Rep. Jim Moran’s conversion from “hardcore economic libertarian” to solidly liberal Democrat began in 1969, more than two decades before his first turn representing Virginia’s 8th District.
As Moran, 67, seeks his twelfth consecutive term amid a divisively bitter atmosphere on Capitol Hill that has severely stunted legislative progress, he spoke about the experience that has informed much of his 33-year political career.
“I was fairly conservative when I graduated from college,” said Moran, who was eyeing a career as a stockbroker when he left the all-male College of the Holy Cross in his native Massachusetts. “I was always pretty progressive on civil rights issues, but from an economic standpoint, I was quite conservative. I used to read Ayn Rand. I thought that life was simple.”
He took a job as a budget officer at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, during the Nixon administration, to take advantage of a federal program that helped pay for his graduate education.
At the department, Moran was sent to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas to save the agency money by consolidating migrant worker programs. He found laborers in a “cycle of poverty,” brought on by loans from farmers who would not pay them enough to pay the loans off. He encountered a Kindergarten-aged girl who suffered corporal punishment for blurting out an answer in Spanish during school.
Speaking Spanish was forbidden at that time in the Texas school system.
“That offended me,” Moran said. “It totally conflicted on my sense of what’s right and the way things are to work.”
Moran said he was escorted out of a state Board of Education meeting after speaking out about the unfairness of allowing corporal punishment while prohibiting the use of Spanish. He went back to Stan Pottinger, the head of the agency’s civil rights division and set up an office of migrant farmers at Health, Education, and Welfare.
“It showed me that you could make a difference. That’s why I got involved in politics, why I’ve stayed in politics,” Moran said. “It’s why I became somebody who recognizes the world is not fair and that we should be spending our energies and influence toward achieving some form of economic justice and equality of opportunity.
“The world is not how Ayn Rand said it was.”
Moran, who recently divorced from third wife LuAnn Bennett, lives with his son Patrick in a two-bedroom apartment in Shirlington.
He said campaigning “energizes” him, and he intends to remain the district’s Congressional representative for the foreseeable future.
“I’m too liberal to run statewide, so I really can’t go anywhere from here and I’m a little too conservative for leadership in the Democratic party,” he said. “I’ve largely grown with my constituency. If my values and principals were discordant with the values and principals of the district, I would not continue to serve.”
His senior position on the House Appropriations Committee provides him influence on the awarding of federal funds and contracts.
He is the ranking member of the subcommittee on the Interior and the Environment, an issue he said has grown nearer and dearer to him. He also is a senior member of the subcommittee on Defense, which has allowed him to steer funding to the defense contract-heavy 8th District.
Moran has also grown more interested in education issues. In April, he introduced legislation that would provide funding to train teachers who work with autistic students, an initiative that came out of Arlington PTA organizations.
He is facing Independent challenger Jason Howell, Independent Green challenger Janet Murphy and Republican challenger Patrick Murray, who he beat by almost 25 points in the 2010 election.
He cites a “60 percent cut in education funding” and the potential elimination of head start programming as two of his foremost concerns with Wisconsin Congressman and Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s budget plan.
Ryan, Moran said, reminds him of a younger version of himself, before he took a left-leaning stance on school busing, abortion and other social issues in the mid 1970′s.
Moran, who hasn’t won less than 60 percent of the Eighth District vote since 2004, said much of the focus of his campaign will be on re-electing President Barack Obama and supporting democratic Senate candidate and former Gov. Tim Kaine.
“I’d like to think that after November, we’ll have less extremism and more pragmatism, but I don’t know,” Moran said. “We will lose the Senate if Tim Kaine isn’t elected and I think the most radical parts of the agenda will be enacted. A lot of it is going to come down to the turnout in Northern Virginia.”