"Politics done right is an extension of community service," says lawyer turned lawmaker Perriello. After pursuing human-rights issues in Africa, the Democrat, 36, returned home to Virginia's conservative 5th District to pull off an upset in 2008. After two years of tough votes, the unapologetic progressive must convince voters that he deserves re-election.
Who is your political hero/inspiration?
Either Bobby Kennedy or William Wilburforce. William Wilburforce was the parliamentarian who helped end the slave trade back in the day and was a person of deep faith. He was really willing to stand outside the sense of justice of his time. Bobby Kennedy, at least at the end, was someone who really understood this issue of the pride and human dignity that comes from full employment there is nothing more liberal or conservative than wanting someone to have a job they can support their family with.
What's your go-to political blog?
I don't know if I have one. Blue Virginia keeps me up to date.
If you weren't working in politics, what would you be doing?
I think I'd be back in the non-profit sector. For me, it's less the specific job than it is the sense of service and problem solving. I come from a background of wanting to reduce human suffering and increase human opportunity. Wherever I can do that is a pretty cool thing.
What's the most overlooked issue facing America these days?
The issue of how to rebuild America's competitive advantage what does a middleclass job look like in the global economy? Politicians always talk about the middle class, but I don't think we've even begun to realize how much work has to be done to rebuild America's competitiveness in the world. For all the rhetoric, we have really not put together an economic strategy from either party that suggests an opportunity to outcompete the world. We are trending toward an economy that looks like Central America in the '80s where 10 percent of the people make all the money and pay all the taxes and that's not really fair for the 10 percent or the 90 percent.
Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?
I make it a point not to think that far ahead. Planning ahead is an excuse not to do what you're called to do right now.