By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Anthony Flaccavento has a vision of a more prosperous 9th Congressional District, one where manufacturing jobs are once again on the upswing and small main streets are booming with homegrown businesses and activity.
“I’ve never been in politics before at any level, but I’ve worked with local, state and federal folks like Rick Boucher, Bud Phillips and Phil Puckett,” Flaccavento, a Democrat who is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., in Virginia’s so-called Fightin’ Ninth congressional district, said in a recent interview with members of the Daily Telegraph’s editorial board. “I have a farm, an old tobacco farm that we transitioned into fruits and vegetables. I’ve been farming for about 18 years.”
Flaccavento, a resident of Abingdon, Va., moved to the district 27 years ago to work in community development. He is director of SCALE, inc., a consulting firm building strong local economies and farm and food systems throughout Appalachia and the nation. During his time in the district he started or helped to start a number of farming, business and community programs, including a home-ownership program for low-income people that has now built nearly 200 homes in the district; the Appalachian Sustainable Development, which started food, farming, forest and wood product enterprises across the region; and the Abingdon Farmers Market, one of the largest such food markets in the district.
He is blunt regarding his assessment of Griffith’s job-creation record for the 9th Congressional District. In fact, he believes Griffith hasn’t created a single job for Southwest Virginia during his two-year term in Washington.
“I know of no evidence — I may be missing something — but I know of nothing proactive he has done to stimulate business and economic development in the region,” Flaccavento said of Griffith’s job creation record. “I understand his job creation to be two things. One is to get rid of as many burdensome job regulations as possible. And as I’ve said I also want to absolutely examine each and every of these regulations. But let’s not forget during the eight years of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, when the EPA was largely put on ice, we almost lost 20 percent of our jobs in Southwest Virginia in the coal industry. So it is obviously more factors than that. So Mr. Griffith’s plan as far as I can tell from his two-year record is getting rid of regulations and policy, and he has wholeheartedly endorsed the Paul Ryan budget. So I don’t see where he has a job or economic plan.”
Flaccavento said he — by comparison — will actively work to create new jobs for the 9th Congressional District. If elected, Flaccavento said one of the first things he will do is meet with the economic development commissions and planning districts across the region to see what projects they are working on or are hoping to develop, what land and existing infrastructure is available, and how he can help.
“The fundamental strategy that I would deploy is an extension of what I tried to do in the private sector,” Flaccavento said. “Bringing manufacturing back to life. I think manufacturing can be rejuvenated. It will be different in the coalfields than it is in Martinsville and Smyth. And lastly, the other piece that is emerging in the economy is this diversification of business — tourism and arts, the resurgence of small-town grocery. All of that, whether it is food and farming, timber and non-timbering products, etc. Again all of these are not perfect jobs. They are a part of the picture creating a range of economic opportunities for folks. The second thing is the young people. We need to keep young people in the area. This will help to keep them when towns come back to life. As things happen, we keep more of our young people and attract young to middle-age people. So I think that whole area of downtown revitalization combined with a local business — we are on our way toward that.”
Flaccavento, a Democrat, says he will support President Barack Obama for re-election on Nov. 6. He explained his reasoning to members of the editorial board.
“I have mixed feelings about what he’s done and not done,” Flaccavento said of Obama. “It’s a mixed record. But I can tell you certainly I will not support Mitt Romney. So that being said I will be supporting the president but not without some reservations.”
Flaccavento said he believes a Romney/Ryan budget would be devastating to the residents of Southwest Virginia.
Flaccavento said he supports coal, but also a diversified energy portfolio that includes natural gas.
“First of all I consider myself absolutely to be a strong supporter of coal miners, coal mining families and coal mining communities,” Flaccavento said. “Being perfectly candid, I’m not always perfectly aligned with the leaders. I am a long-term supporter on union mines. I’ve been a long-time supporter of coal miners, their families, kids and communities. That translates into what I think we should be doing with black lung. We need to confront that and deal with that. It’s just not right that miners worked so long and hard who have seen their black lung rates shoot up.”
Flaccavento was then asked if he though the federal Environmental Protection Agency was waging a war on coal.
“I believe the EPA — it seems fairly clear from two judicial opinions that they have overstepped their bounds,” Flaccavento said. “I’m not trying to be evasive, but I do not believe the EPA is deliberately waging a war on coal. I do believe they have overstepped their boundaries. But fundamentally we have to figure out how to burn coal and mine it as cleanly as possible.
Flaccavento was asked about the bitter bipartisan political divide in Washington, and his thoughts on the ban on federal earmarks.
“When public funds come back to a district, if they come back in a way where they are investing in a stronger community and economy, that’s a sensible thing,” Flaccavento said. “I know why earmarks have become such a dirty word. There is always some nonsense example you can point to as a huge waste of money.”
However, such federal earmarks in the past have helped to build new water, sewer, broadband and health clinics in the 9th District, according to Flaccavento.
“Greater self reliance, less dependence, capital frugality and creativity at the local level,” Flaccavento said. “There are still strong values that are shared by a lot of Republicans and independents. There is a myth that’s been created, and I blame the other side. I blame Fox News and other side for this myth. And the myth is the government is bad. It is a bureaucratic nightmare, and it is eating away our freedom. And the truth is in between.”
Flaccavento said he is very supportive of projects like the new dentistry school announced for the Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park, as well as the optometry school planned for Buchanan County.
“I’ve known Frank Kilgore for many years,” Flaccavento said. “I think when Frank was first pushing for the law school there were some people who felt it wasn’t a good fit for the 9th Congressional District. But again we have to look at every opportunity we can create. So I think there is no question about the fact that our health (care) is a huge part of the economy and is only going to get bigger.”
– Contact Charles Owens at email@example.com