Jim Neal | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Jim Neal

Candidate for U.S. Congress


Name as it appears on the ballot: Jim Neal
Date of birth: 11.6.56
Campaign website: www.jimnealforsenate.com
Occupation & employer: CEO, Agema Group, LLC

1. What do you see as the most important issues facing North Carolina and the nation? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

The four most important issues facing North Carolina and the nation are the economic recession, the educational gap between the U.S. and other industrialized (and even developing countries), a health care crisis that leaves 44 million Americans uninsured this year, and the catastrophe that is the Iraq War.

My four priorities for addressing these are:

  1. The economy: People across the state are frustrated with their economic reality, as they should be. For too long, their representation in Washington has given tax cuts to the wealthy, all the while ignoring the needs of hard working, middle class Americans and turning a blind eye to the impoverished. We need to invest in you, in your community, and in your economic prosperity.
  2. That is why I support small business and entrepreneurial development initiatives: to build “home-grown wealth” and jobs that won’t be shipped overseas. Investing in infrastructure and technology, building small business networks, increasing micro-lending and small business loans, and investing in educational development are all pieces to the larger economic development pie, which makes smart, social investments that produce jobs and strengthen communities.

    A social investment, such as the adoption of an Apollo type Energy Independence project, similar to Kennedy’s initiative to put a man on the moon in ten years, is a good example. This program would address the need for a national investment reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, global warming, and rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Such an initiative would create tremendous economic opportunities and jobs which can’t be outsourced.

  3. Education: We need to scrap No Child Left Behind. It has been a massive failure by any measure. We need to invest in our education system, not hold parents, teachers, students, and communities’ hostage based on a standardized test. We need to fund small class sizes, better teacher training and pay, comprehensive Pre-K education, universal after-school programs, and technology and distance learning programs. We need to encourage critical thinking and analytical skills, not test taking skills. We need to close the educational gap, and equalize rural and inner city schools with their suburban counterparts. Every child deserves the opportunity at a college education, as a right rather than a privilege. And, we need to re-invest in our community colleges, as the training and adult education apparatus it can be.

  4. Health Care: Our health care system is broken. I will be a tenacious advocate for health care for every man, woman, and child in this country. I will promote preventive medicine: a primary care physician for every American, so that we are doing health care, not sick care. We need to drive down the staggering costs of our health care system by using technology to reduce administrative costs and to manage, not deny health care.
  5. Comprehensive health care must move patients into the offices of general practitioners and rural health care clinics for their primary, preventive care rather than forcing them into an emergency room for sick care, which is three times more expensive.

  6. Getting out of Iraq. Now.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective in the U.S. Senate? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

My professional background as an investment banker, entrepreneur, and problem solver has prepared me for the U.S. Senate. I have had personal and life experience as a single parent, who has seen both sides of life; from Wall Street to an employment line, from boom to bust, and back. My experiences are similar to the millions of middle class families in this country who have seen success and failure, lived through the high times and the lean times. That is the voice I will bring to the U.S. Senate, a perspective desperately needed in Washington.

3. How do you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I refer to myself as a Democrat with an open mind. I think my positions and political philosophy reflects our campaign’s platform and profile because I refuse to tow the Democratic Party line on any issue. I will vote my conscience and what I believe, and I will tell you what I think, whether it’s politically expedient or not.

Our campaign has done much to reinvigorate grassroots politics in North Carolina in the 21st century and is representative of the sort of innovative leadership which I hope we would bring to Washington. We are empowering people across the state to take a leadership role with their peers, families, and their community in order to help effect real change. Because, at the end of the day, people want someone who is going to tell the truth, vote their conscience, and stand up for what’s right. I believe that the people’s interest will beat the power of status quo politicians in an election year where the voters are the voices of change. I refuse to be indebted to political insiders or special interests, and my political philosophy reflects that.

4. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle and North Carolina. Please point to a specific position in your platform that would, if achieved, help further that goal.

I think our campaign’s mission is very similar. We have been working for the past 7 months to build a community across the state that is greater than me, or my campaign staff, or the volunteers in our office. We have been using innovative technology, through virtual house parties, online organizing events, and conference calls to build a community of like- minded people who want something new in Washington.

A specific platform piece would be my call for a National Service Program for our young people just out of college, or preparing for higher education. I want to make a covenant with these young people: dedicate the first few years of your career to public service, and we will forgive your student debt. This is a program that rewards our young people for giving back to their communities and strengthens our shared identity as Americans.

5. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

I have been told several times by political pundits, strategists, and journalists that my stand on civil rights and equality for all Americans would cost me votes in the general election. I have been told by Washington and Raleigh insiders that a candidate, who happens to be gay, and stands up for equal rights for every American can’t win in a “red, southern state."

In 2008, we are going to prove them wrong.

6. If these issues haven’t been addressed above, would you please comment on:

a. The U.S. has been fighting the war in Iraq for five years. Was the decision to invade a mistake? What should our policy in Iraq be today? Should we base substantial military forces there for the foreseeable future? Start to withdraw now, or if not now, according to a plan (i.e., on a timetable)? Which, if any, of the congressional resolutions introduced so far on Iraq do you support?

Yes, the Iraq war was a tremendous mistake and we need to get out. I will not support continued funding of the war by any administration until the Executive and Legislative Branches, in consultation with our military command, have agreed to a timetable which will allow a withdrawal of our troops, weapons, and materiels that could be used by hostile actors, and that will ensure that our service people will come home as soon as possible safe and alive. Congress has the power they just need to exercise it.

b. Evaluate the war in Afghanistan. What troop levels and funding should be allocated to fight that war? What is our goal there, in your view? What should our policy be? What legislation should be introduced to address those issues?

We missed our window in Afghanistan and should also withdraw from that theatre. Our original purpose, to punish those who attacked us on 9-11, was never realized, mostly because of the poor decision to invade Iraq. It is time to put these foreign policy blunders behind us, and move on and redirect the resources here at home. Our policy should be to withdraw from Afghanistan and leave the fate of the country with Afghans and their allies in the Middle East.

c. Economic inequality in the U.S.: Is a major problem? If so, what steps do you advocate to shrink the gap between rich and poor?

Economic inequality has persisted for generations, especially within our rural and inner city communities. The divide between the affluent and the rest of America is growing wider. It is unconscionable that the gap between rich and poor has grown this far. There is no reason the average CEO makes 400 times that of the worker.

We need to make the tax system more progressive, and the wealthiest among us need to bear a larger burden.

We need a plan for real economic development in this state and this country that, just like our fathers before us, rewards hard work and sacrifice, not who your friends are.

I support federal initiatives which facilitate “home-grown wealth” and entrepreneurial development at the local level. Such a plan would build quality, sustainable industries and small business in North Carolina, specifically in rural and poverty stricken communities. Infrastructure and technology investment, improved education and adult education programs, micro-lending and investment capital focusing, and entrepreneurial development are all part of the plan.

In addition, we must bolster educational opportunities: Head Start, universal Pre-K education, after-school program funding, and investing in college education opportunities; such as Pell Grants and a Youth Corps Program, to allow young people to re-pay college debt through a public service commitment, are all good steps to shrinking the gap between rich and poor. Education is the silver bullet in this country, and it has been woefully under funded for a decade.

d. Universal health care: Do you support a program of universal health insurance? If so, is your model for it closest to Sen. Clinton’s? Sen. Obama’s? Some other plan? Or do you favor a free-market approach like Sen. McCain’s?

I do support Universal Health Care and frankly think the differences between Senators Clinton’s and Obama’s aren’t that far reaching. I strongly disagree with Senator McCain that the market can solve our health care crisis. We need to move to a plan that covers every man, woman, and child in this country. We need to stop using emergency rooms, and instead practice preventive medicine. We need a Medicare-like system that includes everyone under the same plan. People are welcome, as they should be, to purchase their own health insurance.

e. Infrastructure: Should the U.S. undertake new investments—and if so, how much?--in highways, bridges, transit systems, water and sewer systems and the like?

The US should undertake new infrastructure developments, including physical infrastructure, but also in terms of technological infrastructure. Every inch of our country needs to be wired for the 21st century economy, and we need to start investing in that yesterday. We do need to invest in the physical infrastructure also, but I would be remiss to propose a dollar sign. The best way to accomplish these goals is by reprioritizing how we spend our nation’s resources. I am in favor of bolstering the middle class through enactments of legislation which provide accessible and affordable health care, economic and infrastructure development; much as President Roosevelt did. By expanding the middle class tax base and instituting a more progressive tax system we can afford to fund these programs.

f. There has been an increase in unemployment, a rise in home foreclosures, a spike in food and fuel prices, a huge federal deficit, and other troubling economic indicators. What do you see as the primary sources of our current economic problems? What measures should Congress use to resolve address them? How would you begin to reduce the federal deficit? What are some of the possible negative consequences of your proposed solutions?

This current recession was sparked by all the items you just mentioned, especially the foreclosures, fuel costs, federal deficits, and a weak dollar. We need to get out of Iraq. Trillions of dollars were spent on a foreign policy debacle that immersed us in civil war.

We need to borrow a page from the New Deal and set up a 21st Century Home Owners Loan Corporation, whereby the government buys mortgages from Wall Street and refinances the terms with home owners to prevent foreclosures. We need to stop the special interest earmarking that is so prevalent in Washington and Raleigh, and invest that money in programs that benefit the community as a whole.

The only negative consequence I see is the strong opposition mounted by special interests, the patrons of corporate interests, and the insider lobbyists.

g. Trade: What changes in trade policy do you advocate, if any?

I support trade, but we need Fair Trade not Free Trade. We need to set an example with our trade agreements and include environmental and labor standards to begin to level the playing field. We need to repair our broken diplomacy and set a moral standard in the world, to allow our trade policies to work.

h. The falling dollar: The euro and the dollar were equal not long ago. Now, one euro costs $1.50. What’s the problem, and what should be done to address it?

As we strengthen our economy and reduce our dependence on foreign oil priced in dollars, dollar denominated investments will become more appealing investments to those based on other currencies.

7. What is your position on capital punishment?

I support abolishing the death penalty. It is an arcane practice, and a civilized society should not be taking the life of anyone. Putting someone behind bars for life is much more of a punishment.

8. What is your position regarding LGBT rights? Please address whether gay marriages or civil unions should be made legal in North Carolina or as a matter of national policy; also, whether sexual orientation and identity should be added as a protected class under federal or state anti-discrimination laws.

I support equal rights for all Americans, including marriage equality. Marriage is a matter to be decided by individual churches, not by government fiat. If a church wants to marry a couple, it is at their discretion, not the discretion of the federal government. Sexual orientation and identity should be a protected class under federal and state law, and I was disappointed that the Democratic leadership in Washington threw the Trans- gendered community under the bus in the most recent anti-discrimination legislation last fall. To sacrifice a member of the LGBTQ community in order to pass the legislation was a disappointment.

9. Do you support women’s reproductive rights, including the “right to choose” as set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade?

Yes. A woman’s body and the choices she makes regarding her health should be between her and her doctor.

10. Should the nation’s labor-organizing laws be strengthened to better protect workers’ rights? If so, how?

Yes, we do need to strengthen labor laws, but just as importantly, we need to enforce the labor laws on the books. The Bush Administration has steam-rolled over workers’ rights, stacked the National Labor Relations Board with anti-labor allies who consistently ignore labor precedent, and worked to aggressively undermine workers’ rights across many, many sectors.

11. Where do you stand on retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that engaged in domestic surveillance without a warrant?

I oppose retroactive immunity for telecom companies. Retroactive immunity would allow the administration to continue to blanket its operations in secrecy and avoid accountability by pardoning its accomplices.

Retroactive immunity would set a legal precedent for the government and its accomplices to ask for immunity for torture, kidnapping, obstruction of justice and other potential crimes committed in our names. If we don’t have a right to privacy in our conversations than when do we have that right?

I believe in accountability, equality and fair play. I believe no one - no corporation and no government official - is above the law.

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