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Published: 1/28/2012

COMMENTARY

Congressional hopeful plays David versus two Goliaths

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST

Why anyone would go into politics these days is beyond me. So I asked Graham Veysey, a 29-year-old first-time candidate who is waging a quixotic Ohio primary campaign against two Democratic heavyweights.

He's running to represent the 9th Congressional District. His opponents are U.S. Reps. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo and Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland. Nobody can accuse this political newcomer of thinking small.

Aside from the 2008 presidential campaign, when thousands of youthful fans fawned over candidate Barack Obama as if he were the Second Coming, the under-30 crowd is seldom prone to political engagement. Young people are more likely to lampoon politics than to participate in it.

Who can blame them? Politics is a messy, frustrating enterprise that is fueled by money. What person, chock full of idealism and with a whole life ahead of him or her, would jump into that snake pit to take on the political establishment?

Graham Veysey, for one.

"It's David facing two Goliaths," the Shaker Heights native said. "But [Miss Kaptur and Mr. Kucinich are] part of the problem, not the solution."

After returning home from Bates College in Maine, the third of four Veysey boys began a company that produces videos for causes ranging from clean energy to education. He transformed a vacant firehouse in Cleveland into a fully-occupied showpiece office building.

Pretty impressive. So why the abrupt detour into politics -- challenging popular congressional veterans, no less?

"For my generation, we're looking at policy solutions not getting done," said Mr. Veysey, who had just left a meeting with Cuyahoga County Democrats about an endorsement that predictably went to Mr. Kucinich.

There's a reason Congress has the lowest approval rating ever, Mr. Veysey said. Too much of its activity has been about gaining political points, not progress, he said.

"Our $15 trillion debt will be $26 trillion in 10 years," he said. "My generation will be saddled with paying it back, and we want a seat at the table."

Mr. Veysey is brimming with ideas to fix what he sees as an out-of-control fiscal crisis. He notes that the debt-reduction plan that came out of Simpson-Bowles, the bipartisan panel created by President Obama, "was shelved and never implemented."

He believes the commission's blueprint for fiscal sustainability "needs to be taken off the shelf" and reconsidered, especially its call for tax reform and removal of tax breaks.

"Corporate tax loopholes are legal deductions that ought to be eliminated," Mr. Veysey said.

"We're screwed unless we do something about it," he added. "Our problems aren't getting better. The status quo isn't working."

The son of a retired Marine and a mother he calls a "saint," Mr. Veysey said that he offers voters the perspective of an energetic, passionate young man who is the face of tomorrow. Without new foot soldiers in public service, as alternatives to the same old, same old, the outlook is bleak, he said.

"Never before have student loans outweighed credit card debt," he said. " We're mortgaging our future and still electing the same people.

"We're failing the war on poverty and education," he continued. A lack of investment in public education will "have a severe impact on my generation," he said.

Mr. Veysey said his long-shot campaign is less about satisfying his political ambitions than it is about fulfilling a civic mission. He hopes people with children or grandchildren will listen to someone who will share those children's world.

He lacks his opponents' decades of political experience. But he's confident that his background as an entrepreneur who has struggled to make a payroll, obtain bank loans, and create jobs is equally relevant to voters.

"Being a career politician is not my goal," he said.

Anyone who gets up before the sun to shake hands with Jeep workers in North Toledo has a drive to make a difference that won't be easily diminished. Mr. Veysey's generation should take notice, and be inspired to engage likewise in the politics of their lives.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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