Billy Kennedy, the gentleman farmer

by Keith Barber

If you close your eyes, Billy Kennedy could easily be confused with Jefferson Smith, the character played by Jimmy Stewart in Frank Capra’s 1939 classic film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

In the movie, the na’ve and idealistic Smith is appointed to the US Senate by a governor that kowtows to the state’s top political boss. Smith runs into political corruption when he tries to advance a bill to create a national boys camp, and becomes discouraged. One of the most famous scenes in the film portrays Smith’s marathon filibuster on the Senate floor. Jimmy Stewart’s performance is the stuff of Hollywood legend, but his profound words are what stay with us forever.

Kennedy, the Democratic candidate for the US House District 5 seat, spoke with the same kind of idealism and conviction as Jefferson Smith during his address to the 5 th Congressional District Democratic Party Annual Convention in Statesville on May 15. Kennedy talked about his personal philosophy and ethos, one that he learned from his parents — an ethos based on the Golden Rule. He spoke of his love of farming, building houses and crafting furniture. He said his daily life connects him to the land, which has led him to become an environmentalist. Kennedy talked about his desire to leave his farm to his children someday, and to leave it better than he found it.

Unlike most politicians, Kennedy appeared comfortable in his own skin. He was approachable, engaging and genuine. More importantly, Kennedy was sincere in everything he said. He spoke off the cuff for more than 15 minutes, only referring to his notes at the end of his remarks. How refreshing it was to see a candidate that wasn’t extensively rehearsed, a candidate who didn’t repeat the same talking points at every single public appearance. The audience clearly appreciated Kennedy’s sincerity. The candidate received two standing ovations during the event.

Afterwards, Kennedy and I spoke about the impetus behind his candidacy. One thing is very clear — this is not a lark. Kennedy is not simply running in 2010 to build name recognition for another run against Foxx in 2012. Many political analysts have suggested that after redistricting occurs next year, Foxx could be vulnerable. Kennedy, however, believes that his grassroots campaign will resonate with 5th District voters this year. Plus, he’s not getting any younger.

“I’ve had a lot of people tell me that we need progressives in office all along,” Kennedy said. “We need people who are committed to this for their life. I’ve been active in my party for 15 years. This is not something that’s going to change for me — this is a commitment that I’m always looking in for my place to serve. This is the place I see best for me to serve right now.”

Kennedy should be lauded for his insight. If we step back and take a look at the broader political picture — the serious challenges our state and nation currently face — it becomes evident that there is no tomorrow. The time is now.

Loyal Democrats should feel energized and enthusiastic about Kennedy’s candidacy, but simply voting for Kennedy in November is not enough. The party faithful will have to take to the streets canvassing and registering voters in order to do their part to help Kennedy overcome Republican incumbent Virginia Foxx’s significant advantages. Foxx will almost certainly hold the fundraising edge, which will allow her to get her message out to more voters. In addition, Foxx enjoys name recognition while Kennedy is building awareness of his candidacy one personal phone call at a time.

Foxx proudly proclaims herself the most conservative member of North Carolina’s Congressional delega

tion. But even for her most conservative constituents, Foxx has been on the wrong side of the most pressing issues facing North Carolinians, including her opposition to the healthcare reform bill. And who could forget the embarrassing episode last year when Foxx declared that the death of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay college student who was beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead, was the result of a robbery gone bad rather than a hate crime? Foxx made the false statement while arguing against expanding the federal hate crimes bill. As a result of her outburst, Foxx received the dubious distinction of being named “Worst Person in the World” by Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC’s “Countdown” program.

Kennedy believes that elected officials should serve as role models for children, and in his opinion, Foxx falls woefully short of that standard.

“When you try to turn people against each other and incite hate and violence in our society, that should not be rewarded with a re-election,” said Kennedy. “One thing that we can do in a democracy is replace elected officials. We can’t replace corporate leaders but we can vote people out who are not looking out for their constituents.”

Billy Kennedy has solid ideas on health care and financial reform, building a green economy, and protecting the environment. Foxx’s voting record reveals her consistent opposition to progressive ideas, and her allegiance to failed Republican policies of the past.

Billy Kennedy’s candidacy is extremely important to the future of North Carolina, and 2010 is the time to make a stand for Democrats, unaffiliated voters and even Republicans who realize it’s time for Foxx to go.