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Though it seems like just yesterday that the 37th district Congressional seat was up for grabs (it was, in fact, just last summer) there’s a Congressional election going on again this year, and it will be decided not in November, but on June 3rd in the Democratic primary. The Republicans, knowing they have to marshal their resources in districts they might actually win, have fielded no candidate. Perennial libertarian gadfly Herb Peters has stayed out of the race, and my party, the Green Party, is focused on grassroots organizing and internal party matters. There are three candidates, and they are all Democrats.
Call it a snoozer; I call it an opportunity. We can elect a representative with passion, integrity, creativity, and intelligence.
Or we can vote for the status quo.
Among the three on the ballot is, of course, the invisible incumbent, Laura Richardson. I say invisible because in this time of economic and political crisis, she has been virtually silent. Her appearances in the media are almost completely limited to stories about the presidential primary, in which she is supporting Hillary Clinton (never mind her district’s overwhelming support for Barack Obama) and symbolic public relations gestures, like reminding constituents about George Bush’s $600 tax rebate (just enough for a down payment on that foreclosed one-bedroom in Compton, right?). Despite Richardson’s tough words about Iraq during last year’s campaign, she has made few public statements about it as our Representative, voted for more war funding despite a campaign promise that she would not (that’s important so I’ll repeat it: She promised not to vote for war funding, then, first chance she got, voted for more war funding), and she has been campaigning hard in far-away places for Senator Clinton, who, you’ll recall, supported the war. Is that what you expect from your Congresswoman? I was kind of hoping she’d be working her butt off for the interests of her district, not electioneering.
Richardson did briefly lobby for more C-17’s to be built in Long Beach; I realize this is a popular idea for Boeing employees, but I’ve never understood how one can oppose war and support war machines. I get it – they create jobs. Perhaps then you support littering to employ clean-up crews, crime to give jobs to cops, and getting really sick so hospitals don’t close? I feel strongly that Boeing, and Long Beach, can thrive without building a plane the Pentagon long ago declared obsolete.
For instance, we might assist Boeing in manufacturing green technologies. Is Richardson on board with environmental movement? Her refusal to co-sponsor HR 1590, introduced by her Southern California colleague Henry Waxman, indicates otherwise.
Full disclosure: I was one of three candidates to lose to Richardson in the general election last August, but lest you think this piece is all sour grapes and no journalistic objectivity, rest assured: I never thought I had a chance, and had Jenny Oropeza or George Parmer or even Republican John Kanaley won, I’d have much nicer things to say.
Besides, everything I’m writing is based on the record.
Richardson is nothing if not a technocrat. After a long stint at Xerox, a shorter one in the sixth district City Council seat, and a very brief stop at the state assembly, she’s found her way to land of the managers, Washington, D.C. And manage she has. Have you noticed the thundering voice for change? Have you noticed justice raining down like a mighty river?
I thought not.
Let me give credit where it is due: Richardson has an exemplary voting record – she’s missed just one vote in her Congressional term. But there’s more to representation than just showing up to vote. Richardson has refused to cosponsor several pieces of important legislation, including bills aimed at slowing down home foreclosures, and has sponsored just four herself. Most of these sponsored and co-sponsored bills are nothing but the same old Congressional grandstanding. Few are substantive.
I know, I know – freshman Congressional representatives aren’t there to fight for change, they are there to rubber-stamp what the party leadership wants, to ride piggyback on the bandwagons of big names, to learn the ropes and keep their heads down. Richardson just got there; give her a chance, you’ll say – she’ll do something big.
But Richardson told us over and over again at every debate that she would hit the ground running, and fight, and wouldn’t need time to learn the ropes.
I don’t see any fighting, accept the fight against her district’s choice for president, Barack Obama.
In her campaign for Congress last year, Richardson sent out several flyers. Expensive, colorful, and gushing with excitement, they presented her as a champion of justice, and of change. None of them told the whole truth. One of the flyers criticized Jenny Oropeza for missing votes in Sacramento; turns out, as the Press-Telegram pointed out, Oropeza was undergoing chemotherapy at the time; Richardson has never apologized, and when given the chance, demurred. Another flyer quotes Martin Luther King: “The measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort, but in times of controversy.” He was talking about Vietnam; she was talking about Iraq. But when war came to Long Beach in 2003, in the form of high school students being recruited to die in Baghdad, and soldiers leading the Martin Luther King parade and guarding every corner of its route, armed, Richardson was the organizer of that parade, and, though peace activists (including yours truly) asked her to change its character, so it would reflect the total commitment to nonviolence expressed in Dr King’s philosophy and actions, it remains a quasi-military march.
At the time, Richardson told me, “It’s important to support the president right now.” That was 2003, a time of great controversy. In 2007, when it was far more comfortable to oppose this war, she did – from the sidelines, as a candidate, saying what voters needed to hear, and conveniently forgetting the fence upon which she had once been seated.
Now, when she might be a voice for change, the silence is deafening.
Richardson, of course, expects to retain her seat. Beating an incumbent Congressperson is slightly easier than winning bicycle races without steroids, ie: practically impossible – and that’s even if you have unlimited financial resources, which few people do.
If Richardson wins, you can bet no one will notice. Everything around here will stay pretty much the same. We will be a working class district (I wouldn’t have it any other way) struggling to meet our own needs (that should change); so-called liberals will continue to support pet military manufacturing projects; pollution will worsen, only more slowly; Congress will enjoy approval ratings consistently lower than George Bush, slightly higher than the Asian Bird Flu; most folks will have less faith in and passion for politics than they have for driving the 405 at rush hour or getting up to go to work. We re-elected our Congressperson; yawn, what’s on TV?
There’s an alternative. I encourage you to take it. My endorsement (about which I have no illusions; it means very little) goes to Peter Mathews, professor of American government and long time progressive runner up to the mainstream Democrats who have won in the 37th. Peter is a true progressive; he intends to take the bull by the horns and take a bullhorn to the capitol, to let Washington know how tired we have all become of the same old same old. He is one of us. He is a fighter, a highly intelligent advocate, and a believer in the power of democracy and, dare I say, the audacity of hope. He is no technocrat. He is no manager. He is a representative, a Congressperson to wake up and shake up the powers that be. He is not looking to be one of them, but rather to speak for those who have not been heard, and to say what needs to be said. He opposed the war when it was unpopular to do so, and in that showed a prescience our current representative sorely lacks. He will move us forward on the environment, on foreign policy, on issues of social justice. Mathews is sure to make headlines and make waves.
Mathews has not held elected office. But these days, as mayors, governors, and Senators fall victim to their own dalliances and corruption, is that really a disadvantage? As a teacher of American government, Mathews knows the ins and outs of Washington as well as anyone. And as a long-time activist-citizen, he is sure to do what representatives are really supposed to do – defend the interests of constituents. He is a person of integrity who has always run a positive campaign, and he takes no money from corporate donors and PAC’s – unlike our Congresswoman, who consistently does. While Ms. Richardson is certainly on the side of the Democratic Party leadership, Mathews is on our side – on the side of the people in this district.
Vote for him. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. There is no Republican threatening to take the center from the Democrats if the Democratic candidate is too progressive for the Reaganites. And what, really, has Ms. Richardson done for us in the six months of her service, other than vote the party line?
There’s a third candidate in this race – Lee Davis. Davis is a good person, a passionate, intelligent activist, and one hopes she stays in politics. She has lately been single-minded in her pursuit of a lawsuit against Richardson; Davis claims Richardson rigged votes throughout the district, somehow delivering to several districts ballots bearing only her name. It is doubtful this suit will go anywhere, but even if it doesn’t, you have to give Lee Davis credit. With so many in our district willing to accept a representative who, as reported in the District Weekly, brought Kool and the Gang to Long Beach on 35 thousand dollars of taxpayer money while framing herself as a working class sympathizer, and who doesn’t always play nice, it takes courage and perseverance to stick your neck out for justice. That’s something Richardson hasn’t done enough of; it’s something Peter Mathews will undoubtedly do.
Let’s give him the chance on June 3rd.