Cal Cunningham | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Cal Cunningham 

U.S. Senate

Name as it appears on the ballot:

Cal Cunningham

Full legal name, if different:

James Calvin Cunningham III

Date of birth:

August 6, 1973

Home address:

118 West Third Avenue, Lexington, NC 27292

Mailing address, if different from home:

115 South Main Street, Lexington, NC 27292

Campaign website:

Occupation & employer:

Attorney and Reservist in the Army

Home phone:

Work phone:


Cell phone:


1. What do you see as the most important issues facing North Carolina and the nation? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

Creating jobs and restoring our economy are the top concerns for North Carolinians. I have put comprehensive and detailed plans to address economic issues on my website,

In the short term we must get businesses hiring again. Spurring small business growth means providing tax breaks for companies that hire more workers and ending the freeze on small business lending. In the medium term we must fix our failed trade policies. Long before the current economic collapse, our state was hurting because of tax breaks that encourage companies to ship jobs overseas, bad trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA that must be renegotiated and because of currency manipulation and unfair trade practices by China. A recent report showed that North Carolina has lost almost 100,000 jobs to China alone in the last decade. In the long term, rebuilding our economy means investing in education. We must prepare children for the 21st century workforce, and do so in a way that encourages innovation. Innovation is essential for economic success, and a high quality education is the best vehicle we have for passing that from one generation to the next.

2. What in your record as a public official or experience demonstrates your ability to be effective in the U.S. Senate? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

An effective U.S. Senator is driven by a record of public service. I have a lifetime of demonstrated service in and out of government, from pro bono legal work for victims of domestic violence and indigent tenants to church and community college; from student body president at UNC to the State Senate; and from Fort Bragg to Iraq with the Army Reserves. I am now running to serve our state and our community in the U.S. Senate because now is an extremely important time for the future of our country.

An effective U.S. Senator must also work across party lines to address large budget deficits, improve education, rebuild our economy, curb our addiction to foreign oil and address the threat of global climate change. I was elected to represent a swing State Senate district, which President Bush carried by 60% of the vote. In the State Senate, I pursued bipartisan sponsorship of legislation, while maintaining focus on lowering class sizes, adopting a Patient's Bill of Rights, passing the Clean Smokestacks Act, and balancing the budget.

Finally, an effective U.S. Senator must understand the consequences of decisions affecting war and peace. My family has paid the high price for President Bush's decision to invade Iraq – 900 days of active duty, stressful months of separation and the experiences shared by tens of thousands of veterans and military families.

As we face the challenges of two foreign wars and threats of further terrorism, my experience as the first Iraq War veteran in the U.S. Senate would inform all of my votes and priorities.

3. How do you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I am a pragmatic progressive, someone who believes in finding solutions and moving our country forward. The approach that I have always taken has been to rely upon the experiences of people on the ground and place the power of government at their service. Too often, elected officials rely upon party leadership or staff and do not understand what the people they represent are actually facing. As a State Senator, I was always in touch with local leaders, held town halls, and did my best to make decisions based upon "on the ground" knowledge and if elected I would continue to do so. I believe that government can be a part of the solution to our challenges by providing the tools and framework for hard-working Americans to succeed. That's why I've fought for leveling the playing field when it comes to international trade, for better education, and for ensuring we protect our families and small businesses from irresponsible Wall Street banks.

My political philosophy is illustrated in part by the endorsements our campaign has received. For example, I have been endorsed by the North Carolina Association of Educators, who represent 65,000 educators across our state, by organizations of workers such as the Teamsters, by the Council for a Livable World, by General Wesley Clark, and by over 400 leading North Carolina Women.

4. ID a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

I support equal rights for LGBT Americans. I believe Don't Ask Don't Tell is morally wrong, wrong for our military, and counter-productive. We should immediately end it.

5. If these issues haven't been addressed above would you please comment on:

a. What has our nation learned from invading Iraq? How will that inform your decisions if elected? What should our policy in Iraq be today? Should we base substantial military forces there for the foreseeable future?

North Carolina deserves a Senator who understands what a decision to send troops to war means to a family – something our family has experienced firsthand. I joined the Army Reserves after September 11th and I have spent over 900 days away from my family on active duty because of the ill-conceived decision to invade Iraq. We also have learned that terrorism is a war fought not on traditional battlefields, but for the confidence of the next generation of civilians who must choose to forsake violence. We must adapt our policies to win the war that is being fought right now, and not the war that was fought in previous generations.

Our current policy must be to conclude the mission in Iraq with honor and bring our troops and contractors home.

b. Evaluate the war in Afghanistan and the situation in Iran. What is our goal in those places, in your view? What should our policies be? What legislation should be introduced to address those issues?

As an Iraq War veteran and eleven-year member of the Reserves, I understand we must clearly define and pursue our national security interests in Afghanistan by fully implementing counterinsurgency strategy, seizing momentum, protecting the population, allowing no geographic safe-haven for Al Qaeda, building Afghani capacity to secure itself, and turning over the security mission as soon as possible. We can save the most lives and funds by ensuring our success now.

I believe that we must not allow Iran to thwart the will of the international community and complete their development of weapons-grade uranium. We must work to convince other nations that a nuclear-armed Iran will set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and drastically increase the danger of nuclear proliferation. This is an unacceptable outcome and we must pursue strong sanctions on refined petroleum to reverse Iran's course. Right now, our debt to China is making it increasingly difficult for us to persuade them on a host of diplomatic efforts including Iran, so we must engage in policies that get our national debt under control.

c. Universal health care: Why don't we have it? What have you learned from the current health care debate? What specific reforms do you support, and what will you do to get them passed? What has this process told us not only about health care but about the way that politics work?

We took a historic first step in passage of health care reform, but there is still work to be done. The costs of health care are rising rapidly and placing a crippling burden on both small businesses and families -- and we must not further increase those costs by unfairly taxing plans that provide good coverage already. At I have stated that health care reform must bend the cost curve, extend the blanket of coverage and protect our commitment to seniors. I was happy to see that state based exchanges were included, but if they do not do enough to contain costs we should create a public option, allow for early Medicare buy-in or end the anti-trust exemption that protects insurance companies from competition.

Reform has been a slow and painful process because of the power and influence of the special interests who oppose it. The influence of large health insurance companies and other corporations on politics is the reason this effort has taken decades. That is why I was a chief architect of our state's publicly financed judicial elections, and why I pushed for greater transparency in donations and a ban on unregulated soft money contributions in our state elections.

d. What do you see as the primary sources of our current economic problems? What measures should Congress use to resolve address them? How would you begin to reduce the federal deficit? Is this an issue of not enough revenue or of overspending? What are some of the possible negative consequences of your proposed solutions?

The unsupervised and reckless behavior of Wall Street helped create the worst economy in generations. I have proposed reforming regulation of that conduct on my website, This financial crisis cascaded quickly through our economy because the wall between commercial and investment banking was lowered, allowing financial supermarkets to be created and putting ordinary deposits and the family home at risk. To address the situation I have proposed ending "Too Big to Fail," support the creation of an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency and common-sense regulation of the derivatives market.

We must end the failed trade policies that contributed to our current economic collapse as they undermined the solid foundation of manufacturing and even white-collar jobs that supported our families. A recent report showed that North Carolina has lost almost 100,000 jobs to China alone in the last decade. Bad trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA must be renegotiated and we must act now to end China's currency manipulation and unfair trade practices.

I also believe we need to return our federal budget to sanity. Congress must restrain unnecessary spending, root out inefficiencies and loopholesin the tax code, enforce "pay-as-you-go" budgetingand, most importantly,reignite jobs growth in the economy.America's record deficits are caused by both overspending and decreased revenue. I would end the Bush Tax Cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans and replace them with tax cuts for working families. One area I would cut spending is the 2.4 million contractors added to the federal payroll by the Bush administration. I have also supported closing a number of corporate tax loopholes that encourage outsourcing of jobs and allow companies to avoid the same capital gains taxes individuals and families must pay. We must be careful in the very short term to ensure that the government is sufficiently priming the pump to help businesses create jobs so that we exit the recession as quickly as possible, but avoid setting off inflation and growth-stifling higher interest rates.

e. The stimulus legislation and the bailout: What worked and what didn't? What would have done differently in hindsight? How will that inform your opinion in the future? Under what circumstances would you advocate for such legislation?

At the time of the bailout, almost everyone feared that our country might be falling into a financial abyss, but I would not have backed the bailout in the form it was passed. I would have required far greater bank accountability and more stringent executive compensation standards when they received taxpayer dollars. In the Senate, I will continue to be a voice for ensuring that the taxpayers are fully paid back for the bailouts in their entirety. In the future, businesses should have "living wills" in the event that they fail and we should never again hear the phrase "too big to fail."

The President's efforts to turn the economy around were necessitated by some of the most irresponsible fiscal policies in our nation's history, and we have slowly started to regain our nation's economic footing and confidence of our citizens in the market. The stimulus bill has been slow in pulling our country back from the brink, and we must do more to restore our economy. I have endorsed a U.S. House-passed plan to provide additional federal funds for the States to aid public payrolls in vital services such as education and first responders. We need to insure that we are investing now to provide the foundation for businesses to start hiring again, and our first priority must be to prime the pump to ensure our economic recovery accelerates so we can create jobs in America.

f. Education: What should classrooms of the future look like? What will you do about the dropout rate, the achievement gap and the lack of students excelling in math and science? What can be done to attract and retain better teachers in American schools?

I was the first candidate in this race to release a comprehensive education policy, which is available at The simple premise of that plan is the belief that every student is entitled to the resources they need to gain the knowledge and skills to succeed, including technology, qualified teachers, and proper infrastructure. While in the North Carolina State Senate, one of the first bills I co-sponsored was aimed at closing the achievement gap in education. I served on all three committees on Education, and have served on the board of my local Community College since leaving office.

We must begin reform by addressing the problems in No Child Left Behind. To attract and retain the best teachers we need to reduce class sizes, pay teachers fairly, give teachers opportunity to develop professionally, and provide teachers additional support in hard to staff schools. Attracting qualified teachers and providing support to schools to give additional attention to students are the two best measures we can take to address the drop-out rate. In the North Carolina Senate, I took a lead role in class size reduction legislation, financial support for educators and paraprofessionals, work on professional development, efforts to close the achievement gap, additional support for hard-to-staff schools and efforts to issue school bonds to repair, construct and modernize schools. As a U.S. Senator, I will continue my commitment to building a strong education for North Carolina and our country.

My commitment to education is why I was endorsed and chosen by over 83% of ballots cast by members of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

7. What is your position on capital punishment?

I believe that capital punishment should be considered only for the most heinous crimes, in cases of terrorism and when law enforcement is targeted. I have served as a state, federal, and military prosecutor and have never pursued the death penalty even in murder cases. When I was in the State Senate I voted to ban the death penalty for the mentally retarded. I cosponsored legislation that allows district attorneys to take the death penalty off the table in 1st degree murder cases, and cosponsored legislation requiring the use of DNA evidence in all cases in which it is available.

8. What is your position regarding LGBT rights and Don't Ask Don't Tell?

I support equal rights for LGBT individuals and couples and an end to Don't Ask Don't Tell. Don't Ask Don't Tell is morally wrong, wrong for our military and it is counter-productive. We should immediately end it.

As a student leader at UNC in 1994 I fought for protection for LGB students in the university's anti-discrimination policy.

9. Do you support women's reproductive rights, including the "right to choose" as set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade?

Yes. I was extremely disappointed by the insertion of abortion into the health care debate and opposed the Stupak Amendment. The government has no business stepping between a woman, her doctor, and her faith.

10. What changes, if any, do you support in federal entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans programs, etc.)

To ensure the long term solvency of social security, Medicare, Medicaid and the VA, we must responsibly address entitlement reform in our country.

It is long past due that we fully fund the VA and make certain that our veterans receive the benefits they have earned. This is an area in which I differ from Richard Burr; he has resisted efforts to improve health care for Veterans and has even missed over half of his Veterans Committee hearings in the U.S. Senate.

We must also resist efforts to privatize Social Security, such as those Richard Burr supported, leaving our seniors at the whim of the stock market. In order to make certain that benefits exist for future generations, we must take steps to balance our federal budget so that we do not raid the Social Security trust fund to pay off interest on our national debt.

We must honor our commitment to seniors by keeping Medicare the robust program that has covered them for decades, and I oppose lowering benefits for Medicare recipients. Medicare should be allowed to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. Closing the Medicare Part D donut hole, a necessary fix that health care reform has accomplished, was a terrific and long overdue reform.

11. What should Congress do to prevent banking disasters like the one that nearly plunged this country into a second Depression two years ago?

Wall Street's reckless and unsupervised behavior helped create the bad economy we are dealing with right now. To address the situation I have proposed ending "Too Big to Fail," creating an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency, and instituting common-sense regulation of the derivatives market. We also need to look carefully at our mortgage lending system and housing valuation, as the collapse in housing prices that built up as a result of lenders' speculation and poor valuation practices contributed to the collapse of the Wall Street firms. As part of my "Voices of North Carolina" series available at I featured Rusty Triebert, a man who lost his home because of a job loss bank foreclosure.

12. What's your take on the Obama Administration so far: Too aggressive? Too cautious? Or about right? (Choose one, please.)

President Obama has made great strides in fixing the problems that our nation faces. I look forward to working with him, and I am honored to have his confidence and the confidence of the White House in this campaign. However, I have let him know that there will be areas where we will disagree on the issues, and I believe the Senate should hold any administration, regardless of party, accountable for the decisions that they make. Now that health care is off the legislative agenda, I encourage the administration to move aggressively on financial industry reform and energy and climate legislation.

  • U.S. Senate

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