Friday, July 28, 2006

Lynn Heuss' guest blog on last night's Democratic Women's Event

Lynn Heuss is a long-time Fallon staff member and good friend who attended last night's Democratic Women's event with Elizabeth Edwards and authored this post.

Like Kyle, I’m not usually one to support or attend the ‘typical’ Party events. That’s because they’re not for ‘typical’ Iowans. Between the venues they are held in and the pricetag to attend – they’re not accessible to most people. One of the first things I saw when I walked in the door was two huge posterboards with the names of big donors. They also typically lack diversity. Last night’s event was another example.

However, there were a few men in attendance. Actually one of them was the first to speak, which I found odd. I’m all for gender parity, but if you’re going to call it a women’s event, doesn’t it make sense to have women giving leadership?

And, if women are going to take the lead, I would like to encourage them to do so in non-stereotypical ways. Politics should be a discourse between different groups in the hope of making decisions that will be of benefit to the greatest number of people. Is it really necessary to make statements like, “Talk to your girlfriends about politics, because we all know that womens what runs the place.”?

However, all the other speakers were articulate, passionate, energetic women. Denise O’Brien only spoke briefly, but she’s the real deal. She does indeed talk about creative, innovative solutions to some of the problems facing farmers and small-town Iowans.

Mari Culver comes across as a confident, articulate woman with a great sense of humor. It was hotter than blazes and the first thing she said when she went to the podium was, “This proves that you’ll see more than one Culver sweat!” But she went on to present a nice introduction for Elizabeth Edwards.

Elizabeth Edwards is the reason I came to the event. I like what John Edwards is saying and doing. Before I got involved in politics, I worked with the homeless, low-income and working poor in Des Moines. The reason I re-engaged with politics (kicking and screaming at first) was because I eventually realized that without changing the current system, simply trying to meet people’s daily needs for food, clothing and shelter would never allow them to help themselves. And actually, it’s not the system that needs changed as much as changing those who make up the system. So far, Senator Edwards is the only one talking about and giving priority to addressing issues of concern to what is becoming the majority population in America – the poor.

However, after working on the Fallon campaign and clerking for Rep. Fallon in the last legislative session, I still find myself with enough cynicism resident inside that it takes more than a couple good speeches to convince me support someone. I thought that listening to Mrs. Edwards would give me additional information and I did walk away with more to think about.

I like her. And she only made me frustrated once, so let’s get that out of the way.

Near the beginning of her speech, as part of her thanks to Dr. Andy McGuire for hosting the event, she also thanked her and Mike Blouin for standing behind Secretary Culver after his win. She made reference to the way they handled themselves on election night and expressed effusive thanks for their continuing support of Secretary Culver. Wait a minute! You’ll find no disagreement from me on Mr. Blouin’s gracious concession speech on election night, nor on his public statements in support of Chet at the unity event and State Convention. But those are the only times and places I’ve experienced their support. I’ve seen no action to back up the words.

On the other hand, Rep. Fallon, who I have already admitted to working with, not only also expressed support on election night, at the unity event and at State Convention, but he’s getting involved by doing more than giving a couple of speeches. He has agreed to work with the Culver campaign as a consultant. They recognize the need to address the issues that 38,000 Iowans found important and they asked Rep. Fallon to share his expertise and knowledge with Secretary Culver. Yet there was no mention of this support by Mrs. Edwards. Perhaps it was an honest mistake, but I do think it needs to be corrected.

Back to the good stuff, as promised. She comes across as someone who does not take herself too seriously but who does take certain issues very seriously. She’s not pretentious, but she is very intelligent. She addressed several of the important issues facing our country: healthcare, economic development, stem cell research, the war in Iraq, alternative energy AND conservation (she scored big with me on the conservation part!), and restoring integrity to government.

She did not go on (what is sadly becoming) the typical rant of negative accusations about the “other side.” She did speak to the notion of personal responsibility, i.e. Bush and Nussle needing to do this as it relates to the budget deficit. And then she did something that increased my respect for her and for her husband – she said that he was taking responsibility for his decision on the war in Iraq. Wow – a politician admitting he made a mistake! Believe it or not – that increases my confidence in him. He knows he’s not infallible and might actually be willing to work well with others.

Finally, she concluded her speech by admonishing us to not be people of the polls. She said she had recently read something about “psychographic targeting” and while she could accept that it probably had some value, she wasn’t sure what it even was. Although I agree with her completely about all the political jargon, this was not the first time I had heard that term. Our media consultant had provided us with three pages of information on the psychographic issues we needed to be aware of during the campaign! However, I believe her point was that we can over-analyze things to death, and it’s more important to return to our own internal moral compasses to make decisions on policy and public officials. If we listen with an ear for authenticity and if we make choices based on principles, we may actually end up with a government of the people.

I would have liked to meet her, but she only had a few minutes to visit with people before leaving to catch her plane. She said both she and Sen. Edwards will be in Iowa a lot, so maybe there will be opportunity in the future.

Lynn Heuss


Chris Woods said...

Fantastic post, Lynn. I really do love the comment from Mari as well!

Lynn Heuss said...

Thanks for the feedback, Chris. Yours is the only comment I can see right now, but I'm waiting to hear from Kyle re how to view previous comments.

The Real Sporer said...

I completely share your concern for a radical change in the social welfare system, as we are producing a very bizarre, self destructive and ultimately nihilistic society.

I have two questions:

1. How do you define poverty?

2.What are the specific, and I do mean reasonably specific things that you think John Edwards will do address poverty as you have defined it herein above.

I am sincere. I think our country is at a tipping point and we have many problems to solve.

Lynn Heuss said...

To answer your first question:

Hope is a legitimate belief that something will truly happen. Wishing is merely thinking something might happen.

I define poverty as the absence of hope: no hope in counting on where the next meal will come from; no hope in knowing where you'll sleep tonight; no hope in the certainty that 5 years from now you will still own land that has been in your family for generations; no hope that your diabetic daughter will have cutting-edge care because you don't have insurance; no hope that you'll have the opportunity for an education or a job because of exorbitant expenses or outsourcing. The list goes on and I'm throwing out this small fragment of the list due to the limitations of time and space.

To answer your second question:

I don't know Senator Edwards well enough to know specifically what he WILL do to address the concerns I have stated as it regards my definition of poverty. However, here is a "hope" list of specific issues I wish he would consider.

1. Advocating for campaign finance reform to reduce the influence of big money in politics. This comes first because I do believe that it affects every other area of politics and the budget. It is my understanding that he already practices fiscal responsibility within his own organization by not accepting money from PACs or lobbyists. Leading by example is a great start.

2. If the country is not going to move towards universal healthcare, then perhaps the federal government can get out of the way of states that do want to embrace that system, or some form of that system. Again, getting big money out of politics might clear the insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists out of Congress so that the bottom line in healthcare could be adequate coverage for every single American without the current enormous pricetag. I know you asked for specifics, and this is a complicated task, but one that I believe can be accomplished (it is in every other developed country) if we simply untied some of the knots that are blocking the process.

3. A return to being a good neighbor -- from those we live next to in our neighborhoods to those we share this planet with across the ocean. We need to have policies that provide for the poor in our communities: increasing substance abuse treatment programs and mental health facilities; more safe crisis and transitional housing options; community based corrections for the 80% of the offenders not incarcerated for violent crimes, instead of the "finishing schools for criminals" that our current prison system often is; reinstatement of things like the Emergency Assistance Program (a program that gives small, one-time financial assistance to people if they get in a tight spot and can't make a high utility bill in the winter, etc.); liveable wage standards (not just a minimum wage); adequate opportunities for childcare and early educational programs for children at risk; responsible but welcoming policies as they relate to immigrants; the same civil rights for every single person, regardless of race, gender, age, religious affiliation or sexual orientation; business incentives that address the needs of local and small businesses, including family farmers and don't just subsidize the big guys; and again.....the list goes on and on.

4. Perhaps, most importantly, I would encourage Senator Edwards to spend some time with ALL the people who make up his constituency in Iowa -- current and potential candidates and politicians, certainly, but also those who work in social services and those who use the social service system -- the poor.

I think we've become a country that is so shrouded in the fear of losing something, or worse -- of having something taken from us -- that we don't recognize the responsibility, satisfaction and joy that come from participating in right distribution to benefit the common good.

I know I am, at some level, an idealist. However, I've worked with many of those facing issues of poverty and I've come to believe that it's not just, or even primarily, the system that is flawed -- it's the people who work in it. I hope Senator Edwards will continue to speak loudly and clearly about the need to care for those who are least among us.

RF said...

I’m glad to see Mr. Sporer is expressing what appears to be genuine interest in the poverty issue. I don’t know necessarily know how to properly define poverty, but I think we are clearly having some serious issues when we think people should be able to survive on $6 per hour and we all know that your standard physical costs around $200. Talk about living on the edge, especially if you have kids. Also, the increasing division between the haves and have-nots. Here I’m talking about the trend of good paying jobs being replaced by low-paying service sector jobs. I’m stating this more as a fact that is happening rather than a “class warfare” statement.

I don’t think there are any easy or simple solutions to these issues. Some of these trends are likely beyond politicians’ control. As a big picture idealistic view, what I think we need is a basic support system that gives all people, regardless of their socioeconomic background, a decent chance for success in life. Good schools, ways to finance college studies, access to affordable healthcare, some sort of assistance for tough times (where today’s welfare system kicks in), etc. The one thing I would like us D’s to learn from the R side is the call for personal responsibility. I think we need to realize that the government can’t do everything for people. People need to step up to the plate for themselves and their families. People need to realize that good things don’t just happen. One needs to work for it, especially if you are starting from behind. It may not be fair, but that’s how life is. Government should provide a framework to help those who are willing to help themselves.

Of course, the devil is in the details with all this. There are no easy solutions. Clearly, our current social welfare system is not working very well. I hope to see Edwards within the next couple of weeks and hear what he has to say.