Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Interview: Miles Grant

The interview with Mr. Grant took place on Friday May 8 at the Bruegger's Bagels in Ballston.

To get this interview, as well as the others that I conducted, to a similar, readable size, I had to cut quite a bit of material. If I took out more than a word or two (or if the words I erased were more substantial than “and” or “but”), I inserted a three-dot ellipsis (…). If I inserted anything the speaker did not actually say, I used square brackets [like these] to show my insertion.

Otherwise, the words are full quotes. Despite having to remove a lot of content from each of the interviews, I try to make sure the quotes still make sense and are in context. I will happily run corrections or clarifications if the candidate or his campaign can show that it is merited.

My own questions were edited, at times, for clarity and length.--ST

Buckingham HeraldTrib (Steve Thurston): Pre-school for all Virginia’s kids, Universal Pre-K, is supported by all the candidates in the race. It lost during the last legislative session. Assuming we don’t have the money again in the upcoming year for this, what’s your second-best idea for this?

Miles Grant: How that gets dealt with next year, is going to depend on the outcomes of the elections in November, that it depends on who has control of the House of Delegates. It depends on who has control of the governor’s mansion.

That’s why, as a Democrat, I think it’s so critical that whoever gets the [gubernatorial] nomination, be it Terry [McAuliffe], be it Brian [Moran], be it Creigh [Deeds], we campaign our butts off for them, and that we try to pick up those six seats in the House of Delegates…Then I think you’re going to look for some new sources of revenue to try to pay for education, and try to prevent us from having to make too many draconian cuts in the budget…

(Click to enlarge the image.)

When I talk about Universal Pre-K, I see it as more of a long-term goal, along the lines of the clean energy goals that I talk about, along with marriage rights for all. But it’s something we’re going to have to fight for and strive towards, but in the short term, we have to play a little defense with the budget, just because of the economic climate that we’re in.

BHT: But do you see a short-term win?

MG: If anything what we’re looking at is trying to provide a higher level of funding state-wide so that communities don’t have to rely so much on things like property taxes for their education budget because we are talking about the two Virginias…We have northern Virginia which certainly provides for the needs of its children, for the needs of its special-needs kids, for the needs of its bi-lingual kids.

In the rest of the state, I think there’s a real question of whether we’re providing that minimal level of education in the rest of the state. We have places where the drop-out rate is approaching 40 percent. In places like that, forget about things like universal Pre-K, which we’re talking about achieving at a high level. We’re talking about failing at a bare minimum of getting our kids a high school diploma.

BHT: At the Arlington County Democratic Committee debate Andres Tobar said, I thought rightly, that if we think we’re getting off coal quickly to move to clean energy, we’re fooling ourselves.

MG: …I wish he wouldn’t say things like that because who’s talking about getting rid of coal tomorrow? Nobody. No environmentalist is talking about getting rid of coal tomorrow, and stuff like that is really playing into the Republican talking points that, ‘Oh, we can never get off fossil fuels, so why should we try?’

When we talk about our goals for clean energy, look at President [Barack] Obama’s goal: 25 percent renewable energy by 2025. That’s something that’s long-term, that’s achievable. And when we talk about these things, we’re really talking about starting the transformation now because Americans go into this shock-and-trance thing when it comes to fossil fuels. We get shocked by the $4-a-gallon gas prices. Then they come back down and we go into this trance where, well maybe if we don’t do anything, everything will stay the same, and you know, we’ll be fine.

But now is the time that we need to start moving away from some of these things. I mean, you know energy bills went up 18 percent in September, 1.5 percent in January, and now Dominion [Dominion Virginia Power Co.] wants to raise them another seven percent. That’s due to the rising cost of coal.

(Click to enlarge the image.)

I think when somebody goes around saying, oh, well we can’t get off coal tomorrow, well when are we going to get off coal? When is it OK for us to get off coal? If not tomorrow, what about next week? What about next month? What about next year?

BHT: So what do you want to do in Richmond in January, along those lines?

MG: I think the first thing we need to do is frame this as an economic issue. Republicans aren’t going to get on board with us because we’re trying to save the planet, or anything like that. But if we can, say, Look, let’s do an efficiency bill where we’re trying to save consumers money on their energy bills, that we’re trying to weatherize people’s homes.

We’re trying to make Dominion [Virginia Power Company] more of a partner…Dominion currently makes their profit by selling us as much energy as possible. If our home isn’t so energy efficient, that’s no skin off their back. So I think an efficiency bill is first step toward that. It’s businesses here in Virginia that are starting to say, there’s opportunities here for clean energy.

You see the commercials that are on TV now that single windmill needs 250 tons of steel. Well, where are those windmills going to get built? Are we going to let them get built in Pennsylvania, are we going to let them get built in Germany? Or are we going to build them here?…

Look at the last few elections. In 2004, this was not talked about on a national level. In the governor’s race with Governor [Tim] Kaine and [Terry] Kilgore, this wasn’t talked about. But for the first time, you’ve seen President Obama talk about it. Now you’re seeing McAuliffe and Moran talk about it.

(Click to enlarge the image.)

And I think the more voters hear about it, the more they’re going to expect not a Democratic or Republican solution, but a solution. The party of “No” is not going to be the right answer anymore. And if you see people like [Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob] McDonnell just saying, oh, “Drill, baby, drill,” voters are going to realize that that’s not a real answer, and Republicans are going to have to get on board with something.

BHT: You stepped out with a campaign pledge not to take contributions from Dominion Power or their employees. Now you’re saying we’ve got to make Dominion a partner. Was that pledge a statement you felt you needed to say to get elected, but something else is how I really feel, or what?

MG: There’s a difference between working with somebody and taking their giant checks…There’s a difference between having fund-raisers at Dominion executives’ houses, and saying, ‘Look, I’m not interested in your check, but I do want you to be a partner with us.’ I think there has to be a happy medium in there somewhere, and Virginia politicians tend not to find that when it comes to large checks and contributions. I’m just saying, look, I want to have an objective relationship with you, where we’re working together for consumers, and it’s not about, quid-pro-quo, or anything like that.

I’ve talked to some delegates from Richmond who’ve said ‘It’s easy for you to talk tough on Dominion when you’re not down here.’ I say, look, I’ll talk tough, but when it comes time to sit down at the negotiating table, let’s cut a deal.

BHT: You have gotten support from the gay and lesbian community. The way I’ve heard it, is that you’re tending toward getting the younger people from that community while the older people are tending toward Pat Hope.

MG: Sure. Well, I think the question is, do you want somebody who’s going to be, you know, more of the bolder person who’s going to be stepping out and saying marriage rights for all, you know, like we were talking about, you know, marriage rights for all sooner, or marriage rights for all later? Patrick at the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance was saying, I don’t think we can do this right now. I would disagree with that. I think we’ve got to start fighting now, or else when is it OK to start fighting? Next year? Next decade? I don’t know.

BHT: At the ACDC debate you listed gas taxes as a way to fund transportation. (Currently they’re about $0.38 a gallon, $0.19 federal, $0.18, state.) Where do you think it should be and why that level?

MG: Gov. Kaine had proposed in the past year raising it 30 cents. I think that’s a very sensible first step. I think long term we need to give drivers a pricing that will say, look when you’re going to buy that next car, gas prices are going to be a bit higher than they are now. So that hybrid that you’re thinking about buying is going to be a good investment. Drivers right now have absolutely no idea where gas prices is going be, and if you buy a [Toyota] Prius right now, you’re sort of making that leap of faith that gas prices are going to stay high or even if they go lower, well it’s going to make me feel good.

Feeling good is not going to get us out of the climate crisis and our energy crisis. We need to give people a cost certainty and I feel the gas tax is one way to do that. The added benefit of the gas tax is that we can then take that revenue and spend it either on the funding that Metro needs or on the funding for our road maintenance that it needs.

I think the one thing that we’ve done poorly lately is focus on expanding our existing roads. And that’s not a solution. Those beltway HOT [High Occupancy Toll] lanes they’re putting in…a month after they’re done, they’re going to be full. Drivers are going to be complaining that they’re not really helping them get anywhere faster because the people who right now are taking [Route] 123 or Glebe Road or something like that are going to be trying to get on these HOT lanes. Same with expanding [Interstate] 66. People who take back roads now, or who take Route 50 now, or who take public transportation now, will think, ‘Oh, 66 is wider, it will take me there in two minutes.’ Well, it won’t.

BHT: You first entered the race before Al Eisenberg, the incumbent, got out of the race. I was curious about your strategy there.

MG: I’ve been very open…I’m not going to be the guy with the most money in this race. I’m not going to be the guy who gets the most [Democratic Party] establishment support. But I do think I have the strongest message when it comes to the progressive issues that we care about: clean energy and climate action, civil liberties for all Virginians, and community engagement and civic activism. Getting into the race early allowed me to build that volunteer base. Now I get 10 people for every volunteer event that I have. And that’s really going to be my edge in this race…

I’m 31 now. I’ll be 32 in November…I’ve got enough of a resume to run on. Chair of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment. Chair of Community Volunteer Network. [I’ve worked on] Arlington Young Democrats and helping out with the [President Barack] Obama campaign.

I’ve been here. I’ve been fighting for these issues. It’s not like I’m just popping out of the weeds and saying, “OK everybody, here I am.”

Click here to return to the main interview site. --ST

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