“I don’t trust them. I don’t think they are going to get the job done,” said Montgomery Village resident Chris Graves when asked why a Montgomery County businessman with little or no campaign experience wanted to jump into one of the most hotly contested political races in the State of Maryland, outside of the gubernatorial race.
“There are a couple of answers to that question,” said Graves as sat in his campaign office recently. “I have sat on the sidelines all my life. I have been in business watching what is going on. I have always been interested in policy, particularly at the national level and I always assumed that the people who were running and getting elected knew what they were doing and were going to do a good job. I don’t feel that way anymore. I feel like it is just the same ole, same ole; and it has gotten worse.”
Graves officially declared his candidacy for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District on February 28 at a gathering in Clarksburg’s GrillMarx restaurant. “For too long billionaires, CEOs, and Wall Street bankers have been setting the direction of our country by buying and influencing our politicians,” Graves told supporters gathered for the campaign kick-off. “It is time for us to take our country back. We must change course so that all of us have the same opportunity to succeed and provide for our families. We cannot wait any longer to address the issues of income inequality, failing schools, unaffordable healthcare, and our deteriorating environment,” Graves said.
In an interview with Germantown Pulse, Graves said that he is tired of watching politicians on for primaries on one set of ideals and once they receive the nomination and party backing changing their stance to better fall in line with what the party desires.
“If you are a candidate running on single-payer insurance now, but if the party decides from a political perspective, we are not going to push that right now. Instead, we are going to set the Republicans up for the next election. That is not the way I want to play the game.”
“I went to the various forums that they held for the folks who had already announced that they were running,” said Graves. “Some of them were saying the right things, but I just couldn’t help but hear them saying the same ole, same ole. These people are not going to change the way things are in the country. They are going to go in and buy into party politics regardless of what they might say.”
“Sitting on the sidelines for a long time and watching how our political process works and — in my opinion — over time it has been deteriorating,” said Graves. “Where we are today is a result of where we were before. It is all a result of this same ole, same ole. I just couldn’t stand it anymore really. If the people that were running before I joined the race were people that I felt I could trust, I would not be running.”
The folks currently running for the Maryland 6th District Congressional seat are some heavy hitters. Chief among them is David Trone, owner of Total Beer and Wine, with on political campaign already under his belt. This is Trone’s second attempt at winning a seat in the House of Representatives. Many will remember that he ran for the District 8 seat, formerly held by now-Senator Christopher Van Hollen. Last spring, Trone came in second and lost in the Democratic primary to Jamie Raskin. He spent more than $13 million on his unsuccessful Democratic primary campaign for Maryland's 8th congressional district, setting a record for the most expensive self-funded House campaign.
Also in the race for the Democratic nomination are State Delegate and Darnestown resident Aruna Miller; State Senator Roger Manno; pediatrician and author Dr. Nadia Hashimi; and aerospace executive Christopher M. Hearsey. Also running for the Democratic nomination are two army veterans; Andrew Duck of Frederick County, the director of operations for a small green energy company, and a retired economist and Montgomery County resident George English.
Graves and his wife Stephanie own Montgomery Village-based Switch to Solar, a residential and commercial solar installation company headquartered in the 6th District.
“There are a lot of people out there that feel betrayed by the democratic party, as I do,” said Graves. “Who feel that they let us down. I am just a regular guy, and there are people out there that feel the same as me, and I am representing them, more than I am representing the party. I align with the party because in general, our values line up. I may be a little bit more progressive than most Democrats.”
While he’s not a political campaign veteran, Graves doesn’t consider himself an outsider. “When someone says outsider, what exactly does that mean? In terms of my neighbors and people in my community, the people I want to help, I certainly don’t feel like an outsider.”
“I feel that there are motives behind each of those candidates that may not be 100 percent. I am concerned about our community as a whole all the way up to the counties in western Maryland. I sense that there are ulterior motives. I am not prepared to speculate on that those are, but when I hear people say things. When I hear what these guys are saying it just sounds like the same ole, same ole to me.”
Graves has a whole list of issues that concern including affordable universal healthcare and affordable daycare, but he says, all of those things arise out of two big issues.
“One is the extreme concentration of wealth and income with a few people, or small percentage of people,” said Graves. “It limits the ability of our economy to grow in a way that it benefits everybody. You can see that now in the way it is growing. There are certain segments that are doing very well because of economic growth; those at the very top, and because of pressures on the labor market, those at the low end of the wage scale. The middle class is not benefiting from the current economic growth.”
Graves is running as a progressive Democrat and believes that the current economic growth is also destructive to our democracy. “These people have their own agendas, and they have the economic power to make those things happen for themselves without actually using the democratic machinery, without putting it out there for us all to debate and say ‘look is this really what we want to do.’ They can lobby Congressmen. They can sponsor marketing campaigns. Look at what the Sackler family did with oxycontin. They went out and promoted the idea that it wasn’t addictive. And they are worth like $13 billion. And, the admitted it in court and they’ve only been fined $600 million, but this is the way things work because there is a concentration of economic power. It undercuts our democracy and the ability for all of us to have a say in how it works,” said Graves.
Graves wants to level the playing field for all. He believes students and job seekers need more instruction on real-world issues which will be faced on the job. “I would like to see a country where everyone succeeds. I don’t think we do enough to prepare people for what they have to face out there. That sounds kinda fuzzy, but an example; If I was a wealthy guy and I am sending my kid to an expensive prep school, I am probably a little savvy. And with that savvy, I am going to know how to pass on to my children. So, my children are going to get a good education both in school and from me about how to handle how the world works and how to succeed. But If I am a middle-class person working as a professional or a small business owner my kids’ school isn’t going to be as good as the expensive prep school and what I have to pass on my kids isn’t going to be as savvy.”
He also believes that more should be done to help young people be ready for work when the time comes. “Instead of preparing our children to be able to go work for someone. We need to prepare our children to be able to control their own destiny,” said Graves. “If they get out of high school and want to start their own business. They will know how to start their own business. If they want to get a demo product made, they will know how to do that. If they want to go build an organic farm, they will have the skills to do that. We have to teach our kids to be able to figure out what they want to do with they own lives and make a plan for themselves and have the skills to do that. That is what I mean by controlling their own destinies. If you throw people into the market, they are at the mercy of the market.”
Graves believes that all the current entitlement plans, such as unemployment insurance, welfare, and social security should be rolled into on fund to create a safety net for all citizens.
“Say you started a small business and you failed. How will you get back up on your feet? Now, what if we had a guaranteed minimum income for people at certain income levels just to help them get back up on their feet,” said Graves. “I think we as a society can do a lot more to help people stand up on their own two feet. That is the other big issue. The notion of having a helping hand to help people back up and providing a true floor below which they cannot go. That is what motivates my interest in radically changing our education system, providing affordable healthcare, providing universal daycare."
“The funds that we already pay for unemployment, welfare, social security would all be pooled to create the safety net of guaranteed minimum income,” he said. “I am not trying to add programs. I am trying to replace programs and change the focus. To a certain extent, entitlement programs have settled into a routine where they are more about maintaining people in poverty rather than helping people get out of poverty. I think one of the big goals should be to eliminate poverty. Consolidate those programs and change the focus. What do these people need to be able to stand up on their own two feet? They need skills.”
Graves talked about hiring for his solar panel company and the issues a small business faces when it comes to hiring and retaining workers.
“When we first started this business we were employing these young people who didn’t have a great education, and we were going to train them to be solar installers,” said Graves. “One of the problems that we’ve found from workers coming from the vocational programs is that while the hard skills may be OK, but the soft skills are totally neglected. One tiny little example, the guy on a job finishes a task. Instead of saying what can I do next, he gets on the phone and starts talking to his girlfriend. Things like that, just not understanding what it means to go work and that you are there to contribute and keep your eyes open and look out for your fellow workers. Our kids aren’t learning a work ethic. This is one of the problems I have with the education system.”
“A lot of people get thrown into the market unprepared. They don’t have a career plan and don’t know how to make a career plan. They don’t have the soft skills to perform in a workplace. You can have a kid that might get fired for something that they didn’t even know that they needed to know. The soft skills. I want our children to have control of their own destinies,” said Graves.
Graves is married to Stephanie Graves, an active member of the Clarksburg Chamber of Commerce and one of the driving forces behind the recent surge in support for the M83 extension of Mid-County Highway. He the father two boys, Henry and Douglas. He received his undergraduate degree from Yale and his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Primary Election Day is Tuesday, June 26.
Top Photo courtesy Chris Graves for Congress.
Other Photos by Germantown Pulse