When Dexter Kamilewicz talks about the issues of the day – health care, federal debt, taxes, Social Security – his affable personality and intellectual, philosophical takes are what you would expect to witness during an after-dinner conversation over coffee in a suburban living room.
But when Kamilewicz talks about the Iraq war, his eyes narrow, his jaw clenches, flashes of passion illuminate his face and anger resounds in his voice.
It is the war – and his very personal connection to it – that has propelled Kamilewicz, 62, from being a political observer to an independent candidate for Congress in the state’s 1st District.
Kamilewicz, of Harpswell, watched his son ship off to Iraq as a member of the Vermont National Guard and return a year later with injuries – to both body and mind – that no federal agency seems to care about, he says.
A lifelong liberal Democrat, Kamilewicz (pronounced “Kam-e-LEV-itch”) had faithfully supported incumbent Democrat Tom Allen every two years, even volunteering to stuff envelopes for the candidate.
But when Allen voted in favor of each of the Bush administration’s seven requests to fund the war, Kamilewicz was moved to action. He argues that though Allen said he opposes the war, it continues because it is funded.
Military veterans asked him to run, and he has become a hero to anti-war groups like Military Families Speak Out and Veterans for Peace.
He pulls no punches when talking about the war, and about its effect on his son, Ben.
At a candidates forum at the Maine Veterans Home in Augusta in early October, facing a group of American Legion and VFW members, Kamilewicz said that during the course of Ben’s tour, the Humvee he was riding in sustained several bomb explosions, leaving him with four bulging discs in his spine.
Ben has yet to be examined or diagnosed by military physicians, the candidate said, and “he has wide mood swings,” leaving the family to conclude he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It makes me mad as hell to remember the rhetoric of politicians” who sent Ben to war, Kamilewicz told the veterans.
If elected, he “will call for the impeachment of the president and his administration for crimes against humanity,” Kamilewicz said.
“The business of war is supported by your taxes,” he continued, noting that half of the federal budget – $500 billion annually – goes toward military concerns, including pension obligations to retired officers.
Kamilewicz’ Web site features a counter showing the escalating cost of the war – $334 billion, with $901 million of that Maine’s share.
The U.S. is the world’s leading exporter of weapons, he told the veterans, and its embargo against Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War resulted in an estimated 1 million civilian deaths.
Kamilewicz also charges that the U.S. is building permanent military bases in Iraq.
“It appears this was in the planning from the very start. Can we be a country that will be everybody else’s military on a pre-emptive basis?”
If elected, Kamilewicz would work for an immediate and total troop withdrawal from Iraq, a key component of his candidacy. Allen favors a drawdown in 2007, while Republican candidate Darlene Curley argues for a two-year process of removing troops, with key benchmarks.
When he’s not campaigning, Kamilewicz works out of a Portland office where he manages some 800 commercial real estate properties throughout the Northeast. Before that he owned and operated his own real estate firm.
The Northeastern University graduate also previously taught English at Oxford Hills High School and was an educational administrator in the Oxford Hills School district.
Beyond the war, Kamilewicz advocates a progressive agenda of issues. In a conversation in his Portland office, the candidate transitions from the war to the budget, criticizing the Bush administration’s tax cuts for the wealthy and deficit spending.
“The middle class is the engine that drives this country,” he said, but it is in decline. Some 97 percent of the Bush tax cuts went to just 4 percent of the population, he said, those earning $200,000 or more a year.
Kamilewicz continues to attack the Bush administration’s foreign and domestic initiatives, arguing that the country is on the wrong course.
He advocates a single-payer health insurance plan, wants to see more affordable education available to middle class families, and wants to see energy and environmental policies developed that are mutually sustainable.
“There are lots of things we can do, but we don’t have a bloody plan,” he said.