Kennedy brings his down-home message to the Democratic Party activists

by Keith Barber

Billy Kennedy, a Democratic candidate for US House, speaks with supporters during the Fifth Congressional District Democratic Party Annual Convention at Mitchell Community College in Statesville on May 15. Kennedy, a political newcomer, will face Republican incumbent Virginia Foxx this fall. (photo by Keith T. Barber)

As Billy Kennedy hit the 15-minute mark of his speech during the 5th Congressional District Democratic Party Annual Convention at Mitchell Community College in Statesville on May 15, he began to wrap it up by making his plea to the party delegates in attendance.

“I’m reaching out to y’all,” said Kennedy, the Democratic nominee for the US House seat currently held by Republican Virginia Foxx. “Fifty-five percent of the voters in the district are women. I’m challenging all you women to bring these men back to their senses.”

Kennedy’s remark was received by a smattering of laughter from the roughly 75 people in the audience, but the candidate didn’t take a breath. He forged ahead.

“This is not something I’m doing for me — that’s what I remembered early on,” he continued. “I’m doing this for y’all because you’re the people of the 5th District. That’s who representatives are supposed to serve — the people, not themselves.”

Kennedy described his political philosophy in basic, straightforward terms during the convention. At times, he seemed to be paraphrasing Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, “Self-Reliance.”

“The key to success in this country is people governing themselves,” said Kennedy, a carpenter and farmer from Watauga County.

“And that’s what it all amounts to is us governing ourselves and that’s the American Dream rather than a small group of corporations or royalty can govern each other and make everybody’s life better.”

Kennedy attributed his positive, somewhat idyllic outlook to working on his farm.

“I understand about taking care of our environment,” Kennedy said.

“I want to leave my farm to my children after I’m gone and I think I’ve improved it since I’ve been there.”

Kennedy cited his personal philosophy as the reason he decided to take on Foxx, an incumbent with vast resources and name recognition in the 5th District.

“We can create something in this lifetime and leave it better than we found it,” he said. “I’m an optimist and I believe we can. We just have to get the right people involved and we have to get our values back right — not selfish values about self-enrichment but values about taking care of others.”

Kennedy didn’t hesitate to use a few farming analogies to express his opinion of Foxx’s leadership in the US House for the past six years.

“I’ve seen my share of manure, but I’ve never seen the amount of manure piled on to people as Virginia Foxx has piled on to people of the 5th District,” Kennedy said. “So as a farmer, I know how to turn that into something useful rather than covering people’s eyes up and confusing the issue.”

Many political observers would argue that it would take a hopeless optimist to go head-to-head with Foxx, who was named by National Journal magazine as the most conservative member of the North Carolina Congressional Delegation and more conservative than 91.3 percent of all House members.

Kennedy said he thought long and hard about getting into the US House race this year. Before he tossed his hat in the ring, he developed what he believes will be a winning strategy in November.

The majority of 5th District voters cast their ballots for the McCain- Palin ticket in 2008, Kennedy explained, which means a mid-term election is the best time to challenge Foxx.

Despite the 5th District’s inclination to vote Republican, there is one exception — Kennedy’s home county of Watauga.

“With our canvassing and our successful efforts in Watauga County, where [Democrats] have won all the elections except [the 5th District race] even though we’re out-registered by 2,000 votes, we believe we can take those same strategies and take them through the whole 5th District and make it happen this year,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy touched on the bestselling book, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett during his speech. Based on 30 years of research, The Spirit Level reveals that there is one common factor that links the healthiest and happiest societies — the equality of its members.

“And if anything we’ve learned from this country is that what we’ve succeeded at is all different cultures coming together and blending into our common society and then, we overcome any problems we’ve got,” he continued.

Kennedy’s used the book’s message to distinguish his worldview from the one he claims is held by Foxx.

“My opponent, unfortunately, likes to use divisiveness and likes to still use a strategy they’ve been using since the early ’60s to turn people against each other to get elected — to pick a group and try to marginalize them and make everybody else hate them,” said Kennedy. “That’s not how we succeed — we succeed when we come together and all work together.”

Kennedy touched on a recent brushfire that started near Foxx’s home in Foscoe to illustrate the disparity between the incumbent’s stated political philosophy of smaller government and her actions.

“When that fire broke out of control and started burning up the ridge and threatening other people’s homes and farms, I don’t think [the Foxxes] picked up their phone and called their big contributors and said, ‘Hey, I need some help putting this fire out,’” Kennedy said. “So to me, it really brought home the difference of these people that bash government day in and day out, and then, on their own, take advantage of it, as well as make money off of it.”

Foxx has consistently said she is in favor of smaller government.

Foxx voted against the healthcare reform package that Congress passed in March, and spent a significant part of her career working for state-supported universities in North Carolina and Maryland.

“My opponent thinks government has no place in education even though she profited from it completely, employed by it, had her health insurance paid by it, still wants to deny that to others,” said Kennedy. “She profited from [government jobs] completely, was employed by it, had her health insurance paid by it, but still wants to deny that to others.”

Kennedy outlined his platform, which includes developing a green economy in North

Carolina, as well as supporting financial reform and healthcare reform in Congress.

“We need our cars, our transportation system to be more efficient so we can all live the lives we’ve become accustomed to living and leave it in a better shape for our kids,” said Kennedy. “I’m an optimist; I do believe we can do that. We just have to get those priorities right.”

Jobs is the most pressing issue for 5th District voters, and Foxx’s voting record reveals she is not putting her constituents first, said

Kennedy. He went on to say that it is essential that Congress pass the financial reform bill and energy bill currently wending through the legislative process.

Kennedy said the repercussions of the economic meltdown of 2008 are still being felt in the 5th District, and he favors financial reform legislation to prevent another similar event in the future.

“These people, the kids, their families, their homes, they are at risk of no fault of their own,” Kennedy said.

After elaborating on what he described as Foxx’s failure to represent the people of the 5th District, Kennedy offered a solution.

“We’re going to make this better,” Kennedy said. “We’re going to make this happen. I need y’all to go out, get energized and get people on the ground about this. We’re going to bring Virginia Foxx back to Watauga County. We don’t want her there but we think she’ll do less harm there than in Washington.”