Tag Archives: politics

America Isn’t Easy, America is Advanced Citizenship

“America isn’t easy, America is advanced citizenship, you’ve got to want it bad, cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, you want free speech, lets see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs, that you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” – President Andrew Shepard in the film “The American President”

Today is one of those days when America isn’t easy. In response to a film made by an American that criticizes Islam, several attacks have taken place on American Embassies and Consulates in the Middle East. Most have been non-violent, but in one of these attacks, the United States Ambassador to Libya along with several other diplomatic staff were killed. This is a tragic turn of events.

While I wish that this filmmaker hadn’t made his film, he was certainly within his rights to do so. I don’t understand why someone would spend so much of their time and energy on hate, but this man has a right to speak freely. Unfortunately, his speech has put others in danger and some have even lost their lives. The people who perpetrated these attacks and killings in reaction to this film have overstepped any legal, moral, or ethical bounds in doing so and should be found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

When people try and understand each other, when people disagree without being disagreeable, the nation and world progress to a better state. When people hate and fight and kill, there is no progress at all.

My belief in free speech is putting up a fight today and I am convinced, as ever, that America is advanced citizenship.

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Visiting the Senate

Six years ago, I left employment with the Washington State Senate to move back to California and take a job with the city government in the town I grew up in. It was a good career move and a good move to be back with my family. Today, I’m visiting the Washington State Senate for the first time since I left. To add a bit of drama to the situation of the day, it is the final day of the 2012 legislative session. As I’m visiting old friends, I was asked what I missed most about working for the Legislature. I’m going to answer that question in two parts because I was reminded what I miss most and what I missed least about the work.

What I miss most is the feeling of action, the feeling of excitement and the feeling that good work was being done on the people’s behalf. I miss standing in the wings of the Senate Chamber, just off the floor, and watching the action and knowing that in my small part, I was helping shape the future of the state. I was reminded by the amazing lunch that I miss the free food. It’s been really amazing to walk around this place and feel the excitement and buzz of what’s going on.

What I miss least is the feeling of helplessness when a bill, for whatever reason dies. I’ve watched some of my friends working very hard to keep a good bill alive today that will most likely die. I’m leaving the details of the bill out on purpose because until the Senate adjourns a bill isn’t dead. It’s a hard thing to watch friends working to keep something alive that won’t likely be alive much longer, but it’s admirable that they do it and keep working until they can’t work any more.  It’s truly a feeling of heartbreak when a bill that you’ve worked on for a long time dies and I can see that heartbreak in my friend’s faces today.

I miss the friends I made while working here, but I don’t miss the long hours during the legislative session. I’m staying here as long as my friend is at work today, and I don’t expect to leave before midnight. Working in a legislative environment is truly awesome, working for local government as I do today is a completely different kind of awesome.

All in all, I know I made the right choice in switching jobs, but the excitement , triumph, and heartbreak of the legislative environment are on my mind today…

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A Civil Debate

Last night, the Washington State Senate passed Senate Bill 6239 last night, a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the state of Washington if passed by the House and signed by the Governor. However, I’m not writing on the subject matter of the bill, I’m writing on the civility of the debate. Having worked in the Washington State Senate for five legislative sessions, I’ve seen my fair share of debates. Some good, some bad, and some downright ugly. The ugly debates usually center around hot button issues and usually aren’t any better than kids calling each other names ont the playground.

Last night’s debate on SB 6239 was amazing for its civility. It was also amazing as a statement of how far the Senate has come in the last 6 years. In 2006, the debate over House Bill 2661, which added sexual orientation to the list of protected classes under civil rights laws, was an example of the ugly. There was name calling, scare tactics, and hyperbole on both sides of the issue. It was a sad example of political debate. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 25-23, which is the minimum number of votes a bill can get and pass.

Contrast  that with last night’s debate on SB 6239, which was respectful, filled with decorum, and an example of what a good debate should be. Senators who supported and opposed the bill got up, made reasonable arguments for their case and sat down. They didn’t engage in scare tactics, fear mongering, or hyperbole. It was an amazing sight. I was particularly impressed with the lack of any parliamentary games or fights over amendments. Twelve amendments were offered, some were passed and defeated by voice votes, and some on roll calls. There were no parliamentary games or delaying tactics. The opposition, didn’t use the rules of the Senate to attempt to slow the bill down, which is their right. They conformed to the practices of the body and let the bill move forward.

Regardless of how you feel about the subject matter contained in the bill, it was a good night for our representative democracy.

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The Least Presidential Thing I Do

All this celebration over the death of Osama Bin Laden has really got me thinking. Is this event something we should celebrate. No doubt, it’s an important event in the history of our nation. It’s a turning point in the war on terror, but is it something to celebrate? I don’t think so. Regardless of who is the Commander in Chief when an order to kill is given, it is, in the words on President Andrew Shepard in the movie the American President, “The least Presidential thing [a President can] do.”

The background story is that an defensive weapons system had recently been installed in Israel. It had been sitting there for a while, but the Libyan Intelligence Service struck it only after the American personnel arrived to train the Israelis. After ordering a retaliatory strike on the Libyan Intelligence Headquarters, the President, who is in the middle of a fierce election campaign, is told by one of his advisors that ordering the strike was “very Presidential.” President Shepard responds as follows:

“Somewhere in Libya right now a janitor is working the night shift at Libyan Intelligence Headquarters and he’s going about doing his job because he has no idea that in about an hour he’s going to die in a massive explosion. He just going about his job because he has no idea that about an hour ago, I gave an order to have him killed. You’ve just seen me do the least Presidential thing I do.”

He’s right. The death of another human being shouldn’t bring feelings of joy to others, it should be met with sadness and solemnity. Yes, Osama Bin Laden was a horrible man whose actions lead to the deaths of thousands of people the world over, but we should not be celebrating his death. We should be celebrating, in the words of @carsonskinner, “…the fact that this man cannot harm anyone else.”

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The Intersection of Different Worlds in Tucson

The incident in Tucson that took place on Saturday was a tragic, senseless, needless event. The fact that it happened besmirches the reputation of our nation and should bring the lack of civility in political discourse into sharp relief. In watching my twitter feed on Saturday as the details were becoming clear, I heard people blaming the right, specifically Mrs. Palin and her crosshairs map. I heard other blaming the “liberal media” for putting the blame on the right. Even with the aforementioned debate, the largest chorus of voices I heard were a concern for the families of those killed and injured in the tragic event that took place in a Safeway parking lot.

Regardless of political persuasion or belief, what we should be focusing on after an event like this are the needs of the families affected by this horrendous event.

I titled this entry, “The Intersection of Different Worlds in Tucson” because Saturday’s tragedy took place at a the intersection of several of my worlds and is affecting me much more deeply that I expected it to. First, I am a former legislative staffer and have dealt with the hate and anger that can accompany political discourse. Second, have met the husband of one of the shooting victims. Third, I’m a parent and the loss of a 9 year old child in an event like this makes it even more of a tragedy.

As a former legislative staffer, this event affects me tremendously. I’ve worked numerous events such as this one, directly interacting with constituents. The point of these events was to make the legislator accessible to members of the public, so there was never any security present. I never felt vulnerable at any of these events, but I doubt Rep. Giffords felt vulnerable at this event. In my position as legislative staff, I dealt with my share of crazies, some threatening, some not. Thankfully, I only ever felt threatened twice in five years and I very quickly reported these threats to the authorities, who investigated them. I also spent most of my year working in a district office by myself or with one or two staffers for different legislators. There was no second exit from my office, so if someone had come in the door with bad intent, we would have been at their mercy. When I was in the Capitol, I felt much more secure, but I spent only a quarter to a third of the time there.

The Washington State Legislature, where I worked, prides itself in being close to the people. So close, in fact that legislators only work part time at their legislative jobs. Each legislator is given one, or in rare cases, two staffers. When the capitol was re-opened in 2004 after several years of revonations, there were metal detectors, but they were removed after the first year because of inconvenience they posed to the people, elected officials, and staff.

The second intersection came about because of my love of space. In May 2010, I participated in a #NASATweetup at Johnson Space Center in Houston. After the official event concluded, many of the participants went out for drinks and dinner. At the dinner we were joined by several astronauts, including Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was the target of Saturday’s shooting. I spent some time talking to Mr. Kelly and really enjoyed our conversation. I even took a picture with him and his brother (Mark Kelly is on the right). Capt. Kelly is a gracious man and I really feel for him and his family, in addition to those other families who suffered a loss as a result of this tragic event.

The third intersection has to do with the 9 year old girl who lost her life. As I understand it, she came to the event to tell the Congresswoman that she had recently been elected to her school’s student council, a fact about which she was justifiably proud. I can imagine doing the exact same thing with my child if they were in the same position. As a parent, I would justifiably proud of my child for being elected to student council and would let my child know of it. If they wanted to tell their Member of Congress about getting elected, I would make it happen. It’s a shame that someone so young lost their life because of an accomplishment such as this.

On a side note, I work in government and one of my aims is to make the government agency that I work in more accessible to members of the public. I especially work hard to work with children and answer their questions and help them understand government. I hope that Rep. Giffords and her staff would have done the same.

While the events in Tucson have indirectly affected me, the direct effect they’ve had on the people involved and their families is what needs to be focused upon. We need to come together, regardless of our political allegiance or persuasion, and support those who are feeling the direct effects. Capt. Kelly posted a statement on Rep. Giffords web site, summing up the family’s thanks to all supporting them. It’s worth a read, not only because it is well written, but because Capt. Kelly takes time to remember those wo were lost and those who worked to help them. If Capt. Kelly can remember others in his time of need, we should be able to as well.

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Articles on the Tucson Tragedy

NYT – Suspect in Ariz. Shooting Faces Charges in Federal Court

NYT – Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics

NYT – A Passionate Politician and a Friend to Colleagues, Bikers and Lost Mayors

NYT – Amid Shock, Recalling Judge’s Life of Service

NYT – Born on Sept. 11, Claimed by a New Horror

NYT Editorial – Bloodshed and Invective in Arizona

NYT Documents – Criminal Complaint against Loughner

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