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You Work For Us Summer Tour: Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)

bingaman.jpg[Some readers set up a meeting with Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) as part of the You Work For Us Summer Tour.  They sent me a report on the meeting, and I think they did such a fantastic job, that I wanted to share it with all of you.  Now this is what I call active citizenship — great job to everyone involved!   — CHS]

Senator Bingaman, You Work for Us Summer Tour

Our small group met with Senator Bingaman at a restaurant near the airport while he was between flights to small NM towns. He arrived with a fact sheet designed to dispel the Republican Main-Stream-Media Talking Point that we have a “Do-Nothing Congress.” The list of legislation passed and signed, passed and waiting to be signed, and passed in both houses but awaiting completion of conference reports is impressive. Unfortunately, the list of legislation passed AND SIGNED was quite short, making it clear that we need more than a marginal Democratic majority if we hope to see significant change.

Senator Bingaman was very clear that the agenda has certainly been changed by the Democratic Congress. Under bare-bones Democratic control, there have been significant legislative accomplishments on behalf of students and children (higher education, head start, student loans, health insurance), workers (raise in minimum wage), small businesses (tax relief), the environment and energy (renewables, efficiency, biofuels), implementation of 9-11 Commission Recommendations, more benefits for war vets, significant ethics reform, and support for research and development (from the National Labs to schools) to increase America’s competitive edge (this last that Bingaman was instrumental in writing).

Our group is aware that the 110th Congress has been productive with some very good legislation, including ethics reform, however, we were more interested in discussing our disappointment that the message sent by the voters last November has failed to penetrate the Washington bubble.

Our representative from Voter Action had prepared his own handout for the Senator on the disaster of Senator Feinstein’s pathetic attempt at voting protection. In contrast, the superior bill, HB 811 (Holt), needs sponsors in the Senate. He emphasized the strong (paper, verifiable) and weak (audit needs improvement) elements of New Mexico’s voting reforms, and he encouraged Senator Bingaman to become a Senate sponsor of S.559, the Senate version of the Holt bill. (Following our meeting, we understand that Senator Bingaman will be looking into Senator Nelson’s S.559.)

We had a great opportunity to press Senator Bingaman over issues like FISA. What happened? Was it leadership failure? How did this get the support of 16 Democratic Senators?

In brief, it appears that being called “unpatriotic” and “soft on terror” is more terrifying to some elected officials than the loss of habeas corpus!! Further, the 6 month limit and legislative weariness (August break) compelled many to vote for the FISA bill.

We discussed the criminal activity throughout the executive branch, subpoenas, and especially the failure of Democrats to create and always use effective talking points to counter the prevailing message of the Republican-controlled corporate media. We suggested that the Democrats adopt the strategy of attacking perceived Republican strengths: for example when the Republicans accuse the Democrats of being weak on national defense, instead of denying the charge, the Democrats should strike back by pointing out that the US spends more on national defense than all the rest of the world combined. This may contribute to national security, but it is national lunacy, because it results in wrong-headed budgets that leave us fatally vulnerable to collapsed bridges, not to mention lost cities from breached levees, an unimaginable horror from which there remains no recovery.

Our representative from the NM Attorney General’s office noted that along with our failing infrastructure, all the resources (time, energy and money) being consumed by Iraq and the necessary investigations of the Executive Branch leave no resources to deal effectively with domestic problems such as a growing meth-amphetamine epidemic. This is a growing problem nationwide, and it is impacting rural New Mexico more and more. Some of our most horrific recent crimes are directly linked to methamphetamine.

What the people want most is to end the war and to have universal single-payer healthcare.With regard to the war, we emphasized that Democrats want to see some strong indications of push-back against the Republican policy of continuing the war indefinitely. The Democratic base would be energized, even though the votes aren’t there yet. As one of our group said, “We have your back”.

The bottom line on the war (as with all legislation) is that we need 60 votes in the Senate. A campaign to influence some Senators who have been unwilling to cross the President is the only hope.  (Senator Domenici, you work for us. We need to talk.)

The meeting came about after a couple of active Democrats from our grassroots group attended a function at UNM where Bingaman was speaking about student loan legislation that has passed.  They pressed for another meeting (no others were scheduled for Albuquerque), and it was arranged.  Bingaman was very accessible. 

I don’t think we can get a meeting with Domenici, but we will try.  There will be a fundraiser for Domenici in a private Albuquerque home soon that Bush will attend.  I guess now Bush is not able to even go into a public venue at all.  Of course none of us will be paying $1000 or $5000 to attend that function. . .

[CHS notes:  In case you are wondering, the following Senators could use some pressure on Iraq:  Domenici (NM), Gordon Smith (OR), Lugar, Sununu, Voinovich, Hagel, Snowe, Collins, Warner, maybe Ben Nelson (Nebraska) — just in case you and a few of your closest political buddies need a project in the next couple of weeks.  Frankly, all of them could use an earful.  If you meet with your Senator or Representative, do send us a report — we’d love it.]

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com