Friday, October 25, 2002

Minnesota Missing a Mensch

Minnesota Missing a Mensch
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
October 25, 2002

It was an eerily chilling coincidence that I should be reading the Oct. 24 Washington Jewish Week article “Jew vs. Jew in Minnesota race,” when the FOX News Channel broke the story about the tragic death of Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone. (The article focused upon the race between the two Jewish senate candidates incumbent Democrat Wellstone and Republican challenger Norm Coleman.)
Wellstone, 58, a true liberal’s liberal in virtually every sense of the word, died in a plane crash this afternoon several miles from the Eveleth-Virginia Municipal Airport, about 175 miles northeast of Minneapolis, oddly enough while on his way to a funeral. Adding to this tragic event was the fact that Wellstone died while traveling with his wife of 39 years, Sheila, and the couple’s daughter Marcia. Also killed in the twin-engine plane were the pilot, co-pilot and three campaign workers. Wellstone family survivors include sons David and Mark along with six grandchildren.
With the Nov. 5 election looming just 12 days away, the Wellstone Senate re-election campaign against former St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman has ended suddenly leaving the Wellstone team, the state of Minnesota and indeed the nation in a state of shock.
While it is typical of people to memorialize the dead with platitudes and not speak ill of the dead, sincerity or lack thereof can easily be discerned. With the death of Senator Wellstone, those remembering him, on both sides of the aisle, such as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R) and former vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro (D) as well on no side of the aisle such as the state’s Gov. Jesse Ventura (I), recalled the fallen Senator with genuine honesty and candor.
Senator Wellstone, a college wrestler at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and professor at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. for 21 years, won his Senate seat in 1990 and again in 1996. An outspoken member of the Upper House, Wellstone rarely wrestled with the idea of compromising his principles. He voted his conscience – something that all who remembered him agreed upon.
Short in stature, but tall in energy and integrity, Wellstone would debate fiercely in the Senate chamber for what he believed in, but never made it personal. “Senator Wellstone was a man of deep convictions,” said President George W. Bush from Texas this afternoon while hosting the leader of China.
In spite of vast political differences, those who disagreed with Senator Wellstone professionally, found him to be affable, likable, possessing a good sense of humor and a degree of charm. I count myself among the people with those opinions – this from an out of state Coleman supporter.
During a visit to Capitol Hill several years prior to making Virginia my home, my friend Troy and I ventured in to Senator Wellstone’s office for some reason I cannot recall. This liberal’s liberal emerged from an ongoing meeting to chat briefly with two ardent Republicans not from Minnesota and also had a picture taken with the two of us. (The Senator had more hair and I had fewer pounds than I’m sure either of us would have admitted.)
Senator Wellstone made a bid in 2000 for the Democratic nominee for president, for all of about five minutes. He also authored the book Conscience of a Liberal much akin, but diametrically politically opposite of the 1960s effort, Conscience of a Conservative, written by one of my political heroes, the late Arizona Senator Barry M. Goldwater, who I had met and interviewed in 1995.
“Senator Wellstone was dedicated to serving the state with great passion,” said GOP challenger Norm Coleman as he announced the suspension of his campaign for an appropriate period of mourning. As both candidates are Jewish, that period of suspension by the Coleman campaign should be through the period of Shiva, the Jewish period of mourning for a week following the funeral, excluding the Sabbath.
Agree or disagree with his politics, Senator Wellstone was a mensch, standing by his principles and voting his conscience like Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

Sanford D. Horn is a writer living in Alexandria, VA.

Wednesday, October 2, 2002

The Torch is Out, But Should Stay on the Ballot

The Torch is Out, But Should Stay On the Ballot
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
October 2, 2002

In what has to be the worst case of playing politics since the 2000 presidential election, my home state, New Jersey, the Garden State, now resembles Florida – and it is entirely the fault of the Democrats.

Lame duck, as of Monday, Sept. 30, Democratic Senator Robert “Bob” Torricelli (a.k.a. “The Torch”) withdrew from his race as a candidate for reelection to the United States Senate, claiming, among other things, that the campaign was no longer about issues and “I can’t be heard.”

The voters of New Jersey have heard Torricelli loud and clear – in his whiney, pedantic tone making excuse after excuse for his repeated lapses in ethical behavior – behavior that has landed businessman David Chang in prison due to his association with Torricelli. Bribes, kickbacks, illegal acceptance of gifts, according to the rules of the august body he serves, have gotten Torricelli in hot water a la the currently incarcerated Jim Traficant (D-OH). In July of this year, the Senate officially “severely admonished” the New Jersey Democrat for his conduct. Perhaps a cell lies in Torricelli’s future.

Yet while Torricelli made his own bed, he continues to attempt to hide under the blankets. In his emotional meandering down memory lane during his Monday afternoon press conference Torricelli had the gall to ask, “when did we become such an unforgiving people?”
Torricelli further inquired, “when did we stop believing and trusting in one another?” That ought to be a rhetorical question, but for those who need to be whacked over the head, when? When Torricelli behaved unethically. When Torricelli lied to the public. When Torricelli betrayed the public trust.

Torricelli is the victim of his own greed and megalomania. So much so that after claiming he did nothing illegal, he offered an apology then said that Doug Forrester, his Republican challenger, “does not belong in the Senate.”

That, Senator, is up to the voters. And apparently the voters in New Jersey had misgivings about sending him back to Washington for a second six-year term in the Senate, trailing by as many as 13 points with just five weeks until Election Day.

Let’s look at the timing of the announcement made by Torricelli. With 35 days remaining until the Nov. 5 election, the Senator withdraws from his Senate reelection campaign claiming, “I can’t be heard,” and wanting to prevent the Democrats from losing its majority in the Upper House. That’s the key motivation – politics – not that should surprise anyone. Torricelli drops out of the race, Jim McGreevey, the Democrat governor of New Jersey appoints a popular Democrat (former Senator Frank Lautenberg) to pick up the baton and cross the finish line ahead of Forrester, thus retaining the seat for the Democrats.

The wrench in that plan is that according to New Jersey state statute, 19:13-20, a candidate cannot be replaced on the ballot, save for death, inside of 51 days prior to Election Day. Oops. Somebody forgot to do the math for Torricelli. Had he resigned his senate seat, McGreevey could have filled it with an instant incumbent to run against Forrester.

Now, the national Democrats are weighing in publicly, having no doubt led Torricelli to make his decision to drop out of the race in the first place. The Democrats should know better than to abandon its horse mid-race just because it has come up lame. The horse should be ridden across the finish, and then sent to the glue factory.

Nevertheless, the Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (SD) are calling for “competitive elections.” The Democrats argument is disingenuous – the Republicans did not push Torricelli off the ledge – he jumped off. He did this to himself. The Democrats are calling for the rights of the voters to be defended and upheld. They should have thought about that prior to the 51-day deadline passed.

At this writing, there is a battle underway in Trenton before the New Jersey State Supreme Court and the Democrats are using those claims as its key defense in being allowed to exchange party representatives on the ballot.

If the New Jersey Supreme Court should agree with Democrats’ assertions, and putting the United States Supreme Court on hold for a moment, a frightening precedent could be established. It is conceivable that in future races any time a candidate is in jeopardy of losing an election he or she could drop out and be replaced on the ballot by a more popular potential winner. That would damage the principle of representative democracy. The New Jersey Supreme Court is a panel of seven justices, four Democrats (two of whom, Albin and Zazzali, each contributed $1,000 to Torricelli campaigns prior to their appointments) and three Republicans.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has curtailed the distribution of ballots – 1,692 of which, of the absentee variety, have been mailed out to New Jerseyans in the military among others. Many voting booths have also been prepared and thousands of sample ballots have also been distributed.

As a financial aside, should the Democrats be allowed to replace Torricelli, he should be made to pay for any necessary amendments required to correct the ballots.

Should the New Jersey Supreme Court decide in favor of the Democrats’ ploy and against the rule of law, the Republican Party will no doubt appeal to the US Supreme Court. Monday, Oct. 7 is the opening day of the new Supreme Court session, also one of its busiest days. It would first have to agree to hear the case, then, render a decision prior to the Nov. 5 general election.
It should, by the nature of its makeup, rule, by a five to four vote, that the Democrats have no case and that an eleventh hour replacement is illegal. Expect Chief Justice William Rehnquist to be joined by Associate Justices William Kennedy, Sandra Day O’ Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in voting to overturn the New Jersey Supreme Court. Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens will probably vote to uphold the state court decision.

Senator Torricelli’s name should remain on the ballot and he should face the voters. Otherwise, this is a clear case of election affirmative action – “my guy is disadvantaged [forget about the reasons why], so let’s change the rules just before the game ends so he stands a chance of winning.” That would be much akin to saying that the New York Jets are playing so terribly after the first four games of the season [and they are], that in order to provide them a fighting chance, the Jets would get five plays instead of four to make a first down.

Torricelli was nominated by his Democratic Party. That no one challenged him in the primary was the fault of the Democratic Party. On principle, voters should elect Doug Forrester to the United States Senate and deliver a message to the Democrats that these kinds of shenanigans don’t play in New Jersey.

As a postscript the New Jersey Supreme Court rendered its decision late in the day on Wednesday, Oct. 2, siding unanimously with the Democrats, saying, “It is in the public interest and the general intent of the election laws to preserve the two-party system and to submit to the electorate a ballot bearing the names of candidates of both major political parties.”
"It is sad. It is embarrassing. It is an outrageous precedent we are setting for the future," said Republican State Committee Chairman Joe Kyrillos.

The Democratic State Committee will pay $800,000 toward the funding of printing new ballots, while Forrester is expected to call upon the United States Supreme Court to overturn the decision made in Trenton.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer living in Alexandria, VA.