On Wednesday I had the privilege of speaking with Tim Donner who is running for the United States Senate seat that will soon be vacated by Jim Webb. I went into this interview knowing very little about Mr. Donner other than what was on his website. I also went into it with some skepticism not knowing whether I would get the typical canned responses that so many politicians make a living with.
I found Mr. Donner to be anything but your typical politician. Probably because he isn’t a politician at all, this being his first run for office. He is what you want a person running for office to be. He’s more or less your average guy in the sense that he if seeking office out of a sense of loyalty and devotion to this country, his state and the people he seeks to represent. And that is how things ought to be. Sadly, the power hungry and politically connected appear to have entrenched themselves inside the beltway and spend their days in Washington amassing more and more power and digging themselves in deeper, so much so that complete incompetence and gross malfeasance isn’t enough to get them thrown out of public office.
Tim Donner calls himself an “entrepreneur at heart” and a “small business man…. well versed in public policy.” He and his wife began a television production company 25 years ago. He is a founding board member of the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, board member of Cal Thomas’ Values Through Media and Radio America. He has hosted a national radio show for the last eight years. He has been married for 25 years and he and his wife Lessa are the parents of two special needs children, William and TJ. Mr. Donner also added that his faith is “very important” to him and he is an elder in the Presbyterian Church.
Below you will find part 1 of my conversation with Mr. Donner. None of the questions were rehearsed or preapproved and he was very forthcoming with all of his responses. What I found refreshing was that his answers were genuine, well thought out and not your typical taking point responses. He appeared very knowledgeable on a variety of topics.
Dennis- You don’t have any background in elected politics, is that correct?
Donner – “That’s correct. All my attention over the years has been focused on public policy and that’s left me pretty well versed on the issues. I’ve also been something of a political junkie and followed it very closely over the years but it’s very different being a candidate then being an observer. I felt that it was time for those of us who are really concerned about the future of our country to look at the skills we have and to ask the question, what’s the highest and best use of those skills? I have not been in the political spectrum but I have seen what’s been happening and I’ve become increasingly frustrated and increasingly convinced that professional politicians are not serving our interest. They don’t have our backs, they haven’t been doing what’s right, they’re unwilling to make the difficult decisions that have to be made at a time where we have a convergence of crisis in the economy, employment, debt, in health care. Washington is a mess and I don’t believe that career politicians, the people who helped get us into this mess are the people we should trust to help take us out of it.”
Dennis – It sound like you might be a person who is in favor of term limits then. Keeping these career politicians from being career politicians.
Donner – “You know Dennis that’s a good question and I’m surprised at how infrequently that questions been asked. I personally would favor the proposal that no member of congress should be allowed to serve than 12 years. That could be 6 terms in the house. That could be 2 terms in the senate. It could be three terms in the house and one in the senate. I think anybody ought to be able to take care of their business in 12 years. Exert sufficient influence and move on and join the rest of us in the real world.”
Dennis – You know, at time I didn’t agree with term limits because I felt like I should be able to choose whomever I wanted to represent me but the worse and worse things started to get in Washington, the more it seemed that the problem was guys entrenching themselves. It seems like you can never get rid of them.
Donner – “Well I think you hit at the heart of the problem. While the Constitution is a brilliant document, I think if we could bring the Founding Fathers back today, they would have to agree that their faith in a biannual election was overstated and that term limits are necessary. We apply them to the executive branch, albeit not until after FDR, but I think they should be applied to the legislative branch as well. I think that is something that I would be fully supportive of.”
Dennis – I imagine that they didn’t include that because they were thinking at the time that they didn’t want to be involved in politics as a career so why would anybody else.
Donner – “Well I think that that is true and let’s not forget one of the key factors in all of this was that this was a group of people who could have established a monarchy, and could have seized much more power than they seized but they introduced a unique concept in the history of civilization which was popular sovereignty. That power flows up from the people rather than down form the kings and the monarchs and the dictators. That’s what’s unique about the American experiment and so they believed that elections would serve as term limits. But unfortunately the two parties, while they disagree on most things, most everything, one of the things they agree on is incumbent protection and they have made that stronger and stronger over the years to the point that even in 2010 when we had 87 new members of congress elected, you still had an overwhelming majority of incumbents reelected. Well over 80 percent. So the turnover rate I think is insufficient to bring in the type of fresh blood that I would hope to introduce as the next senator form Virginia.”
Dennis – Where would you put yourself on the political spectrum?
Donner – “Well I’m a Constitutional Conservative. I’m committed to the principles of the individual liberty, limited government, free markets, a strong lean national defense in which we can effectively eliminate the fat without cutting the muscle. I’d also apply the test of America’s national interest to any potential foreign involvement. I’m also a social conservative, I believe in the protection of life, I’m pro-life and unapologetically so because I believe the, it’s very clear that the first guarantee and the first right of the Declaration of Independence is the right to life and if we don’t guarantee that, then the other guarantees such as liberty, the pursuit of happiness and all the other guarantees of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution effectively meaningless. And I think It’s also important to add that common sense, while it’s not a policy position, it is something that people like myself from the business community as a small business man and entrepreneur, dictates all the professional decisions that I make and I see a woeful lake of common sense in the political realm right now.”
Dennis – Yeah, you and me both.
Donner – “Yeah, I’m sure we agree on that.”
Dennis – So you would fall pretty much in line with what you have heard coming from the TEA Party?
Donner – “Ah, the TEA Party has made a valuable contribution to the debate and they have, you know won the argument at least in terms of 2010. I agree with many of their positions. Ah, I’m not a TEA Partier per se, I have my own public policy organization known as One Generation Away which uses video, primarily video apply America’s founding principles to the issue of today. So I’m not a TEA Partier per se but I agree with many of their positions and I think they’ve made an invaluable contribution to the American political debate. There’s no question about it.”
Dennis – I agree, I agree. Should you get elected, what are some of your priorities?
Donner – “Well my first priority would be a constitutional amendment to balance the budget yes, but also to limit federal spending to a percentage of the gross domestic product. Now the reason that a constitutional amendment to balance the budget is by itself insufficient, and if you think it through, if there’s no limit on spending, then the Congress can easily pass a budget that’s oversized such as the one we have this year that’s 1.6 trillion in deficit and simply say, well this is the budget and we’re 1 trillion dollars short so we’ll just have to raise taxes. That’s why a balanced, a constitutional amendment that just balances the budget is not sufficient. It must be accompanied by a strict and statutory constitutional limit on the amount that the congress can spend. So that when the economy expands, the federal budget can be larger. When the economy contracts, the federal budget must be smaller and historically, the norm for the federal budget in terms of GDP is 18 percent. So I would favor a constitutional amendment as the one proposed by freshman Senator Mike Lee from Utah, who is I might add is one of the more underrated senators who has flown somewhat under the radar, but he’s a very sharp mind and very committed, very smart and I would support his proposal. I also believe that we too, we’re long past where we have to be honest about the budget, and stop this business of looking at only 12 percent of the budget known as non-defense domestic discretionary spending. That’s a small sliver of the budget. Until we face up to the fact that we have to look at 100 percent of the budget, and that means the so called entitlement programs, we’re not going to get anywhere. These debates over individual line items, what happens is they turn into these kabuki dances, like we saw recently where they say, well we want to cut this and you want to cut that and we fight to the death over individual line items and almost shut down the government. Then we’re told, well we got 38 billion in savings and then the Congressional Budget Office gets hold of the numbers and we see that the actual savings was less than 1 billion. Not going to get anywhere with these kinds of debates, we can’t afford them anymore. So we need to look at entitlement reform. And I would term it, not entitlement reform so much as entitlement restructuring. We have to communicate the message that what we’re trying to do is save these programs by restructuring them, we’re not trying to destroy the concept of a secure retirement with Social Security or a secure health care in retirement through Medicare. We have to be honest and say there’s a crisis of confidence among people 40 years old and younger who know that when it comes time to take out what they put in, there’s not going to be anything left. So unless we restructure these programs now, we can’t A, get a hold of the debt and B, salvage these programs.”
This completes the first part of my interview with Tim Donner. Be sure to check out the second part of my talk with Mr. Donner where we continue our conversation about the economy, tackle the issues of energy independence and discuss his thoughts on the current U.S. foreign policy.
For more information on Tim Donner or to find out how you can help with his campaign, visit his website at www.timdonner.com.
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