We spend a lot of time thinking about the presidential race, but we should remember that the House and its 435 seats are also on this November’s ballot. Here in Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, the Democratics have an opportunity to capture the seat because their running a strong candidate with a great biography against first term Republican Ryan Costello who’s been committed to voting the GOP line since he got to DC. I had the opportunity to spend a few hours with Mike Parrish, Democrat for Congress and you can read all about his background and his stand on the issues.
Mike was graduated from West Point in 1985, and then served as an Army Aviator for 14 years. Upon leaving active duty, he transitioned to the Army Reserves where he continues to serve today as a Colonel. Mike received a Master’s in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from Stanford University, and an MBA with honors from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He then worked for GE, which brought him to Malvern in 2001. He is the father of three children.
While at GE, Mike worked in the fields of logistics and infrastructure. After leaving GE, he founded an environmental services company which dealt with water treatment. It turns out that over 85% of the freshwater in the United States is used for business uses mainly in the power and agricultural industries. When water treatment fails, things like Legionnaire’s disease outbreaks, and Flint, Michigan disasters occur. Mike’s company worked to overcome potential chemical failures and insure safe water as well as help clean up legacy industrial sites.
After six years, having grown the company to 100 employees and $10 million in revenue, he sold the business and was hired to turn around a struggling environmental resources company. He was able to grow the company, which then struggled in the recent great recession. He then was hired to turn around a struggling natural resources business. He now is a consultant to that company and is concentrating fulltime on running for Congress.
I asked Mike what he learned from the experience of having a troubled company in a bad economy. “First,” he said, “It became obvious that under Sarbanes-Oxley, the time and cost burden on a small struggling company is equal to the time and money spent by a large company like GE. We had to file the same SEC forms, do the same due diligence, and accomplish everything with a much smaller workforce. It’s why I feel that the government needs to make it easier on small businesses, while still promoting a jobs-based economy.”
This led me to asking Mike if his business experience was what got him into politics. “Not really, although my life experience, first as an aviator, then as a businessman, had me thinking about what else I could do with my life. At West Point, they teach us to be leaders of character for a lifetime of selfless service to our nation. I actually started thinking about politics because Patrick Murphy asked me to consider running. I’ve known him for years through both of our experiences with the military and related causes, like when I was on the board of our USO in Philadelphia. When I started thinking about Patrick’s request, I took a close look at my values. I’d been a member of the Republican Party, but only because I had friends who were running for office over the years. I was a registered independent for most of my life, and voted candidates. I ended up registering as a Republican to support John McCain, a fellow veteran who I’d met when I was on active duty. However, once he selected Sarah Palin as a running mate, I was out. A review of their actual positions made me realize I’d been a Democrat all along, I just hadn’t been paying enough attention to what the parties were all about.”
Mike and I then had a conversation about him having been a registered Republican. I told him that even though I was interviewing him because that’s what I do, I was leaning towards not supporting him just because he had been a registered Republican. At the time, there was another Democrat in the primary, although she has since dropped out. As a personal aside, I was prepared to listen to his answers, and write them and be done. However, he won me over by explaining that he thought of himself as the silent majority in that the non-participation of himself and others got America to the polarized, extreme place it’s become. He told me “I took Marcel Groen’s advice a few years ago to get involved in our local party committees and am now on the Executive Committee for our Chester County Democrats as well as the Vice Chair of the Veterans Caucus of our state Democratic Committee.”
We continued on to positions. I gave Mike my written matrix of issues, and had him either pick one of the listed positions, or to express his thinking. Here’s the list (in alphabetical order).
Should be legal but rare.
- ACA (Obamacare):
Should be made stronger. “As a veteran, I have Tricare. All Americans should have access to affordable, comprehensive health care. People can’t function if they have to choose between medication and food, or if they can’t use their affordable insurance premiums because the deductibles are too high for them to see a doctor.”
- Birth Control:
Question: Some Republicans, including Ted Cruz, want to ban certain types of birth control, what do you think?
“No question, birth control needs to be legal.”
Question: You’ve worked in the environmental area, and one of your companies worked in the oil & gas field. How do you feel about fracking?
“It’s of critical importance that the US become energy-independent, and this includes a variety of energy sources, including oil and gas. Fracking can be very harmful to the environment, as can be seen in the increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma and problems with water tables here in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other places. Should it be completely banned? In a perfect world, absolutely, but because of state laws, it will go on for a while. Therefore, the companies who are fracking need to pay taxes to the states to clean up the water they pollute, and pay for damage from the earthquakes and other collateral damage they cause, even indirectly. Regardless, I firmly believe we should not open up our public lands and wilderness to any form of drilling, fracking or otherwise.”
- Free Trade or Fair Trade:
- Gay Marriage:
“It’s legal and needs to stay that way. In addition, we need to look at the other ways that LGBT people are discriminated against. We need to make sure that people cannot be denied housing, or fired from their jobs, as they can be in some states, because of their sexual orientation.”
- Gun Control:
“I’m a gun owner. I own a few old pistols and hunting rifles I inherited from my grandfather. The Second Amendment says I can have these guns. But I don’t like to talk about gun control as much as I like to talk about gun safety. In the military, everyone is trained how to properly care for and handle a weapon. We even store them in armories when they’re not in use. To, me it’s common sense to require proper gun safety training on the proper care and use of a weapon and to require gun owners put their weapons safely away so a child can’t get at it. You need a license to drive a car, you need to be taught how to drive that car: anyone who wants to have guns should have to take gun safety classes and be licensed. That said, I am in favor of background checks for potential gun owners so that the mentally ill and people with a proven violent history cannot get guns. Further, we need restrictions on things like straw man sales, and gun show loopholes. I would consider limits on assault and automatic weapons.”
- Historic Preservation:
“I know why you’re asking about this: it’s the Moser building in Wayne, right?”
“We need to be concerned with not losing touch with our past, especially here in the area that gave us the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the lives lost in Valley Forge and other battles. History teaches us where we came from, and helps us know what values we need to hold onto as we move forward. More protections are needed.”
“The country of Israel is a sovereign state and the best friend we have in that region. Its safety must be supported at all costs. I know some members of the IDF through military friendships and joint US-Israeli Apache training back when I was on active duty, going back 25 years. It is a very complicated situation with constantly moving parts. I know there is the question of a two-state solution. I have mixed feelings because there has never been a real plan. Would any new borders protect Israel? Would Hamas and the other terrorist organizations commit to Israel’s right to exist? Those issues and others related to Israel’s sovereignty need to be discussed before we look at anything else.”
- Replacing Justice Scalia:
“Yes, this year. It’s the Constitutional duty of the President to submit the name of the person he feels is best qualified, and the job of the Senate to hold hearings on that person. For Mitch McConnell to say that he won’t even allow hearings is an abdication of his Constitutional obligations as Majority Leader. The Constitution says that the Senate will “advise and consent” and not even allowing a name to be placed into nomination, which our own Senator Pat Toomey agrees with, is unacceptable.”
- SNAP Means Testing:
Question: Under Tom Corbett, and reversed under Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania residents who qualified for SNAP’s income level were thrown off the program if they owned more than $5,500 in assets, including burial plots or other assets that couldn’t be used to buy food. How do you feel about non-income means testing for SNAP and other government programs?
“You mean, how do I feel about blaming someone who ends up hungry? Like a family that lost its income in the recession and needed help, but couldn’t sell their car because they needed it to get to their part time jobs? We are morally obligated as a society to help the elderly, the infirm and the poor. Once again, the Constitution. In the first paragraph, right after providing for common defense is promoting general welfare.”
- Social Security:
“We need to protect and strengthen Social Security, and under no circumstances privatize it.”
After asking Mike about the above issues, I asked which addition issue areas were of importance to him. “My big issues are education, infrastructure, jobs and human rights. And they’re all connected in my mind. I’m the father of three, two girls and a boy. I want them to have the same rights and opportunities we have as adults. So I’m committed to equal pay for equal work. I love my children equally and wouldn’t want to see my son have better choices and chances because of his gender. When I look at the world I want to see for my children, I see our crumbling infrastructure. There is institutional memory that all industries are losing because people are retiring. A lot of kids don’t know how to turn a wrench: we need vocational educational opportunities for these people to make up for the retirement drain. The people who like to work with their hands need to be respected and they need to be employed fixing our bridges, tunnels, electrical grids and all the rest of our infrastructure. That said, our world is simultaneously moving to a more academic future. We need STEM education, and we need to make sure that we encourage girls to learn in STEM areas. At the local level, I’m sure you’re familiar with the improvements that are coming to the Paoli Transportation Center, but did you know that trains used to go out to West Chester? I’d like to see them return, as well as working to get rail service to Philadelphia back up to Reading. I believe in promoting jobs and answering the needs of small businesses, and this includes making sure that people can get where they need to go. As I said earlier, I believe in energy independence and one factor in this is the improvement of our mass transit system.”
So there you have it. A decent guy who’s been working with the local party for a number of years, who’s good on the issues. On April 26, I’ll be marking his name on my ballot. Running unopposed, he’ll win and then the real work will begin. But I’ll mark my ballot in support of the kind of person we need to send to DC. If you live in the 6th, I hope you’ll join me. If you live elsewhere, I hope you’ll look to see if the local Democratic Congressional candidate deserves your support, too.