CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Michael Ari Pushkin is one of a very few candidates who could rock the house at one of his own campaign fundraisers.
In fact, you're likely to hear him do just that.
"I plan on playing at all of them," Pushkin said.
Pushkin, who has helmed popular West Virginia bands from the Joint Chiefs to 600 LBS of Sin!, recently filed pre-candidacy papers to run for the W.Va. House of Delegates in the 37th District. The seat became open after Meshea Poore announced she would vie for the Congressional seat now held by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who herself has eyes on Sen. Jay Rockefeller's Senate seat upon his retirement.
Pushkin feels he is well suited to represent the 37th District, which covers Charleston's downtown, East End and West Side.
"I feel I know the district very well. I work with the people every day in the district. I've lived in this district a long time; my family has lived in this district a lot longer than that."
When not playing music, Pushkin drives a cab at night as he has done so for a decade. "It's a perfect job for a musician. We're independent contractors and get to make our own hours."
He has gotten to know the concerns of his customers, he said. "Most of the people we pick up live in the West Side or the East End or North Charleston — that's this district. They use us to get to work, to get to the store. Those are the people I work with every day."
He realizes his is an unusual resume for public office.
"First of all, I'm obviously not a conventional candidate. And I don't see this as a career move or stepping stone to something else. I'm not looking to pad my resume. I just want to be the type of representative that is accessible to the people who put him there. And in any decision on any issue to have the best interests of the people in the district at heart.
"Obviously, we need jobs around here," he added. "Some of the best ways to create jobs is to promote small locally owned businesses. Create a better environment for small locally owned businesses to flourish, giving tax breaks. At least making it easier for them to get started.
"People like at the Bluegrass Kitchen over on the East End or the Five Corners Café are doing a good job of pulling people locally. The money stays here. They live in the neighborhood that they own their business in."
An issue close to his heart is increasing funding for treatment centers for drug abuse and addiction.
"I think too often we focus on the supply side in our drug policy. Until we start treating the demand, we're going to keep getting the same results. And the results are we lead the nation in drug overdose deaths. That's the result we're getting with our current policies. I think it's an issue that's really important in this district — it's what I see every night at work."
Pushkin is well aware he has to make his case as a serious candidate. He has worked on campaigns before including Charlotte Pritt's gubernatorial bid, America Coming Together in 2004, which supported progressive candidates, he canvassed for Poore in 2010 and also lent a hand in both Obama presidential campaigns.
"I take this campaign very seriously. I take the job very seriously. I believe it is an honor to be chosen to represent the people who live in this district. I'm not taking this lightly. I think once people get to know me and talk to me they'll understand I'm more than just a rock 'n' roll cab driver — that I know the issues and I know the district very well."
Speaking of his rock 'n' roll resume, Pushkin has laid to rest 600 LBS of Sin! and formed the new group, the Coal River Yacht Club.
He said he knows he has his work cut out for him trying to land a house seat. He'll always find time for the music, though.
"It takes a lot of work to campaign. I plan on knocking on a lot of doors, talking to a lot of people and really getting out there and putting 100 percent into this. If I am lucky enough to have the honor of representing this district I will put everything into that. That's the job I will be sent there to do. I will have time to play music though. It might not be as much as I did in the past, but I will always play music. Because that's what I do. That's what makes me happy."
Getting people out to vote will be key in the campaign.
"I see a disturbing trend that the voter turnout is less and less every year. I would like to do something to get people excited again about coming out and voting, to have people have a stake in how they're governed."
He also thinks more "regular people" like him should be bidding for office.
"I think the time has come for regular people to run for office. We shouldn't let the 'right' co-opt the frustration of the regular, working people with phony blue collar candidates funded by white collar interests. I'm running to represent the people who too often have no voice in government."
Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com