Ashwin Madia – the Man, the Myth, the One Democrat Who Won’t Call Michelle Bachmann Bat-Shit Crazy

If the ongoing
national embarrassment that is the Democratic primary hasn’t yet caused you to gouge
out your eyes
with a rusty spork, you may have noticed that the local political
campaign season is in full swing. And because this year’s campaigns are already
shaping up to be nearly as contentious as the debate over whether the spawn of Billy Ray is
just penance for the Western World’s sins, or if her popularity is simply a
sign of the end times, The Defenestrator has been tasked with ferreting out the
secrets of this year’s crop of candidates for local and national office.

Why have we been
saddled with this thankless task? Because the staff of The Rake wants nothing
but the best for its readers, except Ann Bauer, of course. That
lush wants nothing more than to get you loaded and avail herself of your firm and
nubile body. But in these times of rapid-fire political rhetoric and
skyrocketing consumer prices, knowing is half the battle. Yo, Joe!

In any case, the
first in our series of candidate interviews takes us to scenic Congressional
District 3, encompassing most of the Twin Cities’ western suburbs. Ashwin Madia
recently took home the DFL endorsement in the race to replace longtime GOP
stalwart, Jim Ramstad, in the House of Representatives. Madia, having never
held office anywhere but in the University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Student
– where once upon a time Homer Simpson
managed to make a serious run at the presidency
, was not expected to make a
strong showing, let alone beat the presumptive nominee, Teri Bonoff.

But he did beat her.
He beat her like a bad bad donkey, in fact. And now he’s all but certain to move on to the general
election against GOP candidate Erik Paulsen. We caught Madia in the midst of a
fundraising frenzy just after the nominating convention and he was gracious
enough to to give us an interview, a few talking points, and at least a little
insight into why anyone might want to vote for someone insane enough to
put a lucrative law practice on hold after returning from a war zone so he can
take a shot at gaining membership to the DMZ otherwise known as the United
States House of Representatives.

Defenestrator: So,
how’s the fundraising coming?

Madia: We set a state record for an unknown candidate. We
raised 161k in two months last year. In Q1 of this year we raised 196k. To be
able to raise that kind of money, it shows that we’ve got a good message. It’s

D: What made you
decide to run for U.S. Congress, rather than trying for the state legislature
or other local office first?

M: Because I care about these issues, the Iraq War – I want
to find a way to end it. I care about global warming. I care about civil
liberties. Those are federal issues. Some people think there’s a path you have
to take, city council, local government. We’ve all got something to contribute.
I don’t think you have to be a politician already to contribute to our
discussion. We all have a voice in this.

I thought this was an opportunity to serve our community and
instead of complaining all the time about where our country was going, I
figured it would be more productive for me to step forward and actually try to
do something about it.

D: When did you get the idea? Did Iraq drive you so
insane that you had to come up with ways to torment yourself when you got back

M: I pretty much started to think about it when Jim Ramstaad
retired. I wasn’t really thinking about it in Iraq.

D: Apart from
scamming on babes in
, what were you doing in Iraq?

M: I was creating a strategic system to establish rule of
law in Iraq. It involved coordinating with the State Department, Justice
Department, UN, European Union and Iraqi judges to develop a strategic plan to
establish rule of law in Iraq. It was a lot of phone calls, a lot of meetings,
a lot of supervision. A lot of meetings with different interest groups and
brokering compromises to come up with plans everyone could agree on.

For example, I went down to meet with the British in Basra
and the British foreign service to find out what plans and strategies they were
implementing to strengthen the Iraqi legal system and take that back to Baghdad
to fit that in strategically with what we were trying to do throughout the
county. We would get assessments of the status of rule of law programs around
the country and go brief the generals that were leading the multinational
forces on what was going on and the way ahead.

D: Why’d you join the

M: It was a good way to serve and I really wanted a
challenge. Whether you’re a grunt or a pilot, you do the same training and I
wanted to see if I could do it. I really enjoyed the challenge.

D: The DFL tried to
position you as a former Republican intent on undermining the party from within
by encouraging SUV use and alienating the party’s base from the wisdom of Al
Gore. Republicans are trying to position you as a hedonistic Communist, bent on
legalizing drugs and using tax dollars to help Eliot Spitzer open a brothel.
Who’s right?

M: I don’t think either one of them is right. What I am is
an independent voice for MN. It’s true that most of my principles line up on
the democratic side now. But 10 years ago Republicans wanted to amend the
constitution to balance the budget. They obviously don’t now. I think the
labels have gotten so mixed up that I prefer to go issue by issue and say where
I stand. In the end I’m a fiscally responsible and socially moderate democrat.

D: So why not go the
same direction but stay Republican?

M: I don’t know. It seems like a lot of that party has
adopted the philosophy of spending all that they want, cutting taxes at the
same time and borrowing from China to make up the difference.

D: You mean you don’t
want to give the Chinese the opportunity to finally take their revenge on the
white man for hooking them on Opium?

M: No comment on that one.

D: Coming out of a
particularly vicious cat fight with the wily, but oh so short Terri Bonoff, How
do you feel about parties having presumptive nominees? What’s it mean for the
political process?

M: Terri was a fantastic candidate. She ran a very spirited,
very classy race and I’ve got a lot of respect for her. I think what this
election shows is that even today if you’ve got a strong message, you can trump
money and endorsements and name recognition and all the other things
politicians use to win elections.

D: Do you see this as
a sea change?

M: I think this is an election where people are much more
willing to consider candidates who are from outside the political mainstream
and just love our country. They’re willing to consider values and authenticity
over traditional political experience.

D: What do you think
has changed to allow that? Why are people looking for that change

M: Because the country is in the shape that it is. Because
they think the country is on the wrong track and they want someone who’s going
to get it back on track and in the right shape again.

D: People seem to think
the country might function better if Washington nuked itself and became a
post-apocalyptic wasteland populated only by the mutant spawn of Newt Gingrich
and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Any thoughts on how you’ll change that perception?

M: In my mind, good policy is good politics. What that means
is that Washington needs to start delivering. We need to end the Iraq War. We
need to balance the budget and we need to get our economy back on track. We
need to address global warming. If we start delivering on actual results for
the American people, then I think they’ll start to have more faith in

D: How do you think
you can make that change? And don’t give me any of that one man can make a
difference crap. I mean, sure, Keanu Reeves was kinda cool as "The One" in the
first Matrix movie, but the only thing worth watching in the sequels was Monica

M: By working my tail off. I think there are a lot of people
throughout the country who feel the same way I do – That we need a new kind of
leadership in Washington. I think, and I hope, that we’ll see a new kind of
politics in the coming years.

D: Iraq – get the
hell out? Stay the course? And
now for something completely

M: I think we’ve
created a very tough situation over there. It’s hard to leave and it’s hard to
stay. So what I favor is a gradual withdrawal. Phased out over about two years.
With a limited number of forces left behind to protect our diplomatic presence,
to target high ranking members of Al-Qaeda and to prevent genocide if we start
to see it on massive levels.

How would that withdrawal occur? Benchmarks? A phased drawdown?

A phased drawdown over about two years, with a force left in Iraq to protect
our diplomatic interests, target high ranking members of Al Queda, and prevent
genocide in conjunction with other nations. Ultimately, it’s up to the Iraqis
to reach a political solution. We can play a role in helping with security in
the interim, but a lasting peace has to be an Iraqi peace.

And what happens if Muqtada Al-Sadr takes over Basra and, being too impatient
to wait for the afterlife, holds nightly 72 virgin parties in the streets with
the Iraqi army powerless to stop him?

Hopefully, by drawing down gradually, and by leaving some forces in Iraq for
the missions discussed above, we can decrease the possibility of chaos in
Iraq. But ultimately, it’s true that Iraqis themselves hold the power for
their own destinies.

Apart from the ability to kill a man 6 different ways, courtesy of the USMC,
what are you bringing to CD3?

I’m fiscally disciplined, socially tolerant, independent-minded Democrat.
I am a Democrat, but my biggest focus is on finding answers to the big
challenges facing our country, not party affiliation. I think that makes me
similar to most voters in the 3rd District.

Most people think politics is about nothing more than money. Now that you’re in
full-on fundraising mode, what do you say to that?

There are many good, honest, and decent people who are kept out of public
service because of money. When I got into this race last October, I made
a commitment that I wouldn’t be one of them. So my team and I have worked
very hard to raise what we need to get our message out. Having said that, real
campaign finance reform is long overdue because the fundraising demands on
candidates are really out of control.

How would you contrast yourself with Erik Paulsen?

I’m an independent-minded and pragmatic problem-solver who is more committed to
getting our great nation back on track than advancing a political
ideology. I come from outside the political system and I’m not an insider
– I think that will be an asset as I seek to bring real change to Washington.

If anything, the state legislature has become even more contentious than the
Federal, with DFLer and GOP alike focused more on sticking it to the other
party than on conducting business in the people’s interest. Do you think this
is how politics is trending? Or are we just stupid enough to elect a room full
of assholes?

No, I think politics will start trending in the reverse direction. People
are so hungry for something different and a new kind of politics that they’ve
been reaching outside of traditional areas to find new kinds of leaders, who
lead based on ideas, not insults. It’s true that sometimes politics gets
out of control in terms of the nastiness involved, but I think those are the
exceptions, and for the most part, people are voting for good leaders committed
to change.

How do you feel about party unity? Does being a member of a political party
give you a responsibility to that party, or are you ultimately responsible
elsewhere, as Ron Erhardt has mentioned on numerous occasions after he was
buggered by his own party.

Party unity is important and as Democrats we’ve been at our best throughout
history when we’ve come together to tackle the big challenges facing our
country- leading our nation through the Great Depression and fighting to bring
long overdue civil rights for all to our nation, for instance. But at the end
of the day, I think a legislator’s biggest responsibility is to his or her
constituents, not a political party.

You’ve mentioned George Bush is the reason you switched parties in 2003. But
I’ve seen chimps on Discovery Channel do a better job of portraying
conservative values than him. What makes you a Democrat? Why not a Libertarian,
apart from that whole actually "wanting to win" thing?

I’m more concerned about getting things done for our country than what label
people put on me. I want to responsibly end the Iraq War, balance our
budget, address global warming, make health care more accessible and
affordable, and stand up for civil liberties in our country. I want
government to work efficiently and effectively, without taking a dime more in
taxes than it needs while still ensuring the Federal government runs properly,
and I also don’t think government has a role in pushing its social values on
citizens. It’s my belief that my values and positions are shared by more
Democrats than Republicans, though if there are Republicans out there who
believe in some of the same things, then I want to work with them to get good
bipartisan legislation on each of these topics.

What about the pending Senate race? Franken vs. Coleman — other than the fact
that this race feels like it should be run in New York, what’s your take on
what’s shaping up to be a particularly vicious contest?

I think Al is a great candidate, as is the other candidate running for the
Democratic endorsement, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. Either one will make for
an exceptional US Senator.

Before you started running for office, you know – back when you had a life,
what’d you do with your spare time? Defending our fair city from the undead
predations of Cindy Brucato, perhaps?

You’re right that when you’re running for office, you really don’t have time
for too much else – it takes over your life. Before I got into this, I
liked playing pick up basketball, watching old movies, and going out for dinner
with good friends – typical stuff. My friends stopped taking my calls a
few months ago (I think they think I’m calling to ask them for contributions),
so I’m looking forward to spending some time with them after the campaign.

Michele Bachmann – direct connection to God or just bat-shit crazy?

Now, now – be nice. I disagree with a lot of what she stands for, and I
think she’s out of step with most Minnesotans on a variety of issues. I
think she’s in for a tough reelection race.