Walsh listens

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."

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