Mar 13, 2007 Walt Shepperd Uncategorized
Early on in Jim Walsh’s political education, his mother told him life wasn’t fair. His education couldn’t help but be political, with his father William serving as welfare commissioner before being elected mayor and then to a seat in Congress. “This is a very competitive society,” Jim Walsh says now, after almost 30 years in elective office, now himself sitting in Congress. “Some people don’t compete as well as others. Government should try to make it more fair.”
Walsh’s reflections come after a narrow reelection victory last November and a recently completed weeklong series of town meetings. His reflections focus specifically on what he sees as the next great challenge to be faced by his colleagues in the House of Representatives, health care and its relation to the quality of life. But the issue that determined the closeness of his victory, the war in Iraq, remains in his mind the greatest challenge of the day.
It also provided the greatest challenge he faced in the town meetings, since the response was anything but monolithic.
“One side appreciated my voting for the non-binding resolution opposing the president’s sending more troops to Iraq,” he recalls, “But they were insisting that it was not enough. The other side was furious that I was bucking the president. But there was a third group that seemed to feel that the vote sent a signal, and that it was important.”
There were other issues raised at the town meetings.
Questions handed in ahead of time established subject areas and insured that a single cause would not monopolize the forums. Immigration, particularly as it related to agriculture and veterans’ issues were also frequently addressed.
“They let me hear what people are thinking,” he says of the meetings, “how strongly they feel about the issues. They helped me to reconnect.”
While Walsh has tried to connect with his constituents when they visit his offices in Washington and in the district, and holding smaller, special interest meetings on specific issues, he reflects on the increased passion to be expected in the presence of a microphone and a crowd.
“There can be a downside to the crowd dynamic,” he says. “When a person sounds the theme and others pile on. It can be good theater, but as the Rolling Stones say, ‘You can’t always get what you want.'”
Walsh came away from this series, however, with a sense of renewal.
“People said, ‘Thank you,’ afterward,” he notes, “even the ones who were mad at me. It’s what I do best, responding to people. I’m good at that. I shouldn’t have gotten away from [these kinds of meetings]. It helps you look for things that work. It’s like walking down Glenwood knocking on doors, talking about cars parked on lawns or houses in need of paint. That’s what government is about.”
Still, war and peace remains the greatest and most troubling issue of the day. “With technology today people can see everything that’s wrong everywhere as soon as it happens,” Walsh says. “It gives people the feeling that things must be worse than they’ve ever been. But the world condition has probably remained relatively at the same level throughout history. Attila the Hun just didn’t have CNN tracking every move he made.”
For Walsh, if 325,000 Iraqi soldiers and police and 160,000 U.S. troops have not gotten the job done, 20,000 more will not tip the balance. He is not, however, in favor of cutting off the funding supporting those Americans who are already there. For him, comparisons of this war with the Vietnam experience miss the point. “They have to do what the Irish did,” he says. “Find out what’s in it for the insurgents to participate in the government.”
As for his role in his own government, Walsh is undeterred by the Democrats taking control of the House. “When I went there I was in the minority with a Republican president [the first Bush],” he explains. “Then in the minority with a Democratic president. Then in the majority with a Democratic president. Then in the majority with a Republican president. Now I’m back to the way I started and I’ve been effective in every one of those perspectives.”
Walsh quotes rankings that put him in the top 50 in clout in the House. “I am the ranking member on the largest subcommittee on appropriations,” he reflects. “The one that deals with education and health care, the biggest employers in Central New York.” He’s still having fun and has no thoughts of not running again in 2008.
“Whoever the Republicans run [for president],” he says with a grin, “They’ll be better for me than Bush.”
Walt Shepperd is editor of the Syracuse City Eagle