It was late September 2006 and Minnesota was in the throws of mid-term elections. Coleen Rowley was waging an impossible uphill battle against incumbent John Kline for a congressional seat in the countryside south of Minneapolis. I was working the Rowley campaign, having taken six months off from writing to try to make a difference and help a real-life heroine. Rowley had consistently opposed the Iraq war since before it was launched, stating that there was no link to al Qaeda, as the Administration and her opponent, John Kline both claimed. Rowley was and is a 24-year veteran of the F.B.I. and Time Magazine “Person of the Year” in 2002 for her role as a whistleblower on intelligence failures prior to 9/11.
Congressman John Murtha was in town to give Rowley a boost, and the Rowley campaign staff had gathered at the Rosemount American Legion Post No. 65 that was literally bursting at seams with Rowley supporters. Congressman Murtha, Minnesota’s senior Congressman, Jim Oberstar (D-MN 8th), and Rowley were meeting with U.S. military veterans and the public.
Congressman Murtha, a 37-year Veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who had served in the U.S. Congress since 1975, had recently taken the lead in Washington by proposing to redeploy American troops in Iraq with a resolution widely known as “The Murtha Plan.” FOX News was gathering for the kill, even though most local media was out covering the aftermath of a tornado that devastated a local community during the night .
But, someone else caught my eye. Virtually unnoticed, former State Senator Becky Lourey was standing quietly in the back of the room. Not months before, she had been the center of media attention as she bucked the party hacks in her quest for the gubernatorial endorsement. She lost that bid, and the media lights vanished in favor of the annointed DFL candidate who subsequently lost to current Republican vice-presidential option, Tim Pawlenty. But Lourey never lost the hard-earned moral high ground that had defined her political career from the beginning, when she became the first woman elected to represent her rural district in eastern Minnesota.
During her run for governor, Lourey championed peace above all. Lourey had been a peace advocate even before her son, Army Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Lourey, 40, died when his helicopter was shot down in Iraq. Matt was killed on May 27, 2005 over Buhriz, Iraq during his second tour of duty.
Well before Matt was killed, Lourey was adamantly opposed to the invasion of Iraq. A voice for the minority in the hopped-up days before the war, she authored an antiwar resolution signed by eighteen other Minnesota state senators in March 2003. She said she spoke out against the Iraq war because “this war is alienating us from the rest of the world, and I believe that this occupation in Iraq is making Americans less safe.”
Matt Lourey was a hero. He did not have to go back the second time and had also served time in Bosnia. After his death, Lourey received many emails from soldiers whose lives were saved because of him.
In an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now after Matt died, Lourey made the point that needs to be made now as we consider our presidential choices and our moral obligations as citizens to be actively engaged in policy.
“We must have an honorable, honest commander-in-chief who directs the work that our armed forces do. There is a serious distinction between the irresponsibility of bad decisions by a commander-in-chief and the responsibilities that the army folks hold among themselves for protecting each other in conflicts like this,” Lourey said.
The irony of the diminutive farm woman with the huge convictions standing alone dressed in a navy suit with the Gold Star on her lapel was enough to take my breath away. There was only one thing to do, and I walked to the back of the Legion Hall, tripping over local FOX-TV television cables along the way, and guided her gently to a seat next to Congressman Murtha. Murtha was there to not only support Rowley, but to take on the mainstream network talking heads that were savaging him.
Even Tim Russert would go for Murtha’s jugular on Meet the Press weeks later and asked Murtha, “Congressman, when you heard those words, ‘Cowards cut and run, Marines never do,’ how did you feel?”
This, after Russet made editorial comment after editorial comment about how leaving Iraq would result in a “bloodbath.”
This past March 19, 2008, private citizen Becky Lourey gave a speech at the Minnesota State Capitol Rotunda. It was the fifth anniversary of the Invasion of Iraq.