(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 fourth in a series of in-depth interviews with candidates vying for Virginia’s 11th congressional District seat.)
Taking money out of political campaigning, hoping to rid the U.S. political system of corruption and promising to run in a political election every year were all touched on in a recent in-depth interview with Chris DeCarlo, the Independent candidate for Virginia's 11th congressional District seat. DeCarlo spoke with Patch this week from Fairfax Propane, his business along Lee Highway in Fairfax.
With zero funds in his campaign war chest, DeCarlo has committed himself to steadily reinforcing his message with future campaigns, and expects to eventually win.
DeCarlo's candidacy is also noteworthy because the 53-year-old is a rapper. His youTube video "How Virginia's 17-Year-Olds Can Stick It to the Man and Fight Political Corruption" has been seen by 27,000 viewers. It was released last year when he ran as an Independent for chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and was inspired by his not being allowed to participate in a debate at George Mason University.
DeCarlo faces incumbent Democrat Rep. Gerry Connolly, Republican Chris Perkins, Independent Green candidate Peter Marchetti, Independent candidate Mark Gibson and Green Party candidate Joseph Galdo. His previous campaigns include two bids for the chairmanship of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (in 2009 and 2011), a run for the 37th District in the Virginia House of Delegates and a 1993 race for the Lee District Board of Supervisors in Fauquier County.
DeCarlo has owned Fairfax Propane since 1979, and lives in Mantua with his wife and five children. He did not graduate from college, but took courses at the Georgia Institute of Technology, George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College. He is opposed to President Obama's health care reform, believes in smaller government and owns three guns.
Questions and Answers
Patch: What did you want to be when you were a kid?
DeCarlo: A trash collector. They have a great job. They work outside all day long, nobody's watching them, and you've got great freedom. And you get to rummage in everybody's stuff.
Patch: Why didn't you do that?
DeCarlo: I guess I got older. I would still like to get involved with scrap metal, though.
Patch: What are your hobbies?
DeCarlo: I used to have hobbies, like collecting used books. But now I have five children, and they are my hobby.
Patch: Is running for political office a hobby, too?
DeCarlo: I would say so, yes.
Patch: Were your parents Independents? Did they influence your political views?
DeCarlo: My parents worked in the federal government, and perhaps I saw the level of frustration that they had. My father is a chemist and he worked for the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy, and my mother worked at VISTA under the Nixon Administration. Politics was never discussed at home.
Patch: How did you become an Independent?
DeCarlo: I think everyone's an Independent, and they just feel that they have to make an association toward a party. But I think in their core everyone has their independence. So, I think everyone starts as an Independent and then they become something else. You can see that with the high school students I talk with, because those biases haven't been developed yet.
Patch: Have you ever been in a fistfight?
DeCarlo: Oh, in elementary school.
Patch: Your second campaign for political office was for the chairmanship of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 2009. Why did you decide to run?
DeCarlo: I had some bad experiences with the town of Vienna, the Fairfax County Fire Marshall's office, Fairfax County elected officials, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and some appeals boards in Richmond. In those experiences I saw and felt that the elected officials were not in charge and the checks and balances we all believe in don't function like they're supposed to.
Patch: You told me in a previous interview that you asked, as a courtesy, to be allowed to park your propane trucks on specifically zoned property in Vienna, right?
DeCarlo: I just wanted to get my occupancy permit for a by-right use. And then the Town of Vienna specifically changed the fire code to make it even more difficult for me to operate. It wasn't that they weren't accommodating, it was that they decided to interpret the code a certain way. For someone who has always wanted to believe in the system and then to see it at its worst, I was just shocked. It was startling.
...My business stopped growing seven years ago, because what I saw was unchecked power by code and zoning regulatory officials, and there was nothing I could do. And when you fight a bureaucracy, they have seemingly unlimited resources, and I don't. I have to provide a product in a free market. Now, I won in court against the Town of Vienna, and got a ruling that they were arbitrary and capricious, but I never know when they're going to pull some other game on me.
Patch: And you used to believe in the system?
DeCarlo: Yes - that it would function the way we were taught in school that these politicians in office are doing the best job they possibly can. The campaign (for County Board chair) became a quest for me to express myself and explain to others that the problems were there. It became a quest to find the answer. The only thing I had left was to run for office.
Patch: What have you learned in your five unsuccessful bids for political office?
DeCarlo: I have learned a little more in every campaign. The problem is that no one questions the status quo, and I've sort of become the leader that's willing to do that. And I want to set an example of how the American dream should work.
In the lyrics of one of my raps I was trying to think of what the American dream is, and my initial thinking was that we all have the freedom to prosper. But what I've realized recently is that the real American dream is in the way that our government is supposed to work, and that it's a government that you can trust. And that's the big problem. We don't trust our government. Nobody trusts Congress. So, you've got to ask why we've lost this trust. The lobbyists have stolen the American dream, and they've caused us to lose faith in our government. It's very simple to see, but no one will say that.
Patch: Describe to me your leadership style.
DeCarlo: I'm not a top-down type of person where I want to tell everyone what to do. I like to empower the people on the front lines and then provide them the tools they need to function and meet their objectives, and I step in wherever necessary. My management style is one that I would want to be a part of if I was my own employee.
Patch: What's your defining characteristic, the thing that makes you who you are?
DeCarlo: I think I'm a person of honor, which means that you do what you say you are going to do. Also, I get along with people. I always try to see the good in everybody.
Patch: How did you start rapping?
DeCarlo: I started rapping from my frustration with the campaign process, whereby non-major party candidates are excluded from any high profile candidate forums, and so I'm always one to think outside the box.
Now, I have five children, and I thought it would be good for them to play musical instruments, and the louder it is the more fun it is to play. And what I found with music is that you have these out of body experiences — you do something that you never thought you could ever do. So, we took a songwriting class together one summer, and then, I always write a speech for my campaign, and I realized I had written my speech with a cadence. I got so mad that the major forums were excluding me and weren't letting me make my 10 minute-speech, that I converted it into a rap song.
Patch: Tell me about the efficacy of rap as a medium for your message.
DeCarlo: For one thing, you don't have to have pitch to rap. I do not know how to sing. Also, the power of the lyrics comes from the personal experience.
Patch: Describe the political environment in Washington for me with a rap.
DeCarlo: Sure. Let's look at the lyrics from "Money, Money, Money":
America's Congress is out of control,
We need to get together, rise up and rescue its soul,
It's been corrupted and we're paying the price,
It's time to take it back and get rid of the vice.
Patch: In that same song, you say that "This is not what George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason or James Madison intended." What did they intend?
DeCarlo: They never envisioned a two-party system.
Patch: So, is all the partisan gridlock in Washington because of money?
DeCarlo: Yeah. Plain and simple.
Patch: What happens when you take money out of political campaigns?
DeCarlo: I think you take out the influence. You get people in office who are not motivated by money to participate. It will level the playing field. You'll have a much better discussion and people with more qualifications in office.
The people we are electing are puppets, and they are puppets to political parties. It's a business model, and they're just warm bodies… Eisenhower, in his farewell presidential speech in 1961, spoke about the dangers of the military industrial complex. Fifty years ago, I believe elected officials were still largely in power. But I believe what he forewarned has been allowed to happen - and that power is misplaced.
The power has moved beyond elected officials and on to the Iron Triangle… It's the strong relationship between Congress and the bureaucracy and the interest groups. It's self-perpetuating, and nearly can't be broken. You need to take the money out and replace the interest groups in that mix with voters.
Patch: Are you calling your opponent - Democratic incumbent Rep. Gerry Connolly - a puppet? Will your Republican opponent Chris Perkins be a puppet if he's elected?
DeCarlo: To a large degree, yes. The political corruption is here, but the hypocrisy hides it. And the corruption is more than just making money. It also means having a process that's not as pure as it's supposed to be.
Patch: The last time we spoke, you said that all it would take to upset the apple cart in Congress is the eventual election of a candidate who has no campaign contributions. Elaborate on that.
DeCarlo: Then the voters will have spoken, and at this point they can't get it together. For one thing, the option hasn't been there for them. Also, the voters need to be able to divest themselves from all the propaganda they hear, which they obviously know to be propaganda. But electing someone without money would tell the voters around the country that it can be done. Everyone has been told it can't be done. It's not that they're voting for me, it's that they're voting for a different standard for elected office.
Patch: Let's look at sequestration. What do you think is the solution to resolving the question of $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction before the sequester is triggered in January?
DeCarlo: These things are just going to have to happen. You can't have it all, so sure, Virginia is going to take a hit. What are you going to do?
Patch: That's going to be a huge hit to the Northern Virginia economy. A lot of your constituents are government contractors, and they might not want to vote for you now.
DeCarlo: Of course. But to a large degree the wealth of this area has all come from the growth of the military industrial complex. And everybody's been feeding off of it. There's a lot of innovation that can be done so that we're no longer dependent.
At some point we have to get back to a balance. And I would not extend the Bush tax cuts. Our economy is going to bust at some point. It just can't keep going like it is. As a person who runs a small business, we have a certain set of standards and have to balance our checkbooks.
Patch: Your critique of Congressman Connolly — how would you do a better job?
DeCarlo: He's doing the job he was put there to do by the Democratic party. A politician is by definition a person who represents a political party. So, in that sense, even if I was elected I would not be a politician.
There's always going to be some level of corruption, but I think taking money out of political campaigns is the next frontier for society in adopting new standards for elected officials. But we have to break out of these patterns of behavior, and that's extremely hard to do.
Patch: Is Gerry Connolly qualified for office?
DeCarlo: There's no question. Yes, he's qualified by the people who put him there, because that's what they wanted. They wanted a puppet, and one for their special interests, which is the Democratic party itself. And he'll do whatever they want.
The business model is about greed for power and money, and the political parties are no different than gangs. They're just trying to shoot each other down. So, Gerry is doing what the party put him in there to do, but that's not what all of us think should be done. I think we need someone in office we can trust, and who won't be influenced by money and greed in their decision process.
Patch: Even if a guy like you gets elected you'll still have to vote on legislation supported by party politicians. How do you deal with that?
DeCarlo: I think if you have people in office who are perceived as incorruptible, and whether they have the legislative power or not, they will have another kind of power in the sense that they truly represent the people. Maybe they won't be able to get anything done, but that will show the polarization as you get caught in the middle without outside influences. And if you get caught in a situation where these party politicians refuse to work with you, they are only going to be exposing their own special interests, and that will put their political future in a more precarious situation.
Patch: You've pledged to campaign for political office every year. Do you believe that you are destined to be elected one of these days?
DeCarlo: Sooner or later, yes, and for the highest office that I can get on the ballot. Next year there won't be much, except statewide offices like governor and state Senate. The latter takes 125 signatures to get on the ballot. That's a piece of cake. I can get 100 signatures on a Saturday.
It's extremely easy to run for political office, but no one tells you that. It's very simple to participate, and here we live in the freest country in the world and most people don't.
Patch: Why is that?
DeCarlo: I think people have been conditioned to believe that they can leave it to the status quo, and that it's too complicated, and people should just leave it to the pros.
Patch: Moving on. Are you fiscally conservative, socially liberal? Where do you stand on gay marriage, gun control and abortion?
DeCarlo: I am fiscally conservative. You live by the same standards in Washington that everyone else lives by, and that means you don't spend more than you make. I do not support gay marriage, I do not support more gun regulation and I think we need to leave abortion where it is.
Patch: Why shouldn't gay marriage be legalized?
DeCarlo: I don't know. It just seems pretty complicated.
Patch: Isn't that keeping a portion of the American population from their pursuit of happiness?
DeCarlo: Yes, I've heard that.
Patch: You don't agree with that?
DeCarlo: I just don't know.
Patch: What would the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act do for your small business?
DeCarlo: I think it's all a big game of shifting money to special interests.
Patch: Don't you want your employees to have health insurance?
DeCarlo: I think we can all function on our own. Why do businesses have to provide health insurance? Why can't you just go buy it yourself? Why do we need to create al these incentives for this or that group? It is just mind numbing.
Patch: On foreign affairs, how should the U.S. approach the Assad regime in Syria?
DeCarlo: We're never going to solve all of these problems abroad.
Patch: But human rights violations are being documented. Do we ignore that?
DeCarlo: If I'm in Congress I would have different sources of information and I could base my decision from that.
Patch: How should we proceed with Israel and the potential of a nuclear Iran?
DeCarlo: I do not know the answer to that. I don't know.
Patch: What do we do on transportation, and clearing up some of these area roadways?
DeCarlo: I think you increase the gas tax.
Patch: Taking yourself out of the equation, who would you vote to represent you in the 11th congressional District?
DeCarlo: Chris Perkins, and to me it's a question of character. He's battle-tested.
Patch: Last question. What advice do you have for young people?
DeCarlo: Don't waste your time. Learn as much as you can. You live in the center of the world, there are tremendous opportunities out there and you need to think outside the box. Learn as many skills as you possibly can, because you are going to need them.