With the swearing in of the 112th U.S. Congress this coming Saturday, the baton will have been officially passed, ending 24 years of meritorious service by U.S. Rep. James P. Moran representing the 8th District of Virginia that includes the City of Falls Church. It will go to Falls Church businessman and former Virginia lieutenant governor Donald S. Beyer Jr., who Moran contends will eventually “go down in history as one of the finest U.S. congressmen ever.”
In a lengthy interview with the News-Press this Monday, Moran stressed how “very, very fortunate” he was to serve for as long as he did in a district where he was free to speak and vote exactly as he thought.
“I have to pinch myself to realize that I was able to serve 24 years. It hardly seems possible when I was shy and imperfect in so many ways,” he said.
Shy? Jim Moran shy? Anyone who has experienced him up close and personal does not come away with that impression, not in recent years anyway.
“Yes, I was very shy,” Moran, who grew up west of Boston in Massachusetts, the son of staunch Roosevelt Democrats and supporters of the New Deal. He was the oldest of seven children.
Moving to the D.C. area in the early 1970s, he was on the staff of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee when he ran for the Alexandria, Virginia, City Council in 1978. That was when his bouts with shyness were the most acute, he recalled. “I couldn’t speak in public,” he said.
With his two children (he eventually had four) visibly wincing in the audience, Moran was so insecure in front of crowds when he first ran that he fainted twice, once in front of Red Cross volunteers and then before the Alexandria Volunteer Firefighters. Those were the only two groups to invite him to speak, given he was one among 20 candidates seeking to fill six seats on the City Council in that election.
Moran finished sixth in the field, barely good enough to win a Council seat, and the rest is, as they say, history.
By 1982, Moran’s popularity began to soar, and he was the top vote getter in the election that year, qualifying him to become vice mayor. In 1984 he was elected mayor of Alexandria, and was re-elected in 1988, resigning to run in 1990 for the 8th District U.S. congressional seat where he upset five-term incumbent Republican Stan Parris in the first of 12 successive election victories.
With the benefit of redistricting making the 8th District somewhat more Democratic in its make up, from 1992 on Moran never faced a serious challenge to his incumbency. He faced primary challenges in 2004, 2008 and 2012 but was never seriously in trouble, and since 2000 has never received less than 60 percent of the general election vote.
In the mid-1990s, Moran co-founded and later co-chaired the New Democrat Coalition, a Democratic group considered moderates on matters of commerce, budgeting and economic legislation but progressives on social issues. He was also a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
In 2008 he endorsed Sen. Barack Obama over Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Virginia Democratic primary, which Obama won. In 2009, he co-chaired with former presidential candidate Howard Dean a contentious town hall meeting on Obama’s affordable health care initiative at the South Lakes High School in Reston. In 2010 he called on the House floor for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the then military policy of discharging soldiers found to be openly homosexual.
In addition to gay rights (as a member of the LGBT Equality caucus), he’s taken strong stands for gun control, universal pre-kindergarten education, and pro-choice issues. He’s supported a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants and has high marks from the League of Conservation Voters.
He argued and voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which was signed into law in March 2010, and voted against authorizing the Iraq War in 2002.
Even though Sen. Hillary Clinton voted for authorizing the invasion, and Moran favored Obama over Clinton in 2008, Moran says that should Clinton chose to run for the presidency in 2016, that he will support her.
Otherwise, he said, the next most viable candidate is former U.S. Senator from Virginia Jim Webb. Webb, who served one term and did not seek re-election in 2012, lives in greater Falls Church and has indicated in an Arlington book signing earlier this year and on a couple of TV interviews that he is mulling a run for the presidency.
Moran said he would be an attractive candidate for Democrats because of his ability to pull votes from the Republicans. Webb was briefly the Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan. “He’s not a typical politician,” Moran said of Webb.
Of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Moran said that she’s intelligent but appeals to a New England liberal elite sensibility, recalling the famous time when Eleanor Roosevelt told Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, “Every well educated American will vote for you,” and Stevenson replied, “Well, unfortunately I need a majority.”
As shy as he was launching his public service career, Moran leaves it this year with two memorable speeches, one before the Democratic Kennedy-King dinner in McLean in October and the other the commencement address at George Mason University just days ago.
There, he said, he told the graduating students, “Don’t be intimidated by the majority.” Plato, he said, noted that the minority can be wrong, but less often than the majority. “Speak up,” he told the students, “as unsettling as it might be against peer and institutional pressure.”
In that speech, he spoke of the “heroism” of U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein in unveiling the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture by the CIA earlier this month. He spoke of the wisdom of President Obama’s immigration initiative and of the problems represented by the disparity in incomes between average Americans and the wealthy.
Obama “has done exactly the right thing on immigration,” preventing the impossible prospect of the deportation of 11 million, and also regarding the normalization of relations with Cuba.
He said that Cuba has remained a communist country for so long due to its isolation adding, “If you open it up, the Castro brothers will not long remain in control.”
Moran said he’d like to have a hand in shaping U.S. foreign policy after he leaves office. He said that Russian leader Vladimir Putin is the greatest threat to the West now because of his nationalistic autocratic rule. “He doesn’t care,” Moran said. “He’s still engaged in the cold war” and is a real threat to the stability of Europe.
He’s unlike China, Moran said, where the leadership recognizes there is an interdependence with the West that is enabling tens of millions of Chinese to enter the middle class. “I worry about Putin more than anyone else,” Moran said.
The world is too much defined by autocratic elites in control of nations on the one hand, and extremists on the other, he said. “There are too few moderate democracies.”
On the middle east, Moran said he puts his best hope in the future of Iran. Prior to a CIA/British MI-5 meddling in the late 1970s that led to the Iranian revolution, Iran was the closest ally of the U.S. through the whole 20th century, he said, and there is now a young intellectual class rising up there that realizes that rule by clerics and the military is not in the best interest of the country.
Heightened divisions between Sunni and Shia are in neither factions’ best interests, as some diabolical forces exploit that division and the one splitting Arabs and Persians. “We need to build up the economies of this region, create more jobs and an educated middle class.”
“Young people in the region want to be part of the improvement of society and are tending to reject radical solutions in favor of seeing democracy and economic growth as the answer,” he said.
One gets no sense that Rep. Moran intends to “go fishing” in his retirement from the U.S. Congress. If anything, he’s indicating a willingness and desire to become even more engaged. That’s a good thing.