BRATTLEBORO -- Given that Mark Donka works as a full-time police officer in Woodstock, it's not easy to find time to campaign around the state.
But the Republican candidate for Vermont's at-large U.S. House seat is maintaining a hectic schedule these days as he tries to defeat Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch.
Much is at stake, Donka maintains.
"I look at the direction our country is going in right now, and it scares the hell out of me," he said during a campaign stop this week in Brattleboro.
While Donka has served as a Selectboard member in Hartford, this is his first run for federal office. Chief among his concerns is the growing national debt.
"I don't think it's fair to my grandson or my children to be saddled with that kind of debt," Donka said.
He advocates legislative creation of a bipartisan commission that would not include sitting members of Congress.
"They will look into what we're spending, line by line," and then recommend cuts, Donka said. "When those cuts come back, Congress has to enact 75 percent of them."
Welch last week said the budget deficit is a "solvable problem" and said reining in out-of-control military spending is an important way to save money. Donka said cutting the Pentagon's budget could be part of the mix but should not weaken a "strong military."
"I want to make sure we do it without making national defense suffer and without hurting our troops," he
Health care is another big issue in the campaign. Welch supports the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act and said it is critically important to Vermont's efforts to move toward a centralized, single-payer health-care system.
But Donka said he does not believe in what opponents label "ObamaCare."
"What we're doing is just shifting costs," he said. "It's going to fall on the working-class people in the form of taxes to fund this, or it's going to lead to more borrowing."
Donka said selective health-care changes -- tort reform and encouraging more insurance-industry competition are two examples -- are preferable to the federal health overhaul.
"Mandating people to buy insurance is wrong," he said. "And you can't make it one size fits all."
In his travels around the state, Donka said the economy has emerged as a big concern. Overwhelmingly, he said, voters contend they are continuing to struggle in spite of the state's low unemployment rate.
"We've got to do something to get the economy moving again," he said. "We should make it easier for businesses to do business."
Donka has not made it easy on himself: He is running as a Republican in a Democratic state against a Democratic incumbent who touts his work on behalf of middle-class families.
And he says he hasn't even spent enough to be required to file campaign-finance papers with the Federal Election Commission.
"I've been doing it by going out and talking to people and listening," Donka said. "Too many people go to Washington and forget where they came from."
He pointed to historically low approval ratings for Congress.
"That's how you make change in government," Donka said. "Elect different people."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.