- Photos by Theo Schwarz
- Steve Larchuk says his background as a businessman, lawyer and voracious researcher has prepared him to serve in Congress.
Steve Larchuk loves books. He loves to read them and he loves to write them. As the 61-year-old Franklin Park resident was preparing to launch his campaign to take on Republican U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus next year, he released a book he co-authored called Fifty Questions Your Congressman Should Answer If They Want Your Vote. The first question in the book is, “Can the U.S. Government bounce a check?” The answer — “Only if it wants to” — is one that Larchuk, an Internet and health-care-law attorney and businessman, has made the cornerstone of an economic plan that he says will rebuild the American middle class and strengthen the economy. The widower and father of two calls himself a practical Democrat: socially progressive and fiscally conscious. He doesn’t believe the U.S. needs to raise taxes to solve its problems. But continuing on its current path, he says, will spell doom. “There’s another way to do things,” he says. Larchuk talked to City Paper recently about those plans, why he’s running, and his opponent.
You’re an attorney by trade, with one previous run for Congress under your belt. So what brought you to this point challenging one of the most conservative members of Congress?
Everybody complains that the people who ought to run for Congress, don’t. I was just like the rest of those fellas complaining about government, but focusing on my legal career and my renewable-energy business in the U.S. Virgin Islands. But here I am at age 61 and I have the financial ability [Larchuk has loaned about $90,000 to his campaign so far] as well as the business and legal background … that qualify me to be an effective Congressman. I decided that given who we have representing the 12th District now, it’s tremendously important that we replace him with someone who goes to Washington with the best interest of the voters in mind instead of the donors that finance his campaigns.
You do have some campaign experience, right?
I ran for school board when I was 19 after I graduated high school and I lost by seven votes. My platform was I was the only person running who’d actually been through the school system. In 2004, frustrated with the absence of any discussion of health-care reform, I ran as an independent and committed to only talking about health-care reform. And it was tricky because the media couldn’t understand why someone would run and only want to talk about one thing. At the time, we were at the beginning of the Iraq war and I was often asked, “Isn’t it terribly important that we lost 1,000 soldiers in Iraq?” And I said, “Of course it’s important, but are we scoring the importance of things based on how many people die?” Because if we were, at that time about 18,000 people per year were dying because they didn’t have access to health care. So, if that’s how we keep score of these things, then health care is 18 times as important as the Iraq war.
- Photos by Theo Schwarz
- Congressional candidate Steve Larchuk speaks to resident Marge Weber outside the Sewickley Public Library.
So, you weren’t trying to win, you were trying to start a conversation?
Oh, I knew I couldn’t win. The incumbent at the time was Melissa Hart, the darling and rising star of the Republican Party. The important thing was to restart the dialogue if I could in my own tiny, microscopic way. In 2004, no one was talking about health-care reform because in 1994, Bill and Hillary Clinton had their blowup with health care and the Democrats lost control of Congress and blamed that issue. So, the Democrats refused to talk about it and the Republicans dared them to talk about it because they could eat them alive again if it came up. So I thought someone who could speak freely ought to get out here and talk about how the cost of health care was rising above all common sense and how employers were cutting back on health-care insurance. It was a crisis that was being ignored and pretty much overwhelmed by the war in Iraq and other issues. And all of those issues were important, but I thought if you had to pick one that was most critical to the average American, it was full access to health care. On election night I got 1 percent of the vote and I certainly had hoped for better than that. I went back to work and one day my phone rang and a woman was on the phone just weeping and I said, “What’s wrong?” And she said, “I thought you were going to win.” Well, at that particular moment my guard was down, so now both of us are crying on the phone. So I knew then I couldn’t turn my back on health-care reform or any other progressive issues that people care about. I decided that if I ever had the chance to give it a serious run again, I would run.
So you decided now was the best time?
It’s been more than 10 years since I last ran, and things have gotten worse. We’ve made some progress with the Affordable Care Act. It’s still not where it needs to be, but it’s a substantial start. But in terms of wealth disparity ... we’re in serious, serious trouble in this country, and with everything that the [Federal Reserve Bank] has tried to do to pull us out of the recession, they’re out of ideas. They think the only way to fix the economy is by dumping more money into Wall Street, which is absolutely not correct. The financial sector is only a tiny part of the economy, an important part, but only part. The Fed has essentially ignored the rest of the economy. When you start to study why incomes haven’t gone up in 40 years for most people, and you ask yourself why is it 42 percent of the national wealth is in the top 1 percent of the population, you begin to realize what the problem is. There’s been this huge hemorrhaging of capital from the rest of the economy. It’s floated to the top, where it’s being essentially hoarded by the wealthy, and at the same time we’ve had this persistent trade deficit. So when you add up the money that has gone overseas, and floated to the top, you begin to realize that the problem with the economy is that monetary supply has not been properly managed by the Fed. They’ve been obsessed with the financial sector to the detriment to everybody else.
You mentioned the word “progressive” a couple of times. It’s hard to get politicians to use that word. And a lot of the time those who do don’t actually hold traditionally progressive ideals.
I like a different P-word: practical. I’m a practical Democrat. I’ve never been on unemployment, I’ve paid all my college loans and I’ve paid for my own health insurance most of my adult life. Those are pretty mainstream, practical attributes. We use progressive because the Republicans have so skillfully turned the “liberal” into an unusable word. And now they’re working on progressive; they want to ban that from the dictionary, too. As a person running for office, you can either fight that or, frankly, trump it by speaking on a more practical level. I don’t have the slightest interest in going down to Washington and perpetuating the food fight that passes for government these days. My job would be to go down there and start to build coalitions, with people that typical Democrats don’t even talk to.
Look, I think most of the people who run for Congress do so with the proper motives. They want to help the country, but they’re beholden to their donors. You have people that want to keep their money, and according to the Supreme Court, the wealthy class is permitted to spend as much as it wants to elect whoever it wants. So, you can either knock your head against a wall and just scream to the moon how unfair it is, or you can say, “OK, it is what it is, let’s talk.” One thing I know is that the wealthy class understands that if the economy fails, they’re just on the top deck of the Titanic looking down. Their turn will come. So what we need to do is comfort them that nobody’s out to bankrupt them. The objective here is to try and grow the entire economy. The financial sector dominates all of the equity and capital in our country; meanwhile, we have decaying infrastructure with no plan at all to rebuild the roads, railroads and dams. There are all sorts of things that we could be doing, and were not doing it because the Federal Reserve is not infusing cash back into the economy — the trillions of dollars required to resuscitate the United States. Instead the money they’ve injected has all gone to the Wall Street banks and has bailed them out. Look at history for the past five years, who has succeeded? Who has done well? The financial sector. I don’t begrudge that, that’s fine. As a matter of fact, we learned a lesson from that: We can infuse substantial new capital into our economy and not have raging inflation while the dollar remains strong and, frankly, six years nobody thought that was possible. Back when the quantitative easing started, people took it for granted that we would have raging inflation and the dollar would lose value against other currencies. Well that didn’t happen. We’ve had historically low inflation, and the dollar is stronger than it’s ever been. And when you start to think about that, you begin to realize that that’s the solution for the rest of the economy, for what I call the working economy, the 99 percent. If we started to seriously inject new money into the economy from the Federal Reserve — I’m not talking about raising taxes. I’m not talking about cutting social programs. I’m talking about doing exactly for the greater economy what the Fed did for Wall Street. Its job is to create new capital and then inject it, not through the Wall Street banks this time, but through an infrastructure bank, or an education bank or a small-business and small-agriculture bank. You do that, you inject money into the middle class and the economy starts to grow from the middle out, not the top down.