My first interviewee is none other than former US Congressman Joe Hoeffel. He's recently launched his own website and accompanying blog and has graciously agreed to "sit down" for this tête-á-tête, that's French for keyboard-to-keyboard.
Why a blog and why now?
I hope the blog on Joe Hoeffel & Friends will help rally the progressive community and serve as a sounding board for liberal opinion in the state. I want to be part of that effort and there is no time like the present.You seem to be a Progressive politician, why not back the Progressive candidate Chuck Pennacchio?
Chuck is a good man with sound, progressive ideas. I am supporting Bob Casey for Senate because Bob is the strongest candidate to defeat Rick Santorum. The 2006 Senate election is incredibly important to Pennsylvania and the country. Democrats of all viewpoints need to support enthusiastically our strongest challenger.You engaged your supporters through the internet in your 2004 campaign. Seeing the results you yourself had and the results Seth Williams had in May, where do you see the internet – blogs/sites – fitting into the larger media picture?
The internet has become fundamentally important to political campaigns. No campaign's media strategy can be complete without a plan for internet outreach, organizing and fundraising. The success of Dean, Kerry, MoveOn, DFA and others has made websites and blogs essential to campaigns.You ran as an underdog against Specter, what advice do you have for the other underdogs out there running in smaller campaigns across the region? What advice would you give to a first time candidate in a public election? Something smaller, say, for school, neighborhood and city levels.
Go for it. Everybody who cares about public policy and the quality of life in their community should run for public office at least once in their lives, and – win or lose -- it will be an experience like no other. Don't be intimidated, running for office is all about making friends. If you can make friends at the water cooler or over the back fence, then you have the skills to run successfully for public office.Why aren't you running for Senate in 2006? Why not build on the momentum you had in the 2004 race?
I would love to be running against Rick Santorum in 2006. What a great opponent! But it is clear to me that Bob Casey is the strongest Democratic candidate to run against Santorum. Once Bob decided to run for the Senate and told me he was fully committed to the race, I decided to support him enthusiastically. We must defeat Santorum.Politics seems to be heading further and further to the extremes of each major party. Do you think that running as a centrist can really garner the votes needed to win a major election these days?
The advocates and partisans may be moving to the extremes but I am not sure the voters are. Now, no question that Bush won re-election by appealing to and turning out his conservative base. But even all that right wing pandering would not have worked if voters had liked and trusted John Kerry more, and Kerry's problems were not due to his positions which most Americans liked. Voters are looking for candidates they know, trust and feel comfortable with who are speaking clearly and sensibly about things the voters care about. Left, right or center, Kerry didn't meet those standards and neither does Santorum, for different reasons. Casey does.Considering that those on the extremes are much more likely to vote than the apathetic ones without much of a defined opinion on all of the issues, those belonging to the extremes have become de facto leaders of opinion simply by having one. Do you see politics going further and further to the extremes?
Yes, if the casual voters in the center don't pay attention, particularly in primaries. But general elections are still usually won in the broad middle ground of American political opinion, not on the extremes.Do you think that by putting up a candidate that is more to the Right it is, in effect, moving the entire Democratic Party further to the Right?
If you mean Bob Casey, he is not on the right and the PA Democrats won't move to the right because of him, certainly not on the economic, pocketbook issues which define the Democratic party historically. Casey is not a conservative, rightwing, extreme, dogmatic or holier-than-thou politician. Bob is a traditional, pro-labor, pro-working family Democrat with many progressive views and a strong commitment to economic and social justice and civil and human rights who is also pro-life.You were arrested in July of 2004 outside of the Sudanese embassy. Do you think that Casey would do something like that, risking arrest, to get his message out to the people? Do you think Pennacchio would?
I hope they both would. The genocide in Darfur continues and the U.S., the U.N. and the rest of the world haven't done enough to stop it. I am proud that my wife Francesca and I volunteered for arrest and conducted non-violent civil disobedience and more people need to speak out against the Sudanese government.Do you see Americans ever showing up to vote in the numbers that other highly developed nations [e.g. in Europe] see? Why don't more Americans get to the polls? What can we the people do to get those numbers up and what can the government do? I've heard for years that one solution could be to declare Election Day a national holiday; do you think that would help? Or would it just be another day off.
I am frustrated by low voter turnouts in this country. Mostly I blame politicians for running uninteresting campaigns, if not downright disgusting ones. Making Election Day a national holiday is not a bad idea, but it really isn't hard to vote in this country. It would be nice if voters consistently punished the bad, slimy politicians and rewarded the good ones.Do you read blogs on a daily basis? Which ones? What about those blog keeps you coming back? What makes a blog successful?
I have not read blogs on a daily basis but that is quickly changing. Blogs should be current, cutting edge, accessible and not too damn serious.Blogging is quite a time-intensive activity, how much of your day/week does it take up? I've spoken with Dan Rubin of Blinq, the Inquirer's new blog, and he now blogs as a job from sunrise to well after sunset. Do you ever see yourself taking this venture in that direction?
No, I won't ever be an all day blogger. How can anybody stand that?Why do you think blogging has become as popular as it has in the last few years? Do you see the market of political blogs becoming oversaturated?
Blogging gives everyone a chance to get into the act and have their say. That is really a great thing and fundamental to a democracy. Voting twice a year (you all vote twice a year, don't you?) just isn't enough participation for most of us. I believe, and hope, that political blogs are here to stay.Philadelphia is considered by a lot of folks to be a pseudo blog capital city of sorts, any idea as to why Philly has become an epicenter of this digital medium?
The water?Where will you be during Live 8?
Not there.Chris Bowers of MyDD has argued that Philadelphia's politics is in a kind of stagnant state due to the Democratic Party's stronghold on the city for decades. Payolas are made on the behalf of the candidates the higher ups believe should be elected and some of the true Progressives out there are being left in the dust. What do you think can be done to either dispel that statement or if true, what can be done to break down that wall?
If true progressives are being left in the dust, then we need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get into the game. The reform group Neighborhood Networks is a good place to start. And don't give up on the Democratic party organization. There are many good people there who really care about the city.Who were your political influences and what made you seek public office?
I first became interested in politics due to my opposition to the Vietnam War. Accordingly, the first candidate I supported was George McGovern when I was in college, and rose to the high office of co-chair of Boston University Students for McGovern. He made me understand that the way to influence foreign policy is through domestic politics. Although I don't agree with him as much as I used to, McGovern remains my all-time favorite.What about politics makes you want to quit it all and leave it behind?
Nothing. Never happen. It is in my blood.What kind of an impact has holding public office had on your family?
Great question and I may not be the best to answer this. I am sure it has been a pain in their necks at times. My wife campaigned like a trooper in the 2004 Senate race and was a huge asset (people still ask for her everywhere I go), but she and our two children have certainly felt the strains of a political career intruding on family life. Francesca has done a remarkable job managing her career as a school nurse while providing a stable and happy home for the kids. Our daughter Mary also campaigned hard in 2004 all over the state, and was a particular favorite at Democratic State Committee meetings. My favorite family moment on the campaign trail came some time ago when our son Jake was a young teenager and he responded to a hostile question about me from an aggressive reporter with a look, a grunt and [said] "Proud of my dad". I'll never forget it.Pat's or Geno's?
Thank you for your time Joe, as a parting gift, I'd like to offer you, my first interviewee [and all subsequent interviewees], a framed 8"x10" print from the archives of my photoblog so head on over, take a stroll through and pick one out. I'll have it mailed to your office.
I hope you enjoyed that and learned a little something about Joe, his blog, his politics and most importantly, where he gets his cheesesteaks.
And a special thank you to Hilary, who is a part of Joe's team, for making this interview possible.