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Native Intelligence
Oh Democrats, where art thou?
(Published November 4, 2002)

By DIANA WINTHROP

Democrats are sore pressed to retain control of the U.S. Senate. The death of Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, the loss of the seat in Missouri or any other contested seat may deliver control of the Senate to the Republicans. The prospect of a total Republican dominance of the federal government threatens.

Without any strong national agenda on the economy, Democrats' chances of regaining the House of Representatives are daunting in the face of massive Republican spending. But Democrats always knew they would be outspent at least 4 to 1, and they could still hold their own. Why? Because basically they were viewed as the party of the little guy, civil rights, the average American, the hard-working middle- and lower-class and their families. The Republicans were always the representatives of "Big Business."

But now, something has changed.

Wellstone briefly flirted with running for president in 1998 because he said, "I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." The untimely death of Minnesota's senior senator less than two weeks before this Election Day reminded me of what poor choices D.C. or national Democratic voters have these days. At age 58, his eulogies universally heralded Wellstone as a passionate Democrat who spoke up for the little guy, voted his conscience and sought better policies on education, the economy, health and welfare that would help government truly benefit citizens lives.

Some said he was an unrepentant "liberal." I just thought he was what a Democrat was supposed to be.

Wellstone was a popular progressive professor at Carleton College for two decades before he was elected to the Senate in 1990. It seems most elected officials I have greatly respected and admired were former teachers. I believe in the old axiom "great teachers make great leaders and great leaders make great teachers." Wellstone was a prime example of a dedicated teacher who loved his job and was committed to standing for something regardless of how it affected his popularity. In the District of Columbia. teachers are prohibited by the federal Hatch Act from running for partisan public office and, as a community, we are worse off for it.

Casting a forthright Democratic vote seems totally lost among our tax-cutting, budget-trimming city council members. Seven of the 13 are lawyers, throw in a former journalist and a few former government employees - they are largely a moribund dispassionate group. They almost uniformly take political differences personally.

As they jockey for favor with the commercial and monied interests of D.C., they could well learn from Paul Wellstone's political career of good humor. The man never spent a second of his life figuring how to get back at his "enemies." He was too focused on people's problems, high ideas and principles to waste time. Even though he fiercely fought for his views, he earned respect from those whose views were dramatically different.

Our D.C. Democrats prefer to negotiate with the Federal City Council for control of our city's fate. Before the public heard of the need for recent budget cuts, some of our elected officials were at the White House receiving their marching orders. After the primary election, the public was allowed in on the secret that the city faced dramatic revenue shortfalls. The council began looking for a way to cut education, health care and emergency assistance programs to offset their tax cut programs.

While the Republicans are fielding a former special education teacher (Carol Schwartz) against the Democrats' bean counter (Anthony Williams) for mayor of the city, most of the passion and issues relevant to the working poor and traditional working class of the District seem to belong to independents, write-ins and Statehood Green Party candidates in this election.

The Statehood Greens are fielding a teacher for mayor, an education activist for council chairman and a children's feeding program administrator/advocate for at-large council; only the Statehood Green Party was born to the District's unique issues of unrequited civil rights. It formed around the fight for D.C. self-determination and the right to control the education of children through an elected school board. In any other place, the Statehood Green Party would have been the "democratic wing of the Democratic Party."

Before I go to the polls on Nov. 5, I'm going to read all the voter profiles. Then I'm going to vote my issues regardless of any endorsements from the papers, the parties or any other groups. I'm going to remember the lessons of Sen. Paul Wellstone, who stood up for his beliefs even when they were unpopular. He voted his conscience, his heart and his constituency. His legacy is that he believed in casting an "honest vote" - and so do I.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator