A Mini-Interview With Rightroots Endorsed Candidate Chris Wakim
Chris Wakim has a very impressive background. He’s a Christian conservative who is the grandson of immigrants from Lebanon. He was educated at West Point and Harvard and then went into the military, where he worked his way up to “Captain in command of a mechanized infantry company in the Fourth Infantry Division.” Chris also married his high school sweetheart, started a successful career in business, and won on his first attempt to get into the West Virginia House of Delegates in 2002.
Now, Chris has set his sights on incumbent Democrat, Alan Mollohan, in West Virginia’s first district. Does he have a chance? In a district that went 58% to 42% for George Bush in 2004? You bet!
I got together with Chris on Thursday of last week for a short phone interview. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.
John Hawkins: Now Alan Mollohan has had some ethical problems. Tell us about those.
Chris Wakim: Alan Mollohan has been sitting on the Appropriations Committee, as a senior member, and has been in Congress 24 years…A few years ago, he started a number of 501(c)3 non-profit organizations, 5 of them to be exact. What he has done is he’s personally enriched himself through his position on Appropriations by establishing these 501(c)3 non-profits. He staffed these non-profits with his former staffers and his friends. He established earmarks that go to these 501(c)3 non-profits and the money has come back to him via campaign contributions, personal loans, and business arrangements with the people who control the earmarks.
Now, as you’re probably aware, he’s under investigation for that very thing. So, I don’t know if what he has done is illegal. That’s for the Justice Department to decide — but, it’s clearly unethical.
John Hawkins: So, he’s definitely using his own position to put money in his pockets at the expense of the taxpayers?
Chris Wakim: Yes, absolutely. And this is clearly something that (needs to be explained). His FEC report in 2000 — he was worth somewhere around $100,000. Then in 2004, his net worth had increased up to $26.9 million dollars….This guy should not be running for Congress. This guy should be the Federal Reserve Chair if he can turn that kind of a profit in that period of time….He’s way too busy helping himself to help his constituency.
John Hawkins: If a voter from your district were to come up to you and say, “Chris, give me 3 differences between you and the incumbent, Alan Mollohan, that would convince me to vote for you, what would you say to him?”
Chris Wakim: That’s a simple one. The first one is the security of our nation and our borders. My opponent voted against securing the borders. He voted against the Patriot Act…twice. He voted against the establishment of Homeland Security. Now, it’s my opinion as a veteran and someone who has a little common sense, that we are clearly fighting a war on terror. That war on terror needs to be fought overseas, as opposed to here, and my opponent is clearly out of touch with the values of my district. That’s number one.
Number two, West Virginia was rated by Forbes as 49th in the nation in terms of business environment. We need to put money back in the pockets of people who earn it. We need to cut taxes, …cut regulations, and we need to get our hands on frivolous lawsuits. West Virginia is notorious for frivolous lawsuits and we need to address that problem at the Federal level.
Number three, Social Security is an interesting program that clearly needs some work. But, when my constituents have worked all their lives and paid into the system, there’s essentially a pact or a guarantee between them and the United States government. People that are currently on or are pending on Social Security benefits, should have their benefits as promised, without a cut in eligibility or a cut in amount. Nor, should those benefits be taxed. My opponent has voted to tax Social Security benefits. To me, that’s ill-advised and foolish.
That being said, since the system is clearly headed for a fiscal meltdown somewhere down the road…I think that there need to be changes made for my younger constituency, maybe 30 and under, to address the problem so that the system is solvent by the time they reach retirement age.
John Hawkins: Now, you’re a former Army Captain, so you should have a pretty good perspective on the war in Iraq. We’ve sort of seen things break down into, “Should we cut and run,” “should we continue to stick in there and wait until the Iraqis are ready to go before we leave?” Tell us what you think we need to be doing in Iraq.
Chris Wakim: Clearly, we need to assist that infant government, that infant Democracy over there any way we can. That includes supporting and developing their military, supporting their government, establishing a democracy in the Middle-East. …Democracies don’t battle each other, they trade with each other. To the extent that we can establish trade relationships between democratic forms of government in the Middle-East, it’s in our long term national interest to do that.
John Hawkins: Let’s also talk a little bit about Israel. There has been a lot of controversy, conflict over there with their fighting with Lebanon and the Palestinians. What do you think about the recent fighting that has been happening?
Chris Wakim: My heritage is Lebanese. My family came from the Christian Lebanese sect over there, the Maronites. You know, it’s a shame that Israel has to go through this type of continued attack on its people. It is the responsibility, first and foremost of any government, whether it’s the United States government or the Israeli government, to protect its people from foreign harm, foreign invasion, or foreign attack. What Israel has done is, frankly, I think a little constrained and measured. But, clearly it needed to be done. I personally hope that the United States — not the UN, I’m not really fond of the UN…… I think they’re fundamentally ineffective — or maybe the British can assist the Lebanese government in ridding themselves of Hezbollah. …If the Hezbollah are a threat to Israel,… (then) Israel…needs to defend itself.
John Hawkins: If you knock off Alan Mollohan, what can conservatives across the country expect from you in Congress?
Chris Wakim: I’m a very strong believer in our founding documents. I…am a social and fiscal conservative. I’ve (run for office) because I’ve served in the military for 11 years and I understand the nature of a threat. I’ve run a business in this state for quite a number years since I left the military. I understand the impact of taxation. I understand the impact for excessive regulation and overarching and overreaching government and how that impacts people out there making a living.
…I make the best determination of what is right for my family, not the government. I make the best determination of (how I should spend) the money that I earn, not the government. When government drives the train of the decisions that I make for my family and for my business, that’s wrong. That needs to change.
John Hawkins: Last but not least, you’re in a district that went heavily for Bush in a year when there’s a real anti-incumbent mood. So, how do you think you’re doing right now?
Chris Wakim: I think I am doing great. …What people want (in my district) is someone they can trust — someone that will clearly represent their views and not someone who is up there helping himself and working only for himself. Now, that’s a tough nut to crack, because some people feel that politicians may start off helping the people that sent them there, but they forget their roots. Given the fact that I come from very humble beginnings, I will never forget what this country has done for me or for my family. My family did not have a lot of money, but we were given the opportunity economically to pursue our dreams and we’ve done very well as a family, and I mean my extended family, which goes all the way back to my grandfather who came over in 1906. I think by touching people in my district with those stories and telling them how I came from virtually nothing, they will appreciate that and they will know that I am working in their interest to allow them to pursue their dreams as well.
John Hawkins: Chris, that’s it. Thank you very much!
You can donate to Chris Wakim’s campaign at Rightroots.