It’s rare to find a politician these days who doesn’t lose his convictions and ability to inspire when he arrives in Washington. Rep. Tom Perriello, who was defeated on Tuesday night in a wave of voter dissatisfaction with the economy, is that rare breed. He leaves Congress holding his head high. A leader who has roots in the progressive faith community, Perriello co-founded Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (where I worked for three years), helped launch Faithful America, co-founded Res Publica, a global civic advocacy group, and was a key player in starting Avaaz.org, an online advocacy community working on issues like global poverty, climate change and Middle East peace. Tom’s work with child soldiers and pro-democracy groups in Sierra Leone played a major role in the peace and reconciliation process that ended twelve years of violence in that country. He did all this before winning a House seat at the age of 34 in a district with decidedly conservative leanings. Now, if that doesn’t make you feel like a slacker, I’m not sure what does!
A lot of politicians pay lip service to values. Tom’s campaigns, and his brief tenure in Congress, reflected faith and values in action. He pledged 10 percent of his campaign staff time to tithing. Volunteer stops in Virginia’s Fifth Congressional district included visits to soup kitchens, domestic violence shelters, senior centers and Habitat for Humanity projects. Perriello’s Common Good Summer initiative mobilized hundreds of college students working on his campaigns to perform service in the community. Living out the social justice teachings of his Catholic faith, Tom believes political leadership is about right and wrong, not left or right. You can always tell more about a person in defeat than in victory. In an e-mail to supporters after the election, Tom showed the mix of grace and grit that won over so many:
I promised you I would have your back against the powerful interests in Washington, and last night, you had mine. Even though we fell short of reelection, we defied the pundits in the roughest of political years. Because I come out of faith-based justice work instead of politics, I can see last night as a victory for conviction and hard work for the idea that when you fight for the people, the people win…Because of our work together, we turned near-economic collapse into nine straight months of private sector job growth. Because of our work together, 1,800 homes in our district have been weatherized, putting people to work making $20 an hour. Because of our work together, over 20,000 young people in our district are getting more aid to afford college. Over 120 small business owners got the loans to live their American dream. And being a woman is no longer considered a pre-existing condition in this country…As I told the crowd last night, my father made me promise when I entered politics that I would always consider Judgement Day more important than election day, because doing what’s right is more important than winning elections. I believe he is smiling on us today, and that he is thankful for all of you who sacrificed so much to offer a better kind of politics in America.
You haven’t heard the last of Tom Perriello. Those of us who believe that faith, values and a commitment to the common good can restore a sense of higher purpose in politics will be watching his future closely. There is every reason to believe his best days await.
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America woke up to a new political reality this morning. Voters anxious about the economy delivered the House to Republicans, though Democrats held onto control of the Senate. In many ways, this wasn’t a big surprise. The president’s party historically loses seats in the midterms, and the results reflected deep anxiety over the current unemployment rate and deepening economic despair, as well as an emboldened Tea Party movement on the right. A Los Angeles Times’ editorial today provides a measured analysis that should help buck up progressives and others on the left wallowing in an endless round of what ifs:
In 1956, Eisenhower crushed Adlai Stevenson in their rematch; two years after that, Democrats picked up 48 seats in the House and 13 in the Senate. Those patterns have repeated more recently: Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, only to have Democrats lose 53 House and seven Senate seats in 1994; George W. Bush was reelected in 2004 and lost control of Congress two years later. Given that history, Tuesday’s results are hardly astonishing; indeed, they are more part of a trend than an aberration. Nevertheless, they do reveal powerful forces at work in our politics today. Specifically, they reflect the descent from 2008′s hopeful zeitgeist to 2010′s anger and bewilderment, emotions that found purchase in many of the bitter, partisan races decided Tuesday.
Faith in Public Life crunched some exit poll numbers last night and asked experts on the intersection of faith and politics to provide some commentary. First, the numbers.
Eighty-seven percent of voters said they were worried about the economy, and 62% said the economy is the most important issue facing the country. Exit polling, however, debunks the narrative being perpetuated by some partisans that the election was a mandate to implement a Republican agenda. It’s hard to make that case when forty-three percent of voters polled had a favorable view of the Democratic party, compared to 42% who had a favorable view of the Republican party. In many ways, the results last night can be read as a desperate cry from a weary electorate hungry for more bipartisan cooperation to lift the nation out of our economic crisis. Voters in 2010 were noticeably older and more politically conservative than the 2008 electorate. In 2008, 18% of voters were under 30; this year 11% were under 30. In 2008, 53% of voters were 45 or older; this year 67% were 45 or older. A significant flip was evident among Catholic voters. In this election, 54% percent of Catholics supported Republican House candidates, compared to 42 percent in 2008 and 44 percent in 2006. In 2008, 54% of Catholic voters voted for President Obama. The Senate race in Pennsylvania was an outlier, as Catholics nearly evenly split on support for Democratic candidate Joe Sestak and Republican candidate (and winner) Pat Toomey (51% breaking for Toomey and 49% for Sestak).
Faith leaders and analysts put these numbers in perspective, offering insights into what happened with religious voters yesterday, from the role of the Tea Party to the importance of framing the economy as a moral values issue.
Steve Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington: “Our nation’s diverse faith traditions, especially Catholic social teaching, emphasize the common good and the essential role government has in building a just economy that works for all. This tradition and powerful message is not heard enough today and is urgently needed at a time of economic anxiety, growing ideological polarization and voter anger.”
Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute: “One thing is clear from this election – the Tea Party movement was a mixed blessing for the Republican Party. This group, which represents about 1-in-10 Americans in the general population, has captured some of the enthusiasm, and part of the membership of, one of the key groups typically rallying the Republican base, the Christian Right. …On the other hand, the Tea Party hurt GOP chances in the Senate by backing several candidates who faced an uphill climb appealing to mainstream voters in state-wide elections.”
Rev. Jennifer Butler, Executive Director of Faith in Public Life: “The faith community knows firsthand how hard families have been hit by our economic crisis, and we know that this election reflected voters’ frustration with a still-stagnant economy. The fact that an overwhelming percentage of voters ranked the economy as their top concern speaks not only to individual anxieties, but also to our concerns about our nation and its values. Economic injustices are moral injustices.”
I will leave it to the professional pundits and party leaders to break down the political spin, but it’s clear that elected officials and candidates hoping to win over anxious voters in the next few years need to talk less about GDP, interest rates or unemployment rates and more about values, the dignity of work, and the common good. There is a deep well of moral wisdom from our nation’s diverse faith traditions waiting to be tapped.
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FPL has extensively documented the lengthy misinformation campaign over the course of the health care debate, starting last year when opponents of reform argued that the bill included federal funding of abortion. These attacks have continued unabated in the run-up to the November election – as predicted months ago.
But now one of these groups, The Susan B. Anthony List – which is spending over $1.5 million on a campaign alleging that pro-life Representatives who supported health care reform voted for federal funding of abortion – may have broken the law in their deceptive campaign. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports today:
A three-member panel of the Ohio Elections Commission ruled in favor of U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus today in his complaint against the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List.
The panel’s “probable cause” finding means there will be another hearing to determine if the group broke Ohio law that bars making false statements in campaigns. Driehaus is up for re-election on Nov. 2. In the meantime, attorneys for both sides can begin taking sworn depositions.
Driehaus, a Democrat from West Price Hill, is fighting the group’s plans to erect four billboards saying he favored taxpayer-funded abortions because he voted for the national health care bill.
Driehaus’ Cincinnati attorney, Paul DeMarco, intends to depose SBA members to find out what they consider federal funding of abortions.
“They’re actually conceding the argument that there is no new federal funding,” Driehaus said.
The 1970 Hyde Amendment allowed federally-funded abortions in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.
A date has not been set for another Elections Commission hearing where evidence will be argued. The commission can then recommend a public reprimand or prosecution, which can result in fines or jail time.
“This is a big deal,” Driehaus said today. “The media made a big deal about this, (Steve) Chabot calling me a liar and now the Ohio Elections Commission came out on my side.”
Driehaus has said the group is attacking any pro-life Democrat who supported the federal health care bill “because they’re partisan.”
The group’s spokesman was not immediately available for comment today.
Ohio law allows the elections commission to issue a public reprimand, or refer the case to the Franklin County prosecutor. A criminal conviction for making false campaign statements is punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on this story as it develops.
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The House of Representatives is currently debating the DISCLOSE Act, which among other things requires advocacy organizations to include disclosure their largest donors in any campaign advertisements. Yesterday a group of nonprofit and community organizations sent Speaker Pelosi a letter expressing their strong disapproval of a provision exempting the National Rifle Association from the bill’s campaign finance transparency requirements. Among the signatories were two faith groups – the United Church of Christ and Women of Reform Judaism.
The letter stated in part:
We strongly believe that the Citizens United decision poses a threat to the integrity of the electoral process and we support legislation that provides for effective disclosure, while at the same time protecting free and independent speech and promoting active participation in elections by individuals and organizations.
However, we must respectfully express our profound opposition to the effort to create an exemption from the disclosure requirements for large, powerful organizations, which, given the amendment’s language, in reality only applies to one entity, the National Rifle Association.
It is inappropriate and inequitable to create a two-tiered system of campaign finance laws and First Amendment protections, one for the most powerful and influential and another for everyone else. There is no legitimate justification for privileging the speech of one entity over another, or of reducing the burdens of compliance for the biggest organization yet retaining them for the smallest.
We urge you in the strongest possible terms to work with the sponsors to remove the offending language and restore the integrity of the bill so we can continue to participate in efforts to craft legislation that achieves the goal we all share to undo the damage of Citizens United and restore the integrity of our democratic system. In its current form, however, we have no choice but to oppose the passage of the DISCLOSE Act.
As the bill works its way through Congress, lawmakers may amend or jettison its unequal treatment of the National Rifle Association and organizations such as religious groups and denominations. It’ll be an interesting and important detail to keep an eye on. As the letter states, it’s an issue of fairness.
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As the Family Research Council’s Action PAC ramps up its attacks against Democratic Members of Congress with an ad campaign rife with misinformation about abortion and health care reform, another false claim on their part further demonstrates their partisan agenda. Two of the Democratic Members of Congress they are aiming to unseat this year didn’t even vote for the health reform legislation FRC claims as the impetus for their campaign targeting.
FRC issued a press release yesterday announcing their “20 in 10″ campaign targeting “the districts of 20 Democratic incumbents who voted for President Obama’s abortion-funding health care bill.” However, two of the Members FRC is targeting- Reps. Glenn Nye and Walter Minnick — voted against health care reform. They both happen to be in very tight races for re-election, though. The Cook Political Report rates both contests as tossups.
The language on the FRC Action PAC website describing the “20 in 10″ campaign contradicts the language in the FRC Action PAC press release, merely indicating that the targeted Democrats face “pro-life, pro-family” challengers and are vulnerable:
…FRCACTION PAC has spent many months researching races we see as vulnerable and that will have pro-life, pro-family candidates to fill the void. As a result of the “health care” bill, we have expanded and revised our original “target list” from the “dirty dozen” to the “20 in ’10″ list. The expansion reflects those so called “pro-life” Democrats who seemed destined to heroism when they joined forces with Bart Stupak on a House bill that would have precluded any use federal dollars for abortion, but who caved under White House and Democrat [sic] leadership.
Given all of the misinformation and inconsistency swirling around FRC’s website and press releases, it’s hard to get to the bottom of the reasoning behind their political targeting. But their glaringly false statement about Congressmen Nye and Minnick, alongside their inaccurate claims about health care reform and abortion funding, suggests that the “20 in 10″ campaign uses the issue of abortion funding in healthcare as a false pretext to carry water for the Republican party. They should immediately correct their misleading statements about health care reform, as well as the false claim that Rep. Nye and Rep. Minnick voted for this legislation.
If FRC disagrees with these 20 Members of Congress on principled reasons, they’re free to support whatever challengers they see fit. But deploying distortions and lies in the service of their campaign is not the way to go about it.
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