Not Your Everyday Q&A With Joe Galdo
The Green Party candidate for Virginia's 11th congressional District is fed up with politics in Washington. How would he change things up?
(Editor's note: One of the greatest powers Americans have is their right to vote. Patch respects that, and wants our readership to be as informed as possible before walking into that voting booth on Tuesday. With that in mind, this is the fifth in a series of in-depth interviews with candidates vying for Virginia’s 11th congressional District seat.)
Playing hardball with China, reforming America's two-party political system and running as a third-party candidate were discussed this week in an interview with Joe Galdo, the Green Party candidate for Virginia's 11th congressional District seat. Galdo spoke with Patch from his home in Fairfax.
Galdo, 66, has less than $10,000 campaign cash on-hand, and faces incumbent Democrat Rep. Gerry Connolly (who has $1.5 million), Republican Chris Perkins ($45,000), Independent Green candidate Peter Marchetti, Independent candidate Mark Gibson and Independent candidate Chris DeCarlo. This is his first campaign for political office, and, he says, may not be his last.
Galdo was born in Philadelphia and earned a degree in Physics from Fordham University and a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Virginia. He was a technology intelligence analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense from 1973-1985, and managed renewable energy technology programs for the U.S. Department of Energy from 1991 until his retirement in 2002.
A lifelong Independent, he lives with his wife, and has five children and a number of grandchildren.
Patch: How much time are you devoting to your campaign?
Galdo: Probably six-to-eight hours a day, at least. It is a full-time job, but not all of it is spent knocking on doors. I spend a lot of my time researching issues, answering emails and updating my Web site.
Patch: What did you want to be when you were a kid?
Galdo: A professional baseball player, but that went away very quickly. Then, I wanted to be a lawyer.
Patch: Were your parents political?
Galdo: My father wasn't. He thought politics was bad for business. He told me to stay away from politics.
Patch: But you didn't listen.
Galdo: Not recently. I worked for the government for over 20 years, and never got involved because of the Hatch Act, but I've always been an Independent. I've voted for Republicans and Democrats.
Patch: Have you ever been in a fistfight?
Galdo: No, I have not been in a fistfight and never had the need to get into one. I generally get along well with people.
Patch: What is your defining characteristic?
Galdo: I will work with just about anybody. I traveled a lot when I was working with DoD, and wherever I went people felt like they were working with someone they'd always known. When I canvas and go door-to-door and meet people, I can usually find something in common that I find that we have.
Patch: Describe your leadership style.
Galdo: No B.S. Know what you're talking about, and that means you need to do a little research before you start something. You need to know enough to be able to ask the right questions. I've been accused of micromanaging, and I occasionally do that. I'm a hands-on sort of person, but for the most part if you can do your job I let you do it. If things aren't going well, I make sure to insert myself into the situation to be able to get the job done the right way.
Patch: What compelled you to run?
Galdo: I spent more than a decade working for the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. And at DOE, in 1996, I ... saw how government worked and didn't work… On one project I worked on, individuals and small businesses had a lot of roadblocks in installing small, distributed power-generating systems, like fuel cells or solar panels. We set up a program, and one member of Congress decided that he was going to be responsible for getting it paid for and wanted to earmark it for getting a utility put in his home district. We said no.
I was program manager for the Distributed Power Program. I was also a senior member of the staff of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Utility Technologies - the office responsible for the renewable electric power technologies (wind, pv, geothermal, etc.), energy storage, power transmission and distribution technologies and high temperature superconductivity programs. From 1985 to 1991, I was a middle level manager at two small defense contractors in Northern Virginia.
With regard to the earmark - Congress funded a program we proposed. While several congressmen and senators supported the funding, one individual thought he was solely responsible and decided we should send the entire amount to a utility in his state, essentially earmarking the entire program after the fact.
I have enough experience and intelligence and I believe I could do a better job than our current Congressman (Gerry Connolly). The level of frustration reached a level and my wife said 'Don't complain, do something.' And this is the year when people are upset with the system. They're tired of the same old politics as usual. They want to see something different.
Patch: Who did you vote for in the last presidential election?
Galdo: To tell you the truth, I don't remember.
Patch: You don't remember who you voted for in the 2008 presidential election?
Galdo: I was so upset. I was going to vote for McCain, but then he chose a vice presidential candidate I couldn't deal with. I didn't trust Obama, although I liked what he said, and I don't think he's delivered. So, when it came time to vote I went for a third party candidate. I don't remember which one.
Patch: Who are you going to vote for this year?
Galdo: Jill Stein. Romney seems like a pretty decent guy. But he's not in touch with mainstream America. I've come to the conclusion that when you're that wealthy, you don't see the world in the same perspective that you or I see it.
There are 1.5 million start-ups every year that create three million jobs. That's where the job creation is. We create this superhero out of the entrepreneur, whereas the real entrepreneur is just an average person who decides they want to have a better life for their family. And they go out and start a business; they put all their savings into it, mortgage their homes, put their whole lives into it. Most of those businesses fail. They risk everything, and for the most part they lose everything for a dream.
It means that we're not seeing job creation because there are fewer and fewer start-ups, because the middle class doesn't have any money or savings to start a business. We need to reverse the trend of increasing income inequality. That means tax reform, raising the minimum wage, it means not valuing money more than people.
Patch: Describe to me your tax reform plan in a nutshell.
Galdo: This is where I agree with (Republican vice presidential candidate and House Budget Committee chair) Paul Ryan. He has some good ideas, he's just a little misguided. He's right that we need a fair, simple and equitable tax system, and he's right that we do not have that now. And the reason we don't is that every solution seems to be in the form of a tax credit or tax break. What we need to do, as Ryan suggests, is do away with all the tax credits and deductions, except for a standard deduction, exemptions [i.e. for taxpayer and dependents], and I would keep the earned income tax credit.
Patch: I hear a "but" coming.
Galdo: But, I don't agree with Ryan's tax rate structure. I would prefer an expanded number of tax brackets with a graduated income tax, and for the highest tax bracket of people earning $10 million and above, and bring back the effective tax rate of 45 percent for them, and keep the effective tax rates for those making $60,000 or less the same, which is pretty low.
Patch: Do we let the Bush tax cuts expire?
Galdo: I think we let those expire, and we put in a new tax code.
Patch: So, if you were elected how would you vote for Ryan's budget?
Galdo: I would vote it down. I don't like his ideas on privatizing Social Security and Medicare.
Patch: You describe yourself as fiscally conservative, right?
Galdo: I am very frugal. We are very fiscally conservative. I've never borrowed any money except to buy my first house, this house and for my first piano. I never borrowed money to buy my cars.
Patch: Describe the political environment in Washington.
Galdo: It's terrible. We need to fix it, and it's partly due to the way the system works, and partly to redistricting. They redrew the boundary lines here in the 11th District, and the incumbent (Connolly) now has virtually little incentive to focus on the issues.
The two-party system is also at fault, and so is the media. You want to get voters active? Give them a choice. Look at the election supplement in the Washington Post, for example. If you look at the candidates, the main spread stops at Connolly. Even the Republican candidate, Chris Perkins, and all of the third-party candidates are buried in the back pages. Why is that? Why is Connolly on that page? There could be an agenda, or it could just be the way people think.
Patch: Some might think it's going to be a little time before you have third-party candidates winning big elections.
Galdo: If the media would help it could be done.
Patch: Money also plays into it. Connolly has more than $1 million in cash on-hand, and you've raised less than $10,000. What kind of a threat do you pose?
Galdo: It depends on the electorate. There are a lot of people who don't know that third-party candidates exist, even though we appear at candidate forums. The majority of voters don't read about those events, and I'm just coming to realize that.
Patch: You don't like the game that gets people elected, but it does get them elected, right?
Galdo: It's not that I don't like it. The second time around I think I'll be better at how the game is played. The first thing I'll do is organize campaign support staff, since most of the people working with me on this campaign are part-time.
I set up my Web site by myself, set up my own schedules, answer my own phones, write my own material and do my own research. Most of the signatures for my ballot collection forms I collected myself. I made the mistake of thinking that since I was retired and had the time that it wouldn't be an issue. Well, I can do a lot better next time around. I'm a quick learner.
Patch: Give me your critique of Gerry Connolly as a congressman.
Galdo: He has not exhibited the leadership that Northern Virginia deserves in Congress. For as much as I disagree with his positions, (Republican House Majority Whip) Eric Cantor is a leader. Paul Ryan is a leader. A leader looks not just at local issues, but national and global issues and proposes solutions and lays them on the table.
Connolly doesn't do that. He says that we need a combination of raising revenue and increasing taxes, and then he votes time and again to cut taxes - going in the opposite direction from raising revenue. Where's his proposal? Where's the problem solving? His solution to the U.S. Postal Service budget problem was to put a Starbucks in every post office. That was his solution. The Postmaster General said, 'No thanks, but we need practical solutions here.' He talks a lot, but there's not a lot of action, and that's not real leadership.
Patch: What caucus would you join if elected?
Galdo: I'm not sure. It depends on where I can get the best deal. I want to wait and see what the landscape looks like before I make that decision, and what would make the most sense for me as a congressman and the 11th District.
Patch: On sequestration and figuring out what to do with $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction - What's the solution?
Galdo: First of all I want to make a comment. Gerry Connolly says he voted for the Budget Control Act because he did not want the U.S. to default on its debt. That was not going to happen anyway, because constitutionally, we cannot default on the debt. It takes priority over everything. So, if anything were to happen if Congress didn't raise the debt limit, it would have been program cuts. It might have been the best possible thing, actually, because you would have seen the government shut down for a few days.
Suppose Connolly and a number of others voted it down. It would have caused havoc, but it would have effectively given the President line item veto, because he can go through the budget and choose what he wanted to take out. I guarantee you as soon as you start cutting programs and furloughing people, politicians will get together very quickly and solve the problem. Sometimes you have to play hardball.
Defeating the Budget Control Act might have been the best outcome, not shutting down the government, per se. But a partial shutdown for a few days would likely have been the result, as well as a slowdown of spending in other areas, while the White House decided how best to reduce spending over the longer term to avoid a default. The bill's failure would have essentially given the President a line item veto over the budget. He would have had the opportunity to make cuts to discretionary programs as he saw fit.
It would have provided a great opportunity to eliminate pork and inefficient or ineffective programs without Congressional interference. The bottom line, though, is that the debt ceiling problem would not have lasted very long. Public pressure would have forced Congress to raise the debt limit in short order to end the government shutdown and the reductions in federal spending. This would have been preferable to what happened - kicking the can down the road. At least we would not be facing the uncertainty over sequestration that is impacting business decisions and the economy. In addition, in the past it has always been the case that Congress has reimbursed federal employees for lost pay during similar government shutdowns.
Patch: So, do we let sequestration happen?
Galdo: The bad thing about sequestration is that it cuts programs across the board. It doesn't erase ineffective programs, and it cuts the good with the bad, which is not a good solution. It seems trite to say it now, but the solution is a combination of budget cuts along with tax reform. You can't balance the budget with cuts alone. You have to increase revenues…
You cut defense. We are building systems that we can't afford. Look at the multi-purpose F-35 fighter plane, for example. Originally it was going to cost $60 million a copy, now it's somewhere between $160-$200 million a copy. We can't afford it, and some of the countries we were going to sell it to don't want it anymore. We have to get some control over the defense budget, and have to stop waging wars overseas that we can't justify financially or ethically. Navy Seals killed Osama Bin Laden and we could have done that all along, without going into Iraq.
Patch: Democrats will say that the United States has decimated Al Quaeda in Afghanistan and killed Bin Laden. Wasn't that the mission?
Galdo: You can argue that, but it cost us more than it should have. We did that in Vietnam. In Afghanistan, we should have learned from the Russian experience in the 1980s, but we didn't.
Patch: How should the U.S. approach the Assad regime in Syria? Thousands of Syrians are dead and more are dying.
Galdo: Like Iran, I think we look toward the support they're getting from Russia and China. Iran is being provided nuclear technology primarily by China, and yet we treat China as our most favored nation. Why do we do that? China plays dirty in economic spheres.
You can't deal rationally with Iran, and if Israel is going in, then we go in. There's no way out of that. So, if you don't start putting pressure on China, and I think we've lost all our influence in Russia. And a lot of people think that China has a hold over us. We have a hold over them, and their economy depends on us. If we pull the plug on them, I don't think we get screwed as much as they do, because there will be a lot of social unrest in China. They will have a revolution on their hands and internal problems they can't handle. We won't.
Patch: In the meantime, people are dying in the streets of Syria. What do we do right now, aside from pressuring China and Russia? What would you support?
Galdo: I would support giving aid to the Syrian opposition forces and not going in militarily. My intent was to suggest we work with Syria's neighbors to ensure an adequate number of refugee camps to accommodate those fleeing Syria and provide appropriate humanitarian aid.
Patch: What kind of support? Weapons? Money?
Galdo: Possibly, depending on what kind. I think we work with other countries in the area, like Turkey and our other allies, and let let them help us out there. One thing we can do is work to provide a home for refugees.
Patch: On transportation, what should Virginia's 11th District representative do about clearing up the traffic mess in Northern Virginia?
Galdo: As far as the Silver line (Phase II of Rail-to-Dulles), the $950 million loan that Connolly is working on with the U.S. Department of Transportation, is just another example of kicking the can down the road. Eventually taxpayers in Northern Virginia are going to have to pay back that loan. But the opportunity has really passed to take advantage of hundreds of billions of dollars were being thrown around by economic stimulus funds. Some of that should have been funneled here. Now, everyone talks about budget cuts and it's a lot harder to get that $1 billion.
Patch: Ok, that was then. What do we do now regarding transportation in Northern Virginia? Let's say you're elected to Congress. What do you do?
Galdo: It's difficult, because a lot of the problems appear on the county level, and it's plan to grow urban centers. We have a transportation problem and the metro system is too expensive to expand. We've got to expand the bus system.
Patch: I'm still wondering how you'd act regarding this issue if you were elected.
Galdo: I would certainly try to get more funding for public transportation, especially for the bus system. As a condition for providing that money, I would like to see some plans that make sense.
Patch: On the environment, what should America's energy future look like?
Galdo: We should be funding fusion research. It's very high risk, but there's a high payoff. I also think we need to reduce our dependence on oils and fossil fuels, and it can have a positive effect on the economy - if you do it the right way. I don't see them going away in the next 20-30 years, but I also don't see us being dependent on foreign oil over the next 20-30 years. We have had a trade deficit of $400-500 billion a year, which is money that is taken out of the GDP. Half of that comes from imported oil and the other half is our trade deficit with China. Those two issues need to be addressed.
Patch: Taking yourself out of the equation, who would you vote for to represent you in the 11th congressional District?
Galdo: Mark Gibson. I think he's intelligent, and while I don't agree with him on everything, I think he understand everyday life and people. He's a decent guy and would do the right thing.
Patch: Last question. What advice do you have for young people?
Galdo: Get involved. Vote. Don't feel discouraged or disenfranchised, because it's up to you to change the system and change the world. That's the way I felt when I was a teenager in the 1960s. It's up to you to change things that you don't like, and if you sit back and let the world roll by and think government owes you your life, you're going to be disappointed every time. You need to take charge yourself and get things done.