Cunningham Wants to Make 'Difference" in Senate
Cal Cunningham says one vote can make a difference, and he wants an opportunity to make a difference.
The Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate was in Moore County Tuesday and stopped by The Pilot newspaper office for a brief interview. He is one of six candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the May primary election. The winner will challenge incumbent Sen. Richard Burr in November.
"It was like a light bulb went off in my life," Cunningham said, recalling his reaction in 1993 when viewing a Senate drama involving the budget advanced by former President Clinton's administration. The Senate was split, and it took Vice President Al Gore's vote to break the tie.
"I realized that one vote can make a difference. Do I throw spitballs at the television set or do I roll up my sleeves and go to work?" he said.
His comment followed a question about his interest in serving in the U.S. Congress in an era when the atmosphere in Washington is so toxic.
"I'm cynical about Washington too, but rather than walk away from it, I decided it was time to do something," Cunningham said.
Despite warnings that this is not a good year for Democratic candidates, Cunningham said he is encouraged by the political atmosphere in North Carolina.
Cunningham said Burr may be completing his first term in the Senate, but he had several years in the U.S. House before he ran for Senate.
"What does Burr have to show for all his years in Congress?" Cunningham asked. "What has he done to help us in these tough economic times?"
Cunningham mentioned some concerns about the recently enacted health-care reform bill, an act that he thinks needs tweaking in future sessions.
"However, it is the right thing to do," he said. "I just don't think we're finished. We have much more to do."
Cunningham, who served active duty with the Judge Advocate General's office in Iraq, was asked his views about the current administration's position on resolving the war in Iraq and moving ahead in Afghanistan.
For one thing, Cunningham said he favors the counter-insurgency strategy of placing more troops on the ground in Afghanistan. He said it takes this kind of emphasis to drive communities to take control of their own affairs, opening a way for eventual withdrawal of allied troops.
"We cannot get the momentum back without more troops on the ground," he said. "I saw it work the first time in Iraq."
Cunningham added that he served under Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq and has a great deal of faith in his leadership. Petraeus is now commander of the U.S. Central Command.
Holding a commission with the Army Reserves, Cunningham was mobilized by the 18th Airborne Corps in 2007 and served as senior trial counsel with the Judge Advocate General's office in Iraq, where he concentrated on prosecution of felony contractor misconduct.
During the Bush administration, 2.4 million private contractors were added to the military scene, and this is a subject that Cunningham thinks needs more debate by the country today.
Cunningham said that most of his JAG work in Iraq was an attempt to save money being squandered through contractor misconduct. He estimated that the nation could save $40 billion a year by doing away with most of these private contract initiatives.
He said contractor misconduct is at the heart of many issues the Muslims have with the United States. The tragedy at Abu Ghraib prison was one offshoot of the problems with contractors, he said.
"It needs to be revisited," he said of the contractor situation. "We very much need to look at this."
Cunningham was born in Winston-Salem and grew up in Lexington. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Cunningham earned a master's degree in public policy and public administration from the London School of Economics. He is a former state senator and now practices law in Winston-Salem.
Contact Florence Gilkeson by e-mail at email@example.com.
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