As more conservatives come into power just when what we need is compassionate, productive thinking in place of political posturing, it's hard to remember that there are still good folks in government, both on Capital Hill and elsewhere. I've been thinking about politicians that give me hope. Here are just a few.
Anthony Weiner, the feisty Democratic Congressman from New York, is smart, caring and unafraid to speak truth to powerbrokers. A Brooklyn-born New Yorker, he has the chutzpah that implies, as anyone who saw his rant on behalf of ordinary people on the House floor not long ago knows. As a political neophyte he worked for Chuck Schumer and then became the youngest person ever elected to New York's City Council. He was quickly tagged as a "thoughtful fighter" concerned about "quality of life" issues. He started a program for at-risk teens, spearheaded development plans for Sheepshead Bay, and worked vigorously for public housing and other safety nets for New York's underserved population. He has always been a champion of the underdog, and he continues to represent their interests avidly in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Of course, when it comes to standing up for the little guy, there's Bernie Sanders, Vermont's independent senator whose recent performance on the floor of the Senate around the tax debate was nothing short of heroic.
Then there's Barbara Mikulski, Democratic senator from Maryland and the doyenne of Senate women. She has fought long and hard to protect the rights of all Americans, to combat race, gender, and homophobic discrimination, to advocate for legal reforms, and to ensure basic human rights. Seldom in the limelight, she has an impressive voting record and has never lost touch with her own roots: America's working class.
Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) is another noteworthy long term woman in the Senate. First elected to the House where she served for ten years, she became a senator in 1993 and has been a forceful advocate for women, children, families, and consumers, as well as a protector of the environment, ever since. She fought against unsafe drinking water, the harmful effects of oil drilling, and the unethical use of human subjects in pesticide testing. She has written landmark education legislation and authored a number bills and provisions relating to health care, consumer protection, the environment, and a woman's right to choose. She helped pass the 1994 Crime Bill, credited with reducing the nation's crime rate, and the Violence Against Women Law. The chair of several important committees, she works tirelessly as a member of the Democratic leadership.
Patty Murray (D-Wa.) and Debbie Schultz Wasserman (D-Fl.) are two of the younger women in Congress to watch. Senator Murray, re-elected to a fourth term in the recent election, has dedicated herself to working families, children, and educational reform. She has also been impressive in transportation, healthcare, economic development, and veterans' issues. A measure of her ability is that when, in 1980, a state politician told her she "couldn't make a difference" she organized a coalition of 13,000 parents to save a local pre-school program from budget cuts. It wasn't long before she was a state senator. In 1992, defeating an opponent with dramatically more money than she had, she became the first woman to represent Washington state in the U.S. Senate where she has been called "tenacious" and "a workhorse".
Debbie Shultz Wasserman became a member of the House of Representatives in 2005 after serving in both houses of the Florida State legislature. She is respected for her hard work on many issues. In March 2009, after her own bout with breast cancer, she introduced the Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to implement a national education campaign about the threat breast cancer poses to all young women, and the heightened risks of certain ethnic, cultural and racial groups. The bill became law as part of the Affordable Health Care for America Act in March, 2010.
Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.) also deserves commendation. Representative of good political leadership at the state level, he is unique in shining light on the critical issue of infrastructure. "We're in trouble," he said recently. Citing a three decade trend in which expenditures for manufacturing and infrastructure have gone down in this country while in China and India they are dramatically increased, he asked, "How are we going to catch up? Beyond economics, it's a safety issue." The Katrina disaster and the Minnesota bridge collapse didn't have to happen, he said, citing potentials disasters in his state. "How is it we can find money to fund two wars, but we can't find money for infrastructure. Are we politically capable of taking a long term look?"
Good politicians are capable of that, but they need occasional needling from their constituents. No worries. The Weiners, Mikulskis et al. in Congress can handle it.