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Blue America Is Honored To Welcome Congresswoman Hilda Solis

hildasolis.jpg[As with all Blue America chats, please stay on topic and be polite to our guest.  Any off-topic discussions should be taken to the prior thread.  Please join us in giving a big FDL welcome to Congresswoman Hilda Solis!  — CHS]

There are 16 different congressmembers who represent Los Angeles County and they go right across the political spectrum– from the extreme right (Gary Miller, the corrupt Republican congressloon from a godforsaken suburban hellhole where L.A., San Bernardino and Orange counties smash into each other) to two of the most progressive in the country, Linda Sanchez and Hilda Solis. In March Jane and I went to meet Hilda for the first time at our friend Rick Jacob’s house. She’s as impressive as her voting record and we invited her to come and meet the Blue America community.

Hilda is probably best known as someone who’s always ready to pitch in and lend a hand to a fellow progressive. In fact, a disgusted member of Pombo’s Natural Resources Committee, she was a big supporter of Jerry McNerney and, in fact, the next time I saw Hilda she had come to a McNerney campaign event to tell Angelinos how well he was doing in his new job.

Last week when I was on the phone with Angie Paccione she told me how Hilda had given her lots of support in her bid to oust homophobic maniac Marilyn Musgrave. And just a few days ago I was talking with Russ Warner, the Democrat taking on David Dreier, and he told me how Hilda had taken some very Republican parts of Dreier’s district into her own, which will make it more likely for a Democrat to unseat him. (When I asked her about that she laughed and said she gets hate mail from those zip codes.)

Despite the hate mail, last November she took 83% of the ballots cast in CA-32, the highest percentage of anyone from Southern California. The district includes parts of East L.A. and the adjacent suburbs Mexican-American families moved to from there. The district is 62% Hispanic, 18% Asian. A NY Times restaurant critic claims her district has some of the best food in America and described his time there as a “memorable week in the gastronomic trenches.” The neighborhoods are bristling with the energy, enthusiasm and the infectious community-spirit of new homeowners.

They couldn’t have found a better suited representative.

But they already knew that; she represented the area in the Assembly and then the state Senate. Her dad was a Teamsters union shop steward from Mexico and her mom was an assembly line worker from Nicaragua. They met while they were taking citizenship classes in L.A.

Hilda was the first Latina elected to the state Senate and when she ran for Congress she took on entrenched incumbent Matthew Martinez, a reactionary Democratic hack who was backed by the Insider machine. With the help of feminists, Labor and environmental groups, and running as an unabashed progressive, she kicked his right-wing ass from Azusa and Covina to Rosemead and East L.A., taking 62% of the vote. (He switched parties and ran against her in the general election as a Republican; Hilda took 79% of that vote, one of the highest percentages in history by which a challenger beat an incumbent.)

Aside from women’s issues (more on that below), her career work, to a great extent, has been tied up with health care and the environment, particularly where they intersect. and she told Jane and I a tragic story about her father getting an environmentally-related lung disease. She was the first woman to receive a JFK Profile in Courage Award (2000) for the work she did, first showing the connection between polluting projects and minority neighborhoods and then battling it with the first environmental justice legislation in California. Today she’s working with Barack Obama on national legislation on brownfields, particularly in regard to commercial pollution that has increased leukemia rates and the kinds of thyroid problems and hormone imbalances that effect pregnant women.

“The EPA,” she told me, “hasn’t done anything about this in a decade. California’s standards are fine but this has to move into other parts of the country too.”

Simultaneously she’s one of the most consistent sparkplugs behind the movement to have the federal government set safety standards for perchlorate (literally, ultra toxic rocket fuel from Department of Defense projects) that gets into the drinking water.A top lieutenant of Nancy Pelosi’s, Hilda is a senior whip, a vice-chair Democratic Steering and Policy Committee and the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Task Force on Health and the Environment. Last year she was also chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, where she was able to bring the force of her intellect and personality to push issues that were systematically being sidelined by the Bush Regime and it’s rubber stamp allies in Congress, particularly matters pertaining to violence against women. She was one of the leaders of the efforts to put a stop to the epidemic of murders of women in Ciudad Juárez, just on the other side of the river from El Paso.

I want to do a commercial now. Stick with me.

Do you remember when the netroots was tearing its hair out of its virtual head because the battle for leadership of the congressional Democratic caucus came down to a fight between a corporate shill and K Street whore who backs Bush in Iraq (Steny Hoyer) and a social reactionary who has spent a career voting with Republicans on almost everything but has suddenly changed his tune on one — Iraq — (Jack Murtha)?  I spoke with both at length and couldn’t back either.  Many of us asked why there were no real progressives in the race. We wonder why we get stuck with corrupt leaders we’re ashamed of and can’t back — like Hoyer and Rahm Emanuel in the House, and Schumer, Baucus and even Reid (who has a very poor voting record on women’s choice issues) in the Senate.

Electing Democrats is crucial because the alternative is right-wing destruction of the values and principles we cherish — like what we’ve just gone through for nearly 7 years. But helping our proven progressive leaders, men and women like Barbara Lee (CA), Raul Grijalva (AZ), Janice Schakowsky (IL), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (IL), Lynn Woolsey (CA), John Tierney (MA), Ed Markey (MA), Jim McGovern (MA), Linda Sanchez (CA), Maurice Hinchey (NY) and, of course Jerry Nadler and Hilda, is the next step.

“People assume,” Hilda told me, “that because I’m in a safe district that I don’t need any campaign support. But because my district is relatively safe I can help elect Democrats like Jerry McNerney. Being active that way gives me a place at the table when the decisions are made.”

If we don’t help people like Hilda Solis to get a place at that table, all the priorities, decisions and strategies will be made by the Rahm Emanuels, Steny Hoyers and Collin Petersons. If you’re not satisfied with that, if you think we can do better, please join me in contributing what you can to the campaign of this extraordinary congresswoman.

What does Hilda bring to the party? She has a point of view that needs to be in the debate– that we need to have in the debate… loud and clear and fearlessly.

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Howie Klein

Howie Klein

Howie Klein spent much of his life wandering around the world living in places like Afghanistan, Nepal, Holland and Morocco. He moved backed to America when Richard Nixon resigned and promptly helped start the first punk rock radio show in the country and then a DIY punk rock record label. His adventures in the music business ended a couple of years ago when he retired as president of Reprise Records. He began blogging almost immediately, starting Down With Tyranny. Jane taught him html while he held one of her dogs at a party. He is a raw foodist, lives in L.A., swims and hikes every day, thinks Howard Dean could be a president as great as FDR and will never be completely happy until Bush and Cheney are behind bars.