A metal fabricator knows the importance of diversity in business. A diverse customer base helps a company avoid the dramatic ups and downs that may come with being linked too closely to one industrial segment. A management team with diverse backgrounds helps a company prepare for a multitude of challenges, not just the ones identified by the president and his or her "yes" men. An employment base with diverse talents helps a metal fabricator respond quickly to myriad job orders because they can tackle numerous shop floor jobs, not just one.
That same scenario applies to all aspects of life. People acting of one mind with little tolerance for differing viewpoints is dangerous.
I see Washington, D.C., being like that. I understand the talents that lawyers can contribute to governing, but do an overwhelming majority of those public servants responsible for representing our interests in the nation's capital have to be of the same profession? Would it hurt to have a butcher, a banker, or a metal fabricator represent us?
Now before you think I'm going to call for a ban on lawyers serving in Congress, I'll let you know that I won't go that far. However, I think it would behoove elected officials to look at campaign finance laws and the time commitment associated with their jobs so that those outside the legal profession and without the large private fortunes can consider a run for office.
Joe Vodvarka, the 68-year-old owner of Vodvarka Springs, Clinton, Pa., is a good example of someone who doesn't have the law degree and wants to be a member of Congress. In fact, he's the unpolitician:
- He's not connected. He and his son Jesse, who works for his dad at the spring shop, had to collect more than 2,000 signatures to place him on the April Democratic primary ballot opposing the incumbent, Sen. Bob Casey Jr.
- He's not well-funded. Sen. Casey and the Republican opponent Tom Smith each have more than $4 million in their war chests. Vodvarka reported $150 on hand at the close of the third-quarter reporting period.
- He's not the smoothest campaigner. During his campaign for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2010 (which he ultimately was disqualified from after signatures on his petition were challenged in court by opponent Joe Sestak), he actually got some air time on David Asman's Fox Business News show, where he said: "The biggest tax write off that the United States government gives is free trade." Needless to say, he doesn't think he won many Wall Street supporters that day.
Vodvarka boils down his campaign to one point that he thinks stands out above all others: "What we have in America today are two types of jobs: the jobs that have left America and the jobs that are going to leave America … We have to do something or we are going to lose this great nation."
He likes to use the term "fair trade," which might frighten some free marketers, but he realizes that to coax companies back to the U.S., government has to create an environment for them to thrive. That means lower taxes and less regulation.
He does favor tariffs on imported goods. If the Tariff Act of 1789 could help fund government operations and protect the domestic manufacturing base back in the early days of this country, he believes, such an approach would work again.
In fact, he describes himself as a constitutionalist. He thinks the document is the perfect source of inspiration for deciding what laws make sense for this country.
"They don't want to debate fair trade," he said. "Once we get the cat out of the box or bag or whatever you want to call it, [the push to support fair trade] is going to move. It has to. If you want to save this great nation, you've got to get these jobs back."
I can't say I'm in complete agreement with everything that Vodvarka believes in, but I do know that he's enthusiastic in spite of the mountain that lies before his campaign and excited to share his opinion with anyone who will listen. He's a refreshing voice in a world of sanitized sound-bites.
That new voice is desperately needed in our governmental institutions.
"When you go out and talk to your competition, a lot of them frown on you. You just have to pass it on," Vodvarka said. "Who cares? Move on."
Go get 'em, Joe. I hope more metal fabricators are inspired to do the same.