Despite being outspent 3-1 in campaign funds, Democrat Anthony Flaccavento took nearly 40 percent of the vote in a vastly Republican district when he ran against Morgan Griffith for 9th District Congressman in 2012.
Geared up for a second run at the incumbent Congressman in 2018, Flaccavento believes the climate has changed enough to overtake Griffith this time around.
“I was waiting to enter the race in a year I believed it was winnable. In 2012, I tried as hard as I could but pretty much knew I wasn’t going to win. This time we did a lot more careful evaluation of the political landscape and I was persuaded to believe it is in fact a winnable race,” said Flaccavento, who took part in a Town Hall on Feb. 13 at the Senior Citizens Building in Woodlawn. “I said I was not going to enter unless I had a good shot of winning, and there are a variety of reasons for that. The 9th District hasn’t experienced the blue wave people talked about, and even though it voted heavily for Mr. Trump (in the presidential election), I still believe there is plenty of dissatisfaction for the representative we have, not just from Democrats and liberals, but a lot of people are looking for a working congressman, a person that will truly represent their interests. It cuts across the party line and the presidential vote.”
As a farmer, Flaccavento saw how agriculture fit into the world of business and started seeing ways that people could live in a more robust economy when they used and protected their natural resources. He founded Appalachian Sustainable Development, a nonprofit with a focus on sustainable agriculture, forestry, and local business development, and developed systems for farmers to market their products more widely and keep more money in their local communities.
In addition to his continued farming, Flaccavento saw a need to help people strengthen their own local economies. He founded SCALE, a consulting business, where he helps businesses and organizations with feasibility studies, strategic planning and budgeting. He has engaged with dozens of local food and community initiatives, helping establish Farmers Markets and other sustainable enterprises in localities from Kansas to Australia. These experiences contributed to his 2016 book, Building a Healthy Economy from the Bottom Up: Harnessing Real-World Experience for Transformative Change.
The book includes successful examples of Bottom Up economies from Southwest Virginia to Arizona and reflects his long-held vision that we live better when we work together to build our local communities. It is a similar approach to the Main Street, not Wall Street, approach of building local economies.
“The Idea of a Bottom Up economy is instead of providing seemingly endless breaks to big international corporations or investors, or instead of providing deals to big box companies to settle in your community, instead look at what sorts of businesses, what sorts of manufacturing base and farm base do you already have and how do you build that up while also being very interested in new businesses as well,” he said. “Turn it around from thinking what we have to do is sign a lucrative deal for a company to come in here and create jobs, and spend more time in investing, supporting and developing your existing business base, including downtowns but also farms and manufacturers. The book looks at communities that have done that all over the country. More diversified local base economies have that in terms of better health, better housing, lower crime rates, and better participation from citizens. They tend to have citizens voting and joining civic organizations at higher rates. Part of our message, certainly towns like Galax and Independence are trying to do it, also Hillsville as well, is to still maybe focus on a recruitment model that trickles down with plenty of people working hard to build main streets and local business. But this puts more emphasis on shifting more resources and investment to a Bottom Up model that I think over a decade would see much better results in jobs and all those other things I mentioned.”
The Congressional hopeful is currently in the midst of an ambitious campaign in which he has pledged to conduct 100 Town Halls all over the 9th District. He said the Feb. 13 Town Hall in Hillsville was roughly his 15th of the campaign. He said the Town Halls are opened up for citizen’s comments and concerns. Those comments usually run the gamut, but there is typically a common theme.
“Things that come up virtually all the time would be creating and holding better jobs, jobs period, but better jobs. How are we going to create the opportunity for more jobs and good paying jobs? We hear quite a bit about healthcare and specifically what to do about local healthcare problems from the opioid crisis to specific things such as a lack of access to good care,” Flaccavento said. “Also what can we do to keep young people from leaving and to attract young people who have left or even bring new people to our area? It comes up quite a bit because they realize the area is aging as a whole. Too many places don’t have the job opportunities or the kind of amenities that keep young people close to home.”
In the six years after his previous Congressional bid, Flaccavento said he went back to his normal life – a little bit of farming and working with communities to create the Bottom Up economies he previously mentioned around the district and in other parts of the U.S. It was during this time he realized the Bottom Up economy is what is needed in this area more than ever.
“That experience convinced me even more strongly that is the way to go. It’s the most promising and productive path forward, and that with the research for the book and other things it just solidified my conviction that shift in focus would pay tremendous dividends around the Ninth and all over the country,” Flaccavento said. “As a congress person you can lift those ideas up, encourage state and local people in the business community to consider that approach to economic prosperity.”
Flaccavento will charge on with his pledge of 100 Town Halls as he says they are instrumental for a variety of reasons. He hopes to learn just as much about the communities he represents as citizens will learn about him.
“There are two reasons for Town Halls and one of them is there is a lot for me to learn. I bring some solid experience and knowledge to being a congress person, but also there are tons of issues. Town Halls are a chance to teach the candidate and that is a big part of why we are doing it,” he said. “I want to be a real representative, a representative for the good, bad and ugly. Going back to the early days of Obama, Town Halls can be cantankerous and ugly. But I still think that is what you sign up for so by doing these town halls I am learning a ton, people are getting to meet me, but I am also setting a tone that says, ‘If you elect me this is the way I will operate.’ I will be back regularly, both to share what I believe and what I am voting for. It is to make an impression on folks that someone is willing to take the time to meet and chat with them.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN