Monday, January 23, 2006

Feingold live and in person

That just may have been the closest anyone around here will ever get again to U.S. Senator Russ Feingold.

Wisconsin’s junior senator pledged to hold a town hall meeting in each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, and last Sunday in Lake Geneva he scratched Walworth County off the list.

If Feingold decides to launch a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2006, as some speculate, cozy face-to-face get-togethers like this one will be a thing of the past.

Feingold has made a national reputation for himself as an independent voice in Washington.
He was the lone senator to vote against the Patriot Act, passed shortly after September ll—his concerns over the cost to civil liberties overshadowed by the tragedy the nation had just undergone.

He’s also one of the few senators who voted against the war in Iraq. Unlike John Kerry, who during the recent election campaign, famously said he, “voted for the war before he voted against it.” Feingold’s early stance has helped fuel speculation that he is a legitimate presidential contender.

Like him or hate him, his conviction to stand alone has deep Wisconsin roots. It goes back to the traditions of former U.S. Senator William Proxmire and “Fighting” Bob LaFollette of the Progressives.

Despite what may or may not be his national aspirations, it’s the votes back home that sent Feingold to Washington in the first place.
Shoring up those votes at home is what brought him to Lake Geneva’s City Hall last Sunday, helping to fulfill a pledge to hold a listening session in each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.

Writer Donna Lenz Wright and photographer Terry Mayer covered the event for The Week and despite our reputation as a Republican county, it was a standing-room-only, somewhat star-struck audience.

At events like these, local issues always outweigh national issues and Feingold attempted to deftly move the questions back to the federal government’s role.

Among those questions that Lenz Wright noted were:

-- Several about the ongoing Health and Human Service controversy, although Feingold was looking for help in trying to figure out how the federal government could help.

-- A questioner thanked Feingold for supporting something called the Sweeney Amendment to the Agriculture Corporation. “Remind me what it is,” Feingold asked. “It bans using FDA (Food and Drug Administration) inspectors to inspect the slaughter of horses,” the speaker responded. “It’s nice to be able to vote on something that actually gets done,” Feingold replied.

-- Feingold came to the defense of a man who supported President Bush, wanted Judge Alito confirmed to the Supreme Court and supported the Marriage Amendment Act. The partisan crowd began to jeer. “Now come on,” Feingold said. “This is a listening session. It’s not a heckling session. He’s not the only guy in this county who feels this way.”

All in all, you have to give Feingold credit. He stayed a good 40 minutes past his scheduled ending time, and as a moment in presidential campaign history it was a lot more cozy than President Bush’s drive-through in 2004.

So can we officially start keeping track of potential nominees’ or their surrogates’ visits to our little part of America?


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