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Today is the day when I try to make a difference.  But I’ll need your help.  I’m launching an exploratory committee today, to test the waters for a run against Aaron Schock in 2010 for the IL-18 Congressional District and I’ll only be successful if I have the support of the Netroots.  This is a PVI +5 district that hasn’t elected a Democrat to Congress since 1914 so resources are scarce.  I'm pretty much starting with nothing and facing an uphill battle, which for me is familiar territory.

My family moved to Illinois from West Virginia when I was six.  In West Virginia, we’d lived in a one bedroom cinderblock house.  My father was a welder and, in fact, he welded our bathtub together from scrap sheet metal he brought home from work.  He also built the bunk bed my brother and I slept in.  When Dad lost his job, we moved to Illinois where he hired on at a factory that promised steady employment.  He worked at that factory for the next 20 years, working outside in the Illinois weather, which eventually took its toll on his body.  He would come home from work and my mother would have hot towels ready to wrap around his aching arthritic elbows and knees, knees that eventually needed periodic draining.  But he never complained, he never missed work and he gave it his all every 12-hour shift he worked.  "The only job to be embarrassed of is a job poorly done," he would say.  Regardless of what you do, be the best at it.

I took this valuable lesson with me when I joined the Air Force.  Even though I was just there for one tour to earn money for school, I gave it everything I had and received decorations, awards and early promotions.  I joined the Base Honor Guard and was nominated for Honor Guard Member of the Year and in my primary job as an avionics technician I was named Maintenance Person of the 3rd Air Force, which at that time spanned all of Europe.  When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, my base was one of the first called up and I volunteered to go with our mobility unit.  During the war, I was very proud to lead a team of 24 exemplary airmen.

After the war, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree with Highest Distinction in Political Science from the University of Illinois.  I also went on to get an MBA from U of I.  (Since I’m on the subject of brains, I should note that I’m a member of Mensa.)

Over the last two decades, I’ve accumulated an eclectic mix of experience.  I’ve worked in strategic planning and technology with Union Pacific Railroad, been a software consultant, led process improvement teams and performed capacity and capital planning for the US Operations Division at Caterpillar (I now work in Cat’s Advanced Systems Division).  I’ve worked with people from all walks of life and led groups in both civilian and military life, peacetime and wartime.  While I may not know all the procedural ins and outs of navigating legislation through Congress, I do have a solid understanding of politics and believe I have the experience it takes to be an effective congressman.

My policies and why I believe them:

Single-Payer Health Insurance - When Aaron Schock voted against SCHIP earlier this year, it provided one of the final pushes I needed to consider running.  They say many of us are only one medical emergency away from bankruptcy. My family was hit with three. My wife Kristin was stricken with two painful conditions (neuropathy and endometriosis) that quickly progressed to the point that she was debilitated and unable to work.

As terrible as this was, it was only the beginning. Soon after Kristin's problems began, our then 2-year-old son Sam slowly lost the words he had learned and eventually wouldn't make eye contact or respond to his name. We had hoped it would be something minor, like an ear infection affecting his hearing, but the diagnosis came back much worse.  Sam was autistic.  It hit us like a death in the family. But there was a silver lining to our dark cloud because we had caught his condition at a very young age, giving him the best chance for recovery. The experts told us that the window of opportunity doesn't stay open long, however, and the benefits of treatment rapidly dwindle to near zero by age six. We had to take action right then, or risk losing him forever to his mental prison. To us, there was no choice.  We resolved to push ahead and find a way to pay for it.

We had insurance. We paid $400 every month for it, but it just wasn't enough. We soon found ourselves crushed under a mountain of medical bills and ended up seeking bankruptcy protection. The pain, embarrassment and frustration of the experience is still with me, and I guess it always will be.  But an even worse memory from that time was the children I saw who didn’t get any help beyond what the public school district Special Ed offered (which in some places is nothing).  We had been faced with a choice between financial ruin and a child who would never speak, yet there are others who don’t even get that choice.  Without medical insurance to help pay for the treatment they needed, their children had no chance.

Recently, I was at the hair salon my wife works at and a woman came in and asked if she could post a flyer she had for a fundraising event.  The event was for a family whose child had a chronic disease.  It occurred to me that I’ve seen more and more of these flyers and collection jars around the area and nothing could be a better indicator that more and more families are in trouble. Besides, in a country as wealthy as ours, the last thing the parents of a terminally ill child should be worrying about is putting on a raffle to pay for medical expenses.

Canada has a healthier population that we do and they pay less per capita for their healthcare.  And despite all the propaganda to the contrary, things seem to be going okay up there.  After all, you don't see busloads of elderly Canadians coming down here to buy prescription drugs, do you?  I would like to model our system after theirs.

National Pension - Tom Geoghegan mentioned this recently as a candidate for Rahm Emanuel's vacated seat.  Increasing Social Security payments from 38 percent of a recipient's working wage to 65-70 percent would ensure people a dignified retirement.  I can tell you from personal experience that this is a great idea.

When my father died of cancer in 1989, he passed away secure in the knowledge that my mother would be taken care of.  All of his years of unrelenting sacrifice had been worth it because he would be able to provide for her in her old age with his pension.  A few years later, his company had some financial problems.  You may have heard about it in the news.  The company was called Enron.  My mother got to keep her pension, but lots of other people lost everything in that debacle.  For many months Mom thought she would be one of them.  When I see these people, I see my dad and I take it personally.  And I want to help.

After seeing more and more companies do away with pensions and 401K's dissolving like a mirage in the recent stock market collapse, I believe the public is ready to give the public sector a shot.  Besides, the GOP's biggest criticism of government agencies is that "once they're created, they never go away" and this is a chance to turn that on its head because that's exactly what people want: a pension that won't go away and can be counted on.

How to pay for it?  In his book "Plunder and Blunder", Dean Baker (co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research) suggested that a 0.25 percent fee on every stock transaction "can easily raise $150 billion a year" (page 131).  I can't think of a more fitting place to get the funds for it than Wall Street.

Another benefit of a transaction fee is that while it would hardly be noticed by someone who buys and then sits on their investments for long periods, it would start to take a healthy cut out of the profits of speculators and hopefully cool the casino-like atmosphere that has permeated the market.

But the transaction fee would only be a first step to supplementing the payroll tax.  Once the transaction fee is tweaked and bringing in its optimum level of revenue, other measures will be enacted (such as a "doughnut hole" approach to the payroll tax or maybe something creative like a higher tax rate on a corporate executive’s bonus if their company laid workers off that year) to close the gap between current payouts and the 65-70 percent level.

Job Security - Companies that communities built up around and once counted on for their livelihood can now leave with jarring suddenness.  In the global economy, everything is portable except labor.  We need to ensure that besides having good infrastructure for manufacturing plants to use, we need to have a highly skilled workforce in place to attract them.  If someone loses their job, they need to have the opportunity to retrain.  And we need to find jobs that don’t move – like new wind farms in my district.

We've been all over what government can't do for a quarter century.  We need to start looking at what it can do because we've seen that private industry isn't always the answer.  We need to start communicating to voters that government has a role to play vis-à-vis the global economy.  We need to communicate that government can do more than build a bridge that connects one side of a river with another.  It can also build the bridge between a disease and its cure with investment in research.  Government can be the bridge between poverty and a good job, the bridge between intolerance and diversity, fear and security, the America that is and the America that can be.

We’ve turned a corner in the public’s perception of government and its role.  Americans now sense a need for the public sector.  If done right, government can provide a sound footing for the American People and the economy in the years to come.  This is why I want to get elected - to help this come to pass.

But I can’t do it without you.  My name is Carl Ray and I’m asking for your support.

* * * * *

Please visit my web site throughout the week as various features come online. It's kind of nice to put my web developer skills to use again.

Originally posted to Carl Ray on Mon Mar 23, 2009 at 09:30 AM PDT.

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