(Image courtesy of Valerie Plame for Congress website)


Continuing public service: An interview with former CIA officer, 2020 congressional candidate Valerie Plame

Certainly on the minds of many Americans is the presidential election, with over 20 Democrats vying to make Trump a one-term president. While this part of the news cycle is important nationally, the fact that the spotlight is on the presidential candidates makes it easy to overlook the congressional races, even though those results will…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/hsiyinl/" target="_self">Evangeline Liu</a>

Evangeline Liu

June 14, 2019

Certainly on the minds of many Americans is the presidential election, with over 20 Democrats vying to make Trump a one-term president.

While this part of the news cycle is important nationally, the fact that the spotlight is on the presidential candidates makes it easy to overlook the congressional races, even though those results will undoubtedly shape the types of legislation the next president will be able to pass.

Valerie Plame, a Democrat running for United States House of Representatives for northern New Mexico, is known nationally as the former CIA agent whose covert identity was leaked to the media by officials in her own government.

The leak, which became known as the 2003 Plame affair, was done as political retribution against her husband’s questioning of the Iraq War. In the years after the leak forced her resignation from the CIA, Plame turned to public activism on the issue of nuclear weapon proliferation as a way to continue doing what she sees as her life’s calling and as the most important issue facing humanity.

She wrote a memoir, “Fair Game,” and in recent years has travelled the country giving speeches at colleges and conferences.

Despite being neither a career politician nor the descendent of a political dynasty, for Plame, running for an open House seat in her adopted home district is a natural extension of her family’s and her own history of public service; and of her calls to young people to consider taking up public service.

As her father was a career Air Force officer who served in World War II, her mother was a public school teacher, and her brother was a Marine wounded in Vietnam, Plame was steeped from childhood in the idea that public service is, in her words, “something to aspire to, something noble.”

This year, circumstances came together to give her a chance to return to public service. “This opportunity to run for this open House seat in northern New Mexico came unexpectedly,” Plame said, referring to Rep. Ben Lujan’s announcement that he was running for the Senate that would then leave open his House seat.

Plame’s children are already in college, and thus, this opportunity came at the right time for her, giving her a perfect chance to put her oft-recited mantra about considering public service into action.

“I thought I’d better walk the walk,” she said with a hint of a smile in her voice. “Mak[ing] positive changes for your home — that’s what I hope to do,” she said.

Although one job is secretive and the other is public, Plame hopes to use the strength she brought to the CIA to help her be successful as a Congresswoman.

“I think the CIA paid me primarily for my judgment,” she said. After all, making the wrong call in a spying career can cost lives and downgrade national security. “I would like to bring those years of training on judgment to this job, and get stuff done.”

Plame is both self-aware and realistic when speaking about her run, knowing that one of her biggest challenges will be the amount of competition for the seat. There’s “lots of competition, not surprising[ly], [and] I welcome that,” she said.

However, she maintains that her campaign is not about triumphing over other people in a competition. “I am not running against anyone; I am running for this seat to represent the people of northern New Mexico,” she said, emphasizing her overarching mission.         

During the interview, Plame weighed in on some of the national issues facing us and of course the elephant in any room of politics these days — the president. In the short term, she believes that the most crucial thing that needs to happen nationally in 2020 is “to make sure that Donald Trump does not have another four years.”

She cites Trump’s general style and the people he surrounds himself with as major hindrances to finding any bipartisan success. “I personally am ashamed that he is our president,” she said.

As just one example of why she feels that way, she mentioned the recent revelation that the Navy, as she put it, “decided not to hurt [Trump’s] delicate feelings” by covering up the name of the U.S. warship named after the late senator John McCain as well as his father and grandfather while the president was on a trip to Japan.

However, even if in the short term all some people are thinking about politically is how they cannot wait for an end to the Trump era, there are still issues that transcend the Trump phenomenon.

Trump, because of his penchant for off-the-cuff comments that often contradict each other or the truth and that is historically abnormal for a president, can often overshadow stories that would otherwise be front-page news.

Thus, I wanted to hear her take on the stories whose significance is high in the long run, but which may not be getting as much attention as it merits. “Hard to know where to begin,” Plame said in response to this question with a chuckle.

In her view, one of these issues that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is the nuclear threat — her expertise when she was in the CIA and her continuing passion.

“We continue to grow and so-called modernize our nuclear arsenal, and of course we’re seeing very dangerous trends regarding the Iran nuclear program and North Korea’s nuclear program,” she said, citing the breakdown of talks between Kim Jong Un and President Trump and Trump’s pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal.

She took the opportunity to criticize the Trump administration for getting little in the way of real results in terms of denuclearization “despite all their bluster and big words.”

As she runs for Congress, one of the things that has become even more evident and painful to her is the wide ideological divide in the country that, to many people, only seems to grow every second.

“(It’s) really hard to come to any sort of compromise when people are just so…hunkered down in their own ideological foxhole, and I can’t think that that is a good way to begin a conversation of how you come to some compromise on the big challenges facing this nation,” she said.

She is far from naive about the scale of the problem, the difficulty in bridging this gap, or the inherent challenges in reaching out across the aisle, but as a Congressional candidate, she hopes to do her part.

“I think the trick is to find people on the other side that on one particular issue, you can make headway,” she said. “Not on all of them, maybe just on one issue,” but then it would be a start to getting an earnest conversation in the works.

“Just yelling at each other on talking head shows is not the way to go [when finding solutions to national issues],” Plame said.

For now, she’s campaigning on several issues that affect ordinary New Mexicans — a top priority in her campaign is healthcare.

“It just is baffling that we are such a rich nation and millions of us are still uninsured or have the threat of not being insured if you have a so-called pre-existing condition—that’s not right,” she said.

A potential idea for alleviating this crisis that she has warmed to is having universal healthcare covering all children under 18 without exception. She is also passionate about, among other things, education, protecting the environment — she frequently praises the beauty of her adopted home state — and mentioning an issue that doesn’t get much attention but is a very relevant problem in her district: access to reliable broadband internet, which is essential for the economic health of today’s communities.

On the campaign trail, she’s been traveling all over her large and diverse district — a mix of rural and urban; a rainbow melting pot of Hispanic, Native American, and Anglo cultures. She spends her days giving an ear to the people, listening to the concerns that matter in their daily lives and communities.

Ultimately for Plame, whatever the election results are, the mission remains the same: finding ways, whether through being a covert agent gathering crucial intelligence or running for public office, to give back to her home country.

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