By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 13, 2008
No Republican has captured more than 25 percent of the vote in Maryland's 4th Congressional District since its boundaries, twisting through Montgomery and Prince George's counties, were redrawn not long before the congressional election in 1992.
So Germantown Republican Peter James knows he faces a tough challenge in a special election Tuesday against Democrat Donna F. Edwards. The two are competing to serve out the term of Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D), who resigned May 31 midway through his eighth term in Congress, after his defeat in February's Democratic primary.
But James, 52, has things he wants to say. So he's been out distributing fliers at Metro stations and has hung a few campaign banners stenciled with the slogan "Google Money as Debt."
The signs refer to a cartoon video produced by a Canadian artist. James includes the video on his campaign Web site and said it encapsulates much of his own broad critique of the nation's financial system. Among the theories advanced in the video is that banks issue debt without creating enough money to pay back interest on loans. The growing debt monster, the video suggests, could bring down entire economic systems.
It urges the creation of local currencies not issued by governments, in case of economic collapse, as well as interest-free lending, and it preaches that government should not go into debt to fund services.
"To me, there is need, whether or not I get to Congress," he said. "I'm not sure that's where change comes anyway. It comes from the people. But this is a bully pulpit."
James, who has received the endorsement of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a libertarian presidential candidate, espouses many of the theories of Paul's most ardent supporters. He favors a drastic reduction in government spending and is opposed to the Iraq war. James said the more he talks about the ideas, the more support he gets.
"People in their hearts, they know there is something fundamentally wrong. But they can't put their finger on it," he said.
Born in Nashville, James grew up in Maryland before moving to California, where he ran his own call-in radio show and consulted for high-tech firms, including a booming Intel. Now living again in Maryland, he tries to live in freedom as he understands it.
Rather than allow the government to store his personal information in a database controlled by a private company, James forgoes a driver's license. His Army captain wife ferries him from place to place when his campaign manager doesn't give him a lift.
He pays no taxes -- because he is not taking in income. He was issued a Social Security number when he was young but never uses it. He has no bank account, no credit card. He and his wife rent their home, rather than take on personal debt through a mortgage.
Without his wife, Diana, who he said does pay taxes and uses a credit card, James said he'd have to completely withdraw from society to live out his ideals.
"I'd be living in a cabin somewhere growing things," he said.
James knows some of his ideas are unconventional.
"My campaign manager told me, 'Don't say things that make you seem too crazy,' " he cracked during a recent interview.
He then launched into a description of how the Bible prescribed freeing all people from debt every 50 years and why a similar policy would be helpful in secular society.
Among his other beliefs: Mainstream news media have been taken over by bankers, which explains why there is not more coverage of monetary weaknesses. Labor unions, particularly those that have backed Edwards's congressional bid, are increasingly in league with corporate interests.
The "Money as Debt" video concludes with a suggestion that the financial system is under the control of powerful interests out to create a one-world government.
James rejects the notion that such ideas make him a conspiracy theorist.
"Those words," he said, "they're an easy way to get people marginalized."
But he said: "People getting together to set things up to their benefit is a natural human condition. . . . Sometimes, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's a duck."
Edwards mounted a spirited campaign against Wynn in the primary, buoyed by hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, television advertisements and multiple mailings. Her campaign against James is more low-key and mostly involves making sure committed supporters know an election is scheduled for Tuesday.
In a video posted on his Web site, Libertarian candidate Thibeaux Lincecum, who is also on the ballot Tuesday, said he and James share similar ideals, before going on to say James's notions of abolishing major government agencies are "so extreme that they're doomed to failure within the time span of a typical congressional tenure."
Among James's pet projects are the creation of a private bank that makes small loans -- as little as $20 -- and charges no interest. He said he has also persuaded several Germantown businesses to accept "Just Money Notes," a local currency he has created that is backed by small slivers of gold. Issued in units called "terrapins," the notes feature images such as the Maryland seal, and a lion and lamb lying together.
(He acknowledged the bills are not in widespread circulation, meaning merchants' pledges to accept them have not been tested.)
He has invented a robotic GPS-controlled lawn mower, as well as technology that allows telephone caller ID numbers to appear on television screens.
James has been endorsed by Michael Babula, an economist and professor who ran against Wynn and Edwards in the Democratic primary. Babula said he does not subscribe to all of James's economic theories but that he believes the Republican is right to expose increasing monopolization in the banking industry.
"I admire him for sticking to his principles," said Babula, who recently invited James to address his students at Baltimore's Loyola College. "He knows what he believes in, and I respect that."
James is also active at his church, Seneca Creek in Germantown, and has support from the American Indian community in the Washington region. One-eighth Cherokee, James was recently planning a wine and cigar campaign event with other Native Americans in the area.
In part because of the Ron Paul ties, James beat three other Republicans in the primary to earn the right to challenge Edwards. He said if he can use the campaign to gain exposure for his ideas, he'll be pleased.
"If we fix the money system," he said, "we'll have prosperity."