U.S. Congressman Peter Welch is running for his fourth term. In 2010 he ran against Republican Paul Beaudry and won over 80-percent of the vote. This year, a man new to politics is throwing his hat into the ring.
"We're running a very grassroots, bare-bones campaign. Basically my campaign is going out and talking to the people in Vermont," said Mark Donka, The Republican candidate for U.S Congress. The 30 year veteran of law enforcement has one year of political experience -- a stint on the selectboard in Hartford.
Donka said his lack of political experience isn't a weakness. He believes he could be the breath of fresh air Washington needs. "I think what it needs right now is we need a fresh look in there, we need somebody that's going to come in with common sense, some good ideas and not be basically beholding to all the special interest groups, the lobbyists or anything else. I don't have any of that," he said.
Donka said the debt crisis in America prompted him to put his name on the ballot. "And that's the reason I'm running is I've got daughters, I've got a grandson. I don't think it's fair that we're going to leave them in worse shape than we were," Donka said. "What kind of legacy is that for them?"
If elected, Donka said he'll form a new committee to manage the debt and take the task away from Congress. "Basically a commission would be put together in a bipartisan group. No one could be sitting on congress or anything else. They would go through the budget line by line, look at everything from the bottom to the top and find places we can cut," Donka said.
Donka is running against two-time incumbent, Democrat Rep. Peter Welch. Welch considers himself a Congressman who works hard to reach across party lines. "One of the things I did that was noteworthy in Washington -- and that just goes to show you how crazy of a place it is -- we had some dinners at my apartment. We had some Republicans over so it was like a bipartisan dinner, so people could talk and meet and get to know one another. That got in the news and it was no big deal," Welch said.
Welch believes he brings a Vermont mentality with him to Washington that he says more congressman need to learn how to use. "Amidst all of the grid lock, if you take some of those Vermont values to Washington, both in practical problem-solving and how you find common ground, you can actually make progress. And this country needs to make progress and Congress needs to do a better job," he said.
Welch has been outspoken about lowering interest rates on student loans and in helping Vermont military families, but he says this year he's most proud of his work allocating FEMA funding for Irene. "It was a very contentious situation in Congress about getting funding. And we got full funding after I started the Irene coalition, which was 55 members of Congress -- 30 Democrats, 25 Republicans -- and we worked together solely for the benefit of the people we represent," Welch said.
But more than bipartisanship, Welch also agrees the national debt will be the most important issue in the next two years, though he believes Congress can work together to find a resolution. "Bipartisanship is a means to an end. We have to deal with out debt because that is the lynch pin to rebuilding our economy and we have to do it in a way that allows us to create jobs and have a long term plan that brings down our debt," he said.
Neither candidate was very interested in criticizing the other. Donka said he supports Welch's efforts to pull out our troops in Afghanistan and Welch said Donka has played fair and honest during debates between the two candidates.