Saturday, January 12, 2008

Walberg's America: Christians Only

Do you remember back in October, when Congressman Walberg voted "Present" on a House resolution recognizing Ramadan? Here's part of what the resolution said:
    Resolved, That the House of Representatives--
      (1) recognizes the Islamic faith as one of the great religions of the world;
      (2) expresses friendship and support for Muslims in the United States and worldwide;
      (3) acknowledges the onset of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and spiritual renewal, and conveys its respect to Muslims in the United States and throughout the world on this occasion;
      (4) rejects hatred, bigotry, and violence directed against Muslims, both in the United States and worldwide; and
      (5) commends Muslims in the United States and across the globe who have privately and publicly rejected interpretations and movements of Islam that justify and encourage hatred, violence, and terror.
A vast majority of the House voted for the bill, but Tim Walberg couldn't bring himself to vote to reject hatred and bigotry, and couldn't bring himself to offer respect to a major religion. As he later explained:
Among those who voted present on the resolution was Republican Tim Walberg of Michigan. "To offer respect for a major religion is one thing, but to offer respect for a major religion that has been behind the Islamic jihad, the radical jihad, that has sworn war upon the United States, its free allies and freedom in Iraq, is another thing," he stated.
At the time, I translated that as Walberg saying "All Muslims are terrorists." It doesn't matter that there are 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, the vast, vast majority of whom are peaceful. It doesn't matter that estimates of the Muslim population in the United States range from 1 to 6 million. Walberg refuses to offer respect to them, because, as he sees them, they're some sinister force.

But this is all old news. Why do I bring this up now?

It turns out that Walberg isn't just denigrating another major religion. He's choosing to promote his own religious beliefs at the expense of others, and at the expense of... well, facts.

First came HR 847, which came about a month ago, on December 11, 2007. That bill, "Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith," reads in part:

    Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

      (1) recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world;

      (2) expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide;

      (3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;

      (4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;

      (5) rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and

      (6) expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.

Even as the far-left liberal that I am, I really have no problem with this resolution. There's nothing wrong with rejecting bigotry and acknowledging the fact that many in the United States throughout history are and were Christians, just as I feel there's nothing wrong with recognizing Muslims in America.

Tim Walberg voted Yes on HR 847, recognizing Christmas and the Christian faith. There's nothing inherently wrong with that vote, from my stance (my libertarian friends may disagree). What's wrong with his vote is that it shows his own hypocrisy.

Look at the text from the Ramadan bill:
    Resolved, That the House of Representatives--
      (1) recognizes the Islamic faith as one of the great religions of the world;
      (2) expresses friendship and support for Muslims in the United States and worldwide;
      (3) acknowledges the onset of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and spiritual renewal, and conveys its respect to Muslims in the United States and throughout the world on this occasion;
      (4) rejects hatred, bigotry, and violence directed against Muslims, both in the United States and worldwide; and
      (5) commends Muslims in the United States and across the globe who have privately and publicly rejected interpretations and movements of Islam that justify and encourage hatred, violence, and terror.
And now, look at the Christmas bill:

    Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

      (1) recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world;

      (2) expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide;

      (3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;

      (4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;

      (5) rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and

      (6) expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.

I ask you, the kind, tolerant people of Michigan: Is there anything all that objectionable in the Ramadan resolution that isn't in the Christmas resolution? Is there a reason why our representative in Washington would refuse to vote for one and not the other?

Walberg voted against a bill recognizing Ramadan and Islam because some Muslims are terrorists. As I pointed out before, some Christians are terrorists, too. Why is Walberg willing to recognize Christmas?

That kind of hypocrisy bothers me, but there's something else that bothers me more, which elviscostello mentioned in a previous post.

Congressman Tim Walberg is a cosponsor of H. Res. 888, which is
Affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation's founding and subsequent history and expressing support for designation of the first week in May as "American Religious History Week" for the appreciation of and education on America's history of religious faith.
Now, this is the point where I start getting a little nervous about state recognition and sponsorship of religion. Still, even I can't deny that religion has played a role in American history, so maybe that should be recognized. The problem comes with the text of the bill.

A resolution of this type follows a set pattern. The first part, with a bunch of sentence fragments beginning with "Whereas," state items assumed in advance. This is a priori knowledge used to justify the actions taken in the second part, in which it is "resolved" that some action or another will be taken.

The "Whereas" part of the bill lists 75 items, which I will not repost here. It's just too much. The list is meant to document the instances of religious recognition by the United States government. It's lots of things like, "Whereas, George Washington said X," or "Whereas, in 1789, Congress passed X," and taken at face value, it makes a compelling case to suggest that our founding fathers intended this to be a Christian nation.

Unfortunately for Walberg and his fellow co-sponsors, many of the items simply are not true. Some are, but many are deliberate distortions of the facts and outright lies. Chris Rodda at the blog Talk to Action has a good debunking of many of the "whereas"'s. Here are a couple of them, so that you can get the general idea:
"Whereas the Liberty Bell was named for the Biblical inscription from Leviticus 25:10 emblazoned around it: `Proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants thereof';"

In order to associate the Liberty Bell, and particularly its biblical inscription, with the American Revolution, revisionists must disregard its real history. The only connection between the Liberty Bell and the Revolution is that it happened to be the bell that hung in the building where the Continental Congress met. The inscription, which is preceded in the Bible by a reference to "the fiftieth year," was chosen a generation before the Revolution by a now obscure Quaker, Isaac Norris, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Governor William Penn's Charter of Privileges, the 1701 document that secured the religious freedom and other rights of the colonists and formally gave the Pennsylvania Assembly the expanded legislative powers that it had already begun to exercise.

At the time of the Revolution, and for many years after, the bell was simply called the State House bell. The majority of the signers of the Declaration probably had no idea what was inscribed on it. It wasn't dubbed the "Liberty Bell" until 1838, when it was adopted as a symbol of liberty by a Boston abolitionist group, and a poem entitled The Liberty Bell was reprinted from one of the group's pamphlets by William Lloyd Garrison in his anti-slavery publication The Liberator. In the decades preceding this, the bell had become so insignificant that, in 1828, the City of Philadelphia had actually tried to sell it as salvage.

"Whereas Thomas Jefferson urged local governments to make land available specifically for Christian purposes, provided Federal funding for missionary work among Indian tribes, and declared that religious schools would receive 'the patronage of the government';"

There are three distinct lies in this sentence. And, although each is created by misrepresenting a single incident, all are pluralized, creating even bigger lies.

The first item, that Jefferson "urged local governments to make land available specifically for Christian purposes," is copied verbatim from David Barton's article "The Founders on Public Religious Expression." The only source cited by Barton for this vague claim is an exchange of letters between Jefferson and John Carroll, the Bishop of Baltimore, in 1801. Carroll wanted to purchase a lot in Washington D.C. to build a church on, and apparently thought that sending his application to Jefferson rather than the Board of Commissioners might get him some preferential treatment and a better price, not because he wanted to build a church, but because Jefferson would remember his patriotism and services to the country during the Revolutionary War, when he volunteered to accompany Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, and his cousin, Charles Carroll, on their 1776 diplomatic mission to Canada.

Reading only the reply from Jefferson to Bishop Carroll, it would appear that Jefferson did try to influence the commissioners. But, Jefferson was exaggerating quite a bit when he told Carroll that he had recommended to the commissioners "all the favor which the object of the purchase would wage" and "the advantages of every kind which it would promise."(15) In reality, he barely gave an opinion on the subject, leaving it entirely up to the commissioners to decide if there was any advantage to accepting the application, and putting absolutely no pressure on them to do so. This was Jefferson's letter to the Board of Commissioners.

"I take the liberty of referring to you the inclosed application from Bishop Carrol & others for respecting the purchase of a site for a church. it is not for me to interpose in the price of the lots for sale. at the same time none can better than yourselves estimate the considerations of propriety & even of advantage which would urge a just attention to the application, nor better judge of the degree of favor to it which your duties would admit. with yourselves therefore I leave the subject, with assurances of my high consideration & respect."(16)

No new Catholic church was built in Washington until two decades later, and that was built on privately donated land, so it appears that the commissioners must have turned down Bishop Carroll's application.

The second item, that Jefferson "provided Federal funding for missionary work among Indian tribes," is based on a single treaty with the Kaskaskia, signed by Jefferson in 1803, which included a provision for a $100 annual salary for a priest for seven years, and $300 towards the building of a church. Of the over forty treaties with various Indian nations signed by Jefferson during his presidency, this is the only one that contained anything whatsoever having to do with religion. This had nothing to do with converting the Indians, as the words "missionary work" imply. The Kaskaskia were already Catholic, and had been for generations. These things were what the Kaskaskia wanted, and this being a treaty with a sovereign nation, there was no constitutional reason not to provide them.

The third item, that Jefferson "declared that religious schools would receive `the patronage of the government'," is based on a letter written by Jefferson to the Ursuline nuns in New Orleans on July 13 or 14, 1804. The nuns, like many of the territory's inhabitants, were concerned about the status of their property when the United States purchased Louisiana from France in 1803. A wide variety of rumors were being spread by anti-American natives of New Orleans, and among these were two about the convent -- one that the United States government planned to confiscate the convent's property and immediately expel the nuns from the country, and another that no new novices would be allowed to enter the convent, but that the government would let the nuns who were already there stay, and then take the property after they all died off. The territorial Governor, William C.C. Claiborne, temporarily managed to convince the nuns that their property was safe and that the United States government would never interfere with a religious institution, but then an incident occurred in which local authorities working for the federal government did shut down a church to prevent a riot between the followers of two rival priests. This renewed the nuns' fears, and they wrote to Jefferson requesting to have their property officially confirmed to them by Congress. Jefferson knew that there was no point in laying the convent's request before Congress because they were not yet making determinations about land claims in the territory, so he replied by assuring the nuns that their property was secure even without an official confirmation, and that they shouldn't have any problem with the local authorities, but if they did they would have the protection of his office. Because he used the word "patronage," however, the history revisionists imply that he meant financial aid.

And, of course, as Rodda points out:
And, finally, while the first resolve of H. Res. 888 asserts that the U.S. House of Representatives "affirms the rich spiritual and diverse religious history" of our country, in every one of Mr. Forbes's "Whereas's" that mentions a particular religion, that religion is, of course, Christianity.
Now, if there were as many errors as this in a high school history paper, what kind of a grade do you think it would get? But never mind the facts... people like Walberg want this to be a Christian nation!

Basically, this is what it comes down to for me:
  • If Tim Walberg strictly voted against any bill that even hinted at state recognition or sponsorship of religion, I would respect him for sticking to a strict constitutional interpretation.
  • If Walberg were to have voted for all three of the bills above, it'd be easy to argue that he supports expressions of faith for all beliefs.
But Walberg did neither of those. Instead, he chose to support two bills (one of which has a loose relationship with the facts) that recognize and promote Christianity, and opposed one bill that recognized Islam, followed by a statement accusing all Muslims of being terrorists.

Where does Congressman Walberg draw the line? Islam doesn't deserve recognition... does Judaism? Or Buddhism? If it's Christians only in Walberg's America, does he count the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (more commonly called Mormons)? Are Catholics allowed in a Protestant America? Are Eastern Orthodox Christians allowed? Are Unitarians, or Methodists, or Lutherans? Or is only Walberg's particular brand of Christianity allowed?

Am I over-reacting? No. Our representative in the House of Representatives has come out and said that some religions don't deserve our respect and don't belong in America. How long until Walberg decides your religion doesn't belong, either? I don't believe this nation will ever sink into a theocracy, but it is men like Tim Walberg that would allow that to happen.

Our country deserves better than this. Michigan's 7th District deserves better than this.

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I wonder how he feels about Episcopalians?

Walberg is simply a religious and political hack with no business being in public office. What a shame we let him walk away with an election.

BTW, I noticed Club for Growth did a scathing ad on Huckabee here. Looks like they are back to their old tricks of political assassination. I can't wait to see what these cretins try to do to Mark Schauer!
The issue is: not all muslims are terrorists, However, most all terorrists ARE muslim.

Walberg sees them for what they are. And he's not too PC to say so.

I suppose you like the way the treat their women?

Should we recognize/honor a religion that condones honor killings? Punishes rape Victims?

Where is the condemnation for such acts from the supposed majority of peaceful muslims?

Let me know when THAT happens and I'll take what you say about Walberg into consideration.
The issue is: not all muslims are terrorists, However, most all terorrists ARE muslim.

Walberg sees them for what they are. And he's not too PC to say so.

I suppose you like the way the treat their women?

Should we recognize/honor a religion that condones honor killings? Punishes rape Victims?

Where is the condemnation for such acts from the supposed majority of peaceful muslims?

Let me know when THAT happens and I'll take what you say about Walberg into consideration.

There's a lot wrong with this comment, and, against my better judgment, I'm going to try to address a few of your statements.

First, most terrorists are NOT Muslims-- or, rather, if they are, I'd really like to see your evidence. The folks in Northern Ireland were most definitely not Muslims, and the Oklahoma City bombing was decidedly not inspired by radical Islam. And, unless I'm mistaken, most abortion clinic bombings in the United States were not carried out by Muslims. Terrorism is a tactic used by a lot of people, and organizations like Al Qaeda just happen to be one of many.

In some places, women are not treated well, which is terrible. There are places where rape victims are punished, and there are places where a radical interpretation of the Qur'an is used to justify such laws.

However, this is not universal throughout majority Muslim nations. The governments that institute such laws do so to maintain their own power, not out of any devotion to their faith. It's easy to exploit religious beliefs of a population for an otherwise unrelated purpose. We've seen this throughout history, from men like Osama bin Laden to the sacking of the Christian city of Constantinople by other Christians from the west in 1204 (under the guise of Crusades to the Holy Land).

My point is, religion can be and has been misused for terrible purposes, and it's more than just followers of Islam. Most mainstream Muslims do condemn terrorism. Here's a news article, from September 14, 2001.

But suppose I'm wrong about all of this. Suppose most terrorists are Muslims, and suppose they're dangerous and anti-American. What do you propose? A new Crusade? Or can we just kick them all out of our country? Or can some stay, but under tight restrictions-- ID cards, for instance, and some public sign to let the rest of us perfectly safe and "normal" Americans know who the dangerous people are?

I do my best not to get angry, but I find narrow-mindedness on this level very disturbing. I've had the pleasure of knowing Christians, Jews, Hindus, atheists, and even some of those terrible, dangerous, terrorist Muslims. And you know what? They all loved this country as much as I do and certainly as much as you do.

You group a lot of good people in with some despicable people, and you should be ashamed of yourself.
Our current Christian administration and lemming neo-cons (Walberg included) think that waterboarding, killing innocent citizens in a country that didn't request our carnage, and coveting our privacy is just perfectly fine. And it is their Christian "faith" that they are positive gives them the right to commit these evil obscenities.

Remember, George said that God told him to invade Iraq. Well, if that is true, then Christianity is right up there with your Muslim "terraists". Spare me both.

I'm certainly not defending Walberg here, but go to the above website---the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists; take a good long look at it.

I can't confirm if they are all Muslims, but it would probably be a safe bet they are.

I agree the "good" Muslims have not stood up for the defense of their religion. I wish they would.

It is reasonable for people to say that most terrorists today are Muslims; but then again most Muslims arn't terrorists either. The vast majority of them have been victimized by a very small minority who have hijacked and twisted thier faith. Terrorists exist in all walks of life and in every religion and sect and ought to be denounced. It's the duty of civilized people to say enough!

The intention of the bill was to recognize majority and denounce minority.

Walberg is very small-minded intolerant fool incapable of such deep thought and reasoning; thus he couldn't see the bigger picture in the intent of the legislation.
Tim doesn't like his cafeteria lunch.

"So far, I'm not happy. They put scrambled eggs on cardboard now, uhhh, and you can imagine what a scrambled egg tastes like at a consistency moving around on a cardboard plate. It ... it isn't good."

For the full article about the renovation of the Capitol cafeteria to using no plastics and a healthier menu, go here.
Schauer: 7th Is Trending Democratic
Mark SCHAUER (D-Battle Creek) is wearing two hats these days as Senate Minority Leader and a candidate in the 7th Congressional District.

MIRS sat down with Schauer this week at the start of a new legislative year to see what his priorities are, his assessment of last year's bitter budget battles and how his juggling act is going.

He's challenging freshman U.S. Rep. Tim WALBERG (R-Tipton), who's been marked as vulnerable by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) for failing to get 50 percent of the vote in 2006 against Democrat Sharon RENIER, who ran a shoe-string campaign with no caucus support. Walberg also is arguably to the right of this conservative Southern Michigan district.

The 7th went 54 percent for George W. BUSH in 2004. The seat has been held by a Republican since the 1992 redistricting, which created the boundaries that are more or less still in effect today.

Schauer, however, disagrees with the conservative characterization of the 7th, insisting it's "trending Democratic," which should boost his chances in November.

"You have to look at the fact that an unfunded Democrat took 46 percent of the vote, that the winner, Tim Walberg, took less than 50 percent of the vote. Look at Eaton County. Democrats have taken control of the county Board of Commissioners," Schauer said.

"I've been winning in Jackson County for two consecutive Senate races. It's kind of interesting when you look at the state House map � I was doing this yesterday � Democrats hold House seats in all of Lenawee County, all of Jackson County, all of Washtenaw County. I hold the Senate seat in Jackson and Calhoun County. A Democrat holds a House seat for part of Eaton County.

"So our numbers show it as a 47 percent � I don't want to say our numbers, nationally recognized numbers show � a 47 percent Democratic district, which is very similar to my Senate district."

Q. Why do you think your votes for tax increases won't hurt your chances in the 7th District race?

A. My Senate district, which comprises about 39 percent of the congressional district, I've been winning by large margins because my constituents know that I'm tireless in my fight for jobs, for quality communities, for good schools for adequately funded community colleges and universities, funding for health care. And you can't do those things if you have to continuously slash the state budget. And I voted for many budget cuts over the years and we've seen significant cuts over the last five years or so to higher education and local units of government, public safety.

And I think what the vast majority of people in the 7th District are looking at is an opportunity to strengthen our economy. They acknowledge that we don't achieve that by slashing funding for higher education, which results in higher tuition or inability to afford higher education. They understand that the health crisis is real and that having more uninsured results in increased premiums that businesses pay.

So I think the people of the 7th get that our economy needs to be our No. 1 priority. And frankly, the tax cutting of the (former Gov. John) ENGLER era hasn't produced a vibrant economy. The cupboards were bare and we've been forced to disinvest in some key areas. I have great optimism about the voters of the 7th District.

Q. Why did you still want to serve as Senate Minority Leader while running for Congress?

A. Well, I think I'm doing a good job. � I've been characterized by my staff as the Energizer Bunny, but the battery does run out when I get home and unfortunately it may be in the middle of a movie my wife has been waiting to watch with me.

I am at what I hope is a transitional point in my public service career. But I have always said that one of the best things to make the case for a new job is to do a great job in the job you currently have. I already had a couple of jobs; one is as a state senator representing the people of Calhoun and Jackson counties and the other is Democratic leader of the Senate. I enjoy this job. It's a job of facilitating, directing, guiding. I'm a very collaborative manager. I work very hard to involve my caucus members in different aspects of my caucus. I've had a great staff who I love working with and for the most part, I think they like working with me. There are certainly areas for which we strive for improvement.

It means I have two full-time jobs and I work very hard at both of them and I expect that I'm going to do them both very well.

Q. Do you have anybody in mind who might be a good replacement for your seat if you're elected November?

A. You know, that'll be up to the caucus to decide. When I informed my caucus members that I was taking a look at running for Congress, we processed that sort of as a family. Folks said I would be crazy not to take on the race for the 7th. That being said, it will be up to that caucus, should I be successful, to decide who their leadership will be and I'm sure they'll make a great choice.

Q. What about for your Senate seat itself?

A. My hope is that there are at least three Democrats holding state House seats within the 19th Senate District (Reps. Marty GRIFFIN (D-Jackson) and Mike SIMPSON (D-Liberty Twp.) and (Calhoun County Commissioner) Kate SEGAL is another possibility for the 62nd and the 63rd could be in play, as well. There are actually four House seats within the 19th.

And that doesn't mean that that's where a Senate candidate has to come from, but I think there are going to be lots of great options for Democrats. And believe me, as the newly elected member of Congress, my top political priority will be to elect a Democrat to my Senate seat and help the Senate Democratic caucus.

Q. Some people have referred to 2007 as the year of the tax hike. How would you characterize it?

A. I would say it was the year of grappling head-on with the severe structural budget deficit. And it was a year of a difficult bipartisan deal to solve the problem through a combination of measures of cuts, revenues and reforms. It was a bipartisan solution, but even some Republicans voted with Democrats and I'll speak about the Senate, supported revenues because they were not willing to cut funding for schools, for health care or for public safety.

Q. Do you find it hypocritical that Republicans were unwilling to vote for the tax increase but they were willing to spend the revenue?

A. Some did. And a few Republicans did, which reflected the bipartisan agreement, and some within Republican ranks that did agree that we must protect priorities that would make Michigan strong and allow us to invest in areas that will make Michigan strong and competitive. I think it's unfair and disingenuous for some to attack those who voted to raise taxes, but were first in line to spend the revenue. There were plenty of those people.

Q. You describe yourself as being very close to Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM and having very few policy differences with her. Why do you think criticism that you don't have an independent agenda is unfair?

A. The people of my district, the businesses in my district, the workers in my district benefited from the fact that I have a close relationship with Gov. Granholm. But that relationship is based on a number of philosophical similarities in terms of how we strengthen our communities and how we strengthen our economy. But that relationship has given me the ability to advocate fiercely for issues and priorities that I care about, to affect public policy, to affect decisions made by her office. Disagreements we have are aired in private by and large and I will characterize it as a very productive and positive relationship.

While our agendas may be similar, they're not necessarily the same or identical. I have a background that informs my priorities and passions. I come out of the nonprofit sector. I established myself as a community leader by running a large organization (Community Action Agency) that ran Head Start, that ran senior programs, that ran emergency relief programs, that ran neighborhood development programs. So that's the reason why I'm a fierce advocate for things like early childhood development or worker training or retraining or economic development.

So my priorities are based on my experience, my work at the community level. And I'm glad that most of those priorities are shared by the Governor and where they don't, I try to make the case for those priorities.

Q. How would you describe your relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mike BISHOP (R-Rochester)?

A. I would describe it as a good relationship, but certainly one that can get better and I hope gets better and closer � and that happens through communication. We just need to understand our similarities as well as differences, and focus on our similarities and our similar policy interests. I think it's time for the Legislature, for all of us to focus on strengthening Michigan's economy and have the best interest in all of our constituents, regardless of our districts and care about that as a top concern. I will look forward to working with Leader Bishop and everyone to help strengthen our economy.

Q. When MIRS asked Bishop the same question a few weeks ago, he described your relationship as rocky and he zeroed in on there being a trust issue. Do you share that assessment? (See "Bishop Takes On Rivals, Reforms," 1/4/08).

A. No, I go back to just the basic issue of communication and I think there are some differences between where Democrats and even moderate Republicans stand on issues of investing in education, health care and strong communities as means to strengthen our economy and where conservative Republicans come down on their basic philosophy of government. So 2007 was a year where we came to grips head-on with a structural budget crisis and that became the forum to essentially play out our priorities and philosophies.

Personally, I feel very strongly that we will not be strong and competitive as a state when we divest in our human and fiscal infrastructure and educational institutions and don't address the issue of the number of uninsured in our state. So there were intense debates over how we grappled with the structural budget deficit crisis. And it was very tense here. Certainly, trust always needs to be nurtured, but trust is based on communication. Trust is based on caucuses dealing with each other and members dealing with each other with respect and that's what we need. We certainly need to strengthen the foundation that we have. Our state is counting on that.

Q. If there was one piece of legislation you could get through this year, regardless of politics, what would that be?

A. My first priority right now, which I hope will pass quickly, is the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). I think Michigan needs to be among the ranks of states that prioritizes alternative energy generation and energy conservation, not only to address the issue of climate change, but to boost our economic prospects and to diversify our economy. That's legislatively priority one and it should be a priority for both Democrats and Republicans.

Q. There's a move out there to split RPS off from reforming P.A. 141 (which partially deregulated utilities). Do you support that?

A. I think they both should move. In my mind, they don't necessarily have to be linked, but they are both priorities. While I want as much green energy generation as possible, it's probably going to take a combination here in the short term and for companies like Consumers Energy and DTE to invest millions of dollars in generation they need some certainty in the market, so Act 141 reform needs to happen, as well.

Q. How would you respond to criticism that the Senate Democrats are more interested in getting political mileage off drug immunity and the anti-smoking legislation than the bills themselves?

A. I think it's completely untrue and unfounded criticism. The issue of smoke-free workplaces and public places has evolved. If you had asked me a year ago was there a clear consensus within the Democratic caucus that was a priority we should move forward on, I would have said no. But the advocacy of people like (Sen.) Ray BASHAM (D-Taylor) and now there's a Republican leader in (Sen.) Tom GEORGE (R-Texas Twp.) on the issue, there is a consensus.

And I think there's a cultural shift around the issue of second-hand smoke and wellness. I think that people understand a connection with rising health care costs. Michigan has very high rates of smoking and tobacco use, so it clearly is a public health issue. Democrats want to drive down health care costs, want to find ways, this being one of them, to improve wellness and I think it's also an economic issue. Democrats are going to be looking at all of these issues through an economic prism. When people smoke and are less healthy, that drives up health care costs.

On the issue of drug immunity, it's just a basic fairness issue. We are not going after the industry and it is a basic issue of fairness that people who are injured using a product ought to have the ability to seek recourse. Michigan is the only state in the nation that doesn't have the ability to hold in this case, the pharmaceutical industry, accountable.

And in the case of Merck and Vioxx where they can remove the product from the market, they've acknowledged that there were complications that were discovered post-FDA approval, Michigan citizens with very rate exceptions have no ability to be compensated or seek compensation for damages. We're the only state in the union to have that special protection. So it is purely a public issue, one that's about fairness for the people of the state.

Q. But the drug immunity issue obviously was a campaign issue.

A. Frankly, it was an issue that was more championed by House Democrats. I wouldn't say it was necessarily a central theme. I think the public would resoundingly agree that current law is not fair and should be changed and sometimes those issues are talked about within a campaign context about contrasting candidates' differences on an issue. But it's really about just a fairness, public policy issue for Democrats.

Q. Can you describe the opposition in your caucus about moving the primary fix-it bill this fall?

A. Well, I don't think there was much opposition given the overwhelming vote for the bill. We as a minority customarily withhold immediate effect until a final version of the bill comes back from the House, and that needed to happen. The House had indicated they were planning to make some changes to the bill, which they did and it came back, but the bill was never taken up by the majority.

I was disappointed by that. We could have had a more meaningful primary on the Democratic side. I'm not necessarily suggesting that it needed to be that final version from the House, but we could have worked out an agreement and unfortunately, that didn't happen. I've expressed to the Majority Leader as well as to the Speaker (Andy [DILLION]) (D-Redford Twp.) that I wanted to try to work out an agreement. And as I said then, I think the Republicans got what they wanted from the Supreme Court and they were content to not do anything further.

Q. You seem to have an interest in new media. How would you describe your relationship with the press, in general?

A. Good. Open, accessible. Part of my job is informing my constituents about what I'm doing, what I'm working on, what my priorities are, explaining often times complex issues like the state budget or other policy issues. And I've always, going back to my days in the nonprofit sector and (Battle Creek) city commissioner, had an open, active relationship with the press. I think the new media is an exciting way to do that. It's a very particaptory way. It's instantaneous, it's grass roots, interactive medium, which I think is fun and exciting.

Q. Any favorite sites in particular?

A. I try to check out MichLib (Michigan Liberal) and Blogging for Michigan every day. That leads me to others, some local, some national. I like Walberg Watch.
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