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Republican Mark Donka of Hartford challenges Welch for Congressional seat

BRATTLEBORO—Mark Donka, the Republican candidate for the U.S. House seat held by three-term incumbent Democrat Peter Welch, calls campaigning “interesting” and “enlightening.”

Donka, a police officer from Hartford, said fellow Republicans urged him to run.

“I want to be a representative of the people,” he said.

Donka said his more than two decades of experience in law enforcement will help him negotiate tough situations in Washington. He said he relates to, speaks with, and listens to people from “all walks of life.”

“I’m not going to change the way I think just to get a vote,” said Donka.

Donka has served on the Selectboard in Hartford. He has run three times and won once. He also served as union president in Hartford for three years as a police officer.

“We used common sense when we went into it [negotiations],” he said. “Everyone was happy when we got done.”

Donka believes in the GOP platform of small government and fiscal prudence. He thinks he would be a “breath of fresh air” in Washington, and hopes to persuade both sides of the aisle to cooperate.

To resuscitate the economy, Donka said he seeks to reduce government regulations and restrictions. This move will allow business to grow and create jobs, he said.

He calls for controlling the budget by “freezing all nonessential spending.”

On health care, Donka said the country should find ways to make it more affordable rather than “redistribute” the costs through Obamacare, which he considers unconstitutional.

But Donka differs from some of his GOP compatriots by campaigning for alternative fuel sources and implementing energy conservation measures. He also wants to work to “save Social Security.”

When asked why he is running for federal office and not a state-level office, Donka said Congress was the right place for him.

Donka describes himself as a working person. He said he understands the experience of sitting at the kitchen table and deciding whether to pay the mortgage or taxes.

“I believe I can relate to Vermonters better,” said Donka when asked how he would compare to his opponent.

Welch is a millionaire, said Donka. Although he does not begrudge Welch his success, Donka feels the incumbent can’t relate as well to working people.

“If Peter [Welch] wants to, he can bury me with his money,” said Donka.

Donka said he runs a bare-bones campaign.

“I usually sleep a little,” he jokes. “But I drink a lot of coffee.”

The American Dream

In Donka’s opinion, the United States is “not too big to fail.”

The national debt and economic challenges facing working families sit at the forefront of his campaign.

“I’m really scared right now of the direction our country is headed,” said Donka. “Something has to change, or we’re in trouble.”

The Democrats and Republicans ignore the problems and refuse to cooperate, he said. Meanwhile, the federal government continues to spend.

Donka and his wife have two daughters aged 27 and 30. He wants his family to live the American Dream.

At 27, Donka said he owned an apartment building and two additional parcels of property while raising two kids. In comparison, his daughters just try to keep their financial heads above water.

College costs are out of hand, said Donka.

According to Donka, Welch launched a study committee to look at student debt and college costs. Donka said it seems that this committee will take two years before it has a strategy.

“What about people now?” he asked, adding that he feels the government could instead tell colleges to drop their costs by 10 percent while Welch’s committee investigates.

The federal government needs to do similar belt-tightening, Donka said. He estimated that his young grandson’s share of the federal debt is already $70,000.

“We can’t keep borrowing,” he said.

He would like to see a bipartisan commission — similar to the Grace Commission, which was charged by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s with trimming government spending — to “ferret out the waste.”

Donka said he wants to start with Congress, by cutting its operating budget by 75 percent. He also said he wants to eliminate duplication in governmental jobs, and said that the federal workforce has increased by 140,000 new employees.

He said he would also like to investigate the potential for eliminating federal programs that were never well thought through, like requiring ethanol as a additive to gas.

Producing ethanol, said Donka, does not save energy.

A national debt reducing magic wand does not exist, but Donka said actions such as these would represent “a step in the right direction.”

On the issue of unemployment, Donka said the feds can cook the numbers, but he is acutely aware of the unemployed who have fallen from the books.

“They aren’t counted anymore, but they’re just as unemployed,” he said.

Regarding student loans, Donka said he believes that at a time when interest rates are at all-time lows, there’s no reason students should pay more than 3 percent interest in federal student loans.

Energy is another issue that Donka is concerned about.

He said he understands that the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon is a “hot button” issue for the area, but he questions where Vermont will get its electricity if the plant closes?

The candidate views nuclear power as green energy when modern technology is employed. VY is old, he said. Europe uses better technology, he said.

Donka also favors alternative energy sources. He said he thinks wind power is a great idea, but questions the government subsidies backing it and its impacts on the Vermont landscape.

“Yes. it’s green, and yes, it helps, but we have to look at all the options out there,” he said. “We’re not going away from our thirst for oil.”

Donka supports increased drilling for oil in the United States to distance the country from foreign oil.

Donka said he realizes his run against Welch is a “David and Goliath” contest.

“But remember who won,” he said.

Donka encourages voters to contact him at 802-299-9268 with questions. It may take a few days for him to reply, but he promised to return all inquiries.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #175 (Wednesday, October 24, 2012).

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