This is the first of a two part interview with Mark Ellmore, candidate in the GOP primary, where he’s facing Amit Singh (also interviewed at Blacknell.net). The winner of the June 10th primary will face long time incumbent Rep. Jim Moran (D) this fall.
I’d arranged to meet Mark Ellmore at Sette Bello in Clarendon. Arriving a few minutes before him, I’d just grabbed a drink and claimed one of the quieter spaces for us. Ellmore walked in, and I waved him over. We briefly introduced ourselves, and he excused himself to get some water from the bar. On his way over, he spotted a few women that he’d recently met at a local Republican committee meeting, and he immediately launched into campaign mode. I’ve only met Ellmore moments before, but he struck me as the sort of guy who’s always “on.” He engaged in a bit of discussion on how to engage Arlington’s voters with one of the women, and made a soft pitch for a contribution from another (expertly rebuffed, on her part). He’s quick on his feet, and in the first few minutes, I knew I was talking to someone who had done this before.
The interview started with a bit of jujitsu on his part, with him conducting a bit of an interview of me, trying to get a handle on who it was that was interviewing him. Fair enough, I said, and submitted to it for a couple of minutes, talking about my political history and present views. And then we got down to business, with him jumping off my own viewpoint as a gun owner who supports a number of gun control measures.
Mark Ellmore(ME): I do believe in the Second Amendment, and that’s why I support [open carry rights]. I want to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. I personally grew up a sportsman, going hunting, that type of thing. And I have full respect for those who choose to do that. Again, I personally would not feel comfortable going concealed carry. I have respect for those that do, but it’s not me. I do believe that there should be some personal values and limitations when we come to some of the weaponry. That we would just say, “Yeah, you have the right to own these, but would you use some discretion? And in your own persona liberty, consider just not exercising your liberty. You have the liberty to do it – to do a lot of things. But can we just ask you to please – for the betterment of society – could you not exercise your liberty? For the good of the bigger cause, so to speak.
MB: So this is not the best year for the Republican brand
MB: You’re starting in a trough. You’ve done this before.
MB: As I saw from entrance, over there – that was just a masterful bit of campaigning. But just being good at that isn’t enough. I mean, you’re running against Jim Moran, a 17 year incumbent, majority party . . .
ME: The Ted Kennedy. I got it. I got it down.
MB: Okay. Why are you doing it now?
ME: Number one, when you feel led to do something – without a better description of it – that I feel that my true life experiences. One, I love where I live. Two, I’ve lived here all my life – I’m an old guy. 50 years old. I’ve put in a lot of time here. I’ve worked in every segment of the community. I understand the dynamic that we face here – for all the people that live here. Of every lifestyle, every ethnicity, every race, religion, creed, and culture. I want to see if I can have an impact. Both in my community, and on my country. And I just believe that, if not me, then who will be better qualified? Somebody that gets it, somebody that’s lived here, somebody that understands what Jefferson had in mind. “Can you do me a favor, quit your job for two years, and go serve your for two years in the House of Representatives and then come back to your business?” And that’s the way it was set up. It wasn’t set up to be a lifetime appointment over there. SO I just believe that I have the all the skills and the tools, the community connection, the involvement, the knowledge, the understanding of what the people want in a congressional representative. Now, we may be able to debate on some issues. But probably there’s very little that we would divide over, when you come down to the true nature of what a member of Congress does. Especially one here. Which is, you get a lot of things when I’m out on the road. You get where is my social security check type of questions, you get “oh, by the way, my grandfather’s in a VA hospital, would you do me a favor and look into this this and this? Oh, by the way, I’ve been a civil service worker for 32 years. Guess what they’re doing to me at the Patent and Trademark Office? Oh, btw, I’m with the IRS. Do you really just want to see it liquidated and dissolved? Oh, btw, as a member of Congress, what are you going to do about taxes and spending? ETC.
And I feel that my real life experiences, like yourself – you’re mature, you’ve been down the road, you’ve experienced it, you’ve paid your dues in business. You’re at a place in your life where, you know what it is you believe in, and you’re ready to articulate that message to other people. I may not win the election, but what we’re gonna do, is we are gonna give it a 110 percent. To show people that it’s not a coronation, it’s not a rite of passage. And then when somebody will step up – and I’m putting it all on the line – and I’ve done everything. I’ve raised a family here. Put kids into college here. Been a single parent – that’s a lot of work and growing up. I’ve paid the taxes. I’ve been, basically – not self employed, but I’ve been a consultant to financial institutions for the last 20 years. So all those things, like yourself, going out on a limb, I’ve done those things so I can relate to the people here. And I think that’s what’s led me [to running]. I think I’ve got a lot of value to bring to the community.
MB: Back to your previous race, for a moment. As noted, you’ve done this once before. You lost, in 2006, to Tom O’Donoghue. What lessons did you take from that?
ME: I realized what it is that people want to talk about. The people want to talk about the fundamentals of what I stand for. They want to know where you stand on the basic issues that are important to them every day. The economy, transportation, and national security.
There are two things that I took from that last cycle, that I had to sit down – and I had a good three or four months off where I could just really ponder what the heck went on, and why I was kinda . . . well, beat down in that election. And I looked and said, you know what? I really needed to stress what it is that people want to hear. They want to talk about how do I keep them safe. How do I keep the quality of life here for every person in our community high. And that’s really what came about from that. We needed a structure and an organization that we needed to talk about things that were relative to the Republican Party. They may not be relative to a lot of things that we’re gonna offer up in the general election, that’ll attract those people, so they will like a conservative Republican candidate. And I can’t water down who I am. I mean, that’s it. [ . . . ] Again, I think that I learned that you have to respect and trust and be willing to open up and be transparent to everybody. And they see through a show. We didn’t have the organization or structure that we have now. Now we have the grassroots in place. And we are ready to dance. If the people will just give us a chance, we won’t be one of those 35% run and done. I am back because I’m committed. I could easily have said, “I’m scared of my shadow, let me “run and done” it, just so I can say I’ve ran for Congress. No. That wasn’t why I got in it the first time.
MB: So you’re in it to win?
ME: I am in it to win. Yes. Without being too cliché. I know that sounds stupid.
MB: But getting to the dance – well, you’ve got quite the dance to do. First, you have to convince the Republicans that you’re really a Republican.
MB: And then, you’ve got to turn to this overwhelmingly Democratic district and say “Okay, I’m a Republican, but I’m the sort of Republican that can represent you.” So, focusing on the first part of this question, how are you speaking your primary voters? Because I have to say, I’ve been bouncing around the Internet, and there are people out there calling you a “socialist.” The “socialist Mark Ellmore”. Now, the partisan me might have some words for you, but “socialist” isn’t one of them. So, when you’re starting off by already having to deal with these extreme characterizations, how do you convince the Republican that you’re Republican.
ME: Well, for one, people have to do some research. I don’t know how much more Republican I can get than signing the Americans for Tax Reform Pledge. I don’t know how much more Republican I can get than getting a 100 on my National Right to Life Survey. I don’t know how much more Republican I can get than being a member of the NRA and saying “Hey, I support the Constitution’s Second Amendment.” I don’t know how much more Republican I can get than saying I don’t support earmarks. I don’t know what other Republican things I can say that – you know, I’m against embryonic stem cell research – and the other fundamental things that say you have a more traditional conservative value.
I mean, I laugh when somebody said “Mark, do you know that somebody’s calling you a socialist because you – not the government – I personally raised $60,000. Not going to the government, not going to the state, not going to anybody – but I personally raised $60,000 to supplement, and support, and save a guy’s life who otherwise would have been left out in the cold. [These people] don’t have anything to offer up, so all they can do is the same thing that people in politics do when you don’t have anything to say, no stance,- point fingers and criticize. You can’t be a socialist, just because you want to help others people who can’t help themselves in a way that doesn’t require the Federal government. And when they talked about my stance on Medicare, it’s because they’re ignorant. They don’t understand the issues. They never took the time to dig down and say “oh, btw, why don’t we look into what the guy’s talking about?”
Expanding Medicare, as I had on my site, doesn’t mean that we need more money for Medicare. It means that if [your] mother or father is in an assisted living facility, and they outlive their savings, [your mother or father] will officially – in the state of Virginia, which is one of 9 states – you cannot use your Medicare dollars to pay for assisted living. Or maybe you want to keep them at home with you. And that to me is an injustice. For these people. The guy is a 105 years old. He paid. He’s got Medicare dollars available to him – not more, you wouldn’t have to put more in. But he’s got the money available, [and] the state of Virginia wouldn’t allow him to tap it to keep him alive. They want to put him in a nursing home – the guy’s a 105, and he can put his walker above his head, still fully functional, and can talk to you and I like we’re having this discussion.
And that’s what I call unfair, and the reason that nobody wants to get into politics. It’s the reason why nobody wants to serve. Because rather than do any homework, it’s pointing fingers. I don’t know what more I can do to say I’m a Republican. And I was not shredded for that in the last election against a guy who is arguably right of Attila the Hun – Tom O’Donoghue. I don’t know what else I can say. I just don’t understand it. That’s the petty part of it, that makes it so other people say – why do you even want to do this, when people won’t do the work and get to know you and the issues. And I’m an issue based guy, not . . .
MB: That’s tough, because you still have to get those issues out. Being right is just the starting point.
ME: I don’t know what else we can do. How many people, if you’re a liberal, are you going to sign the Americans for Tax Reform Pledge? Be against the death tax? Be against the estate tax? What else can I do? I don’t know what else to do, other than say that’s who I am, and we don’t want to package that in a way that repels people. And that’s why you have to be prepared.
Part II, including Ellmore’s thoughts on civil unions, Congressional oversight of the Executive, and his plans for winning the 8th CD’s Democratic voters, is forthcoming.