoreland, lost there last week. Mike told me Westmoreland has voted 98% in lockstep with Tom DeLay. He doesn't think the people in the district he and his family have lived in all their lives agree with Tom DeLay 98% of the time.
Mike has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO and, for a former Republican, I was surprised how easy it was for him to understand and embrace the idea that Bush and the rubber stamp Congress makes it easy for undocumented foreigners to get into the U.S. in order to depress wages and weaken organized labor at the behest of their Big Business contributors. I decided to ask Mike about some tough issues that has me constantly bashing conservative (or what I call "fake") Democrats here at DWT. Afterwards I suggested he re-examine if he really wants to call himself "conservative." Mike opposes staying the course in Iraq. He's flat against abolishing the Estate tax. He's open to rolling back Bush's unfair tax cuts that benefit the wealthy at leave working class and middle class Americans with nothing but higher burdens to pay for Bush's extravagance and grossly irresponsible fiscal policies. Although he personally identifies himself as "pro-life," he believes Roe v Wade is settled law and he says he would vote to uphold it. Like Bill Clinton, he says abortion should be "safe and rare." Like most Democrats, Mike doesn't think you can legislate morality. He opposes a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage and is open to the idea of civil unions.
To me Mike sounds like what a moderate actually is. His positions are reasonable and based on fairness and on bringing people together, not tearing them apart. He's anything but a "my way or the highway" kind of guy. Voters in GA-03 ought to take a look at what they have now-- a crooked contractor who has gotten awfully rich while serving in Congress and who brags on national television about being more of a do-nothing than anyone else-- and compare that to Mike McGraw. I don't get the feeling he's the next Paul Wellstone, but... hey, I didn't think anyone who started a conversation with me by telling me he's a "conservative Democrat" would get me to write a story about him either. If you're so inclined, you can volunteer for Mike's campaign here or donate here.