Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpI was hit up by a stranger on Lee Highway last month. But instead of soliciting my money, he wanted my promise not to give money – to today’s mercenary political candidates.

As Virginia’s 8th District voters headed for the polls in the June 10 primary to fill the seat of Rep. Jim Moran, James Shear presented himself as a candidate who, though not yet on the ballot, would represent those who believe “money and politics do not mix.”

I met Shear at the May 31 Discover Cherrydale festival, where he was stationed, petition on clipboard, alongside a menagerie of residents of that colorful neighborhood who offered Civil War costume displays, book talks, alternative food vending and firehouse tours.

“Currently, money rules and politicians spend far too much of their time raising money and lose far too much of their integrity courting those who have it,” says this low-pressure salesman for restraint. “Those who have it expect, and get, something in return. Politics as a career needs to end,” he opines on his website, ShearforCongress.com.

Shear, 63, is an Arlington hospice physician employed at Capital Caring. He has spent 25 years in operating rooms, hospitals, clinics and in patients’ homes but is willing to give up his day job to persuade people to “vote money out of politics.”

He’d been mulling the project since the Supreme Court’s stuck-in-many-craws 2010 campaign finance ruling in Citizens United, he told me. So when Moran announced his retirement this January, Dr. Shear swung into action to “make a statement,” gathering signatures at grocery stores and farmers’ markets. “Our representatives today go home to raise money rather than to find out what people are thinking and want their representatives to do,” he says.

Shear bills himself as the “non-party candidate” who indulges in no soliciting of contributions, no accepting of donations and who, if elected, would not be “beholden to special interests.” He would not spend beyond Federal Election Commission limits to get elected. He also advocates a liberal-flavored program of health care as a right, activism against climate change and rebuilding of infrastructure.

I confess that, having been inundated for months with slick color brochures, door-to-door visits, robo calls and TV ads, I’m as aware as the next citizen that winning campaigns cost money. But I knew our increasingly wild-west system had gone too far when I read recently of a Republican congressman who heard he might face a new Democratic challenger. The incumbent asked, not about the potential opponent’s experience, positions or character, but whether the newcomer had any money.

So, even if it comes from a guy as politically green as this Cherrydale petitioner named Shear – I applaud the sign someone is rethinking our moneyball system.

The response, Shear says, has been “tremendous. Almost always, people say, `I agree with you, I know what you’re saying, but it can’t be done, and you’re Don Quixote.’ ” Shear agrees. “But you have to start somewhere. The majority of Americans don’t think money is speech and corporations are people,” he says.

Shear was planning Tuesday to drive his required 1,000 signatures to Richmond so he could qualify for the November ballot.

His website offers visitors an option marked “contribute.” But when you click on it, you get an exhortation: “Instead of giving politicians money, contribute to your favorite charity.”