from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Richardson, Vilsack, and more . . . . 

This is a diary I do not expect to get read by many people, even though it will be posted in several places: dailykos, raisingkaine, teacherken .. Despite any confidence in its finding an audience, I have nevertheless decided to write it and offer it to the wind.

The title refers to my visit to the DNC winter meeting, largely today, but also including a social visit with bloggers and others last night. It will not be a detailed analysis of the presentations by candidates at today’s session: for that go read Jeff Feldman’s live blog at dailykos. It will be impressionistic, my perceptions and experiences, and a conclusion that may surprise people, or perhaps not. And I promise I will get to the gist of the title by the end of the diary, but you will have to read a wee bit first.

I could not attend the Friday sessions of the DNC. I was teaching school, and then had a rehearsal for next weekend’s musical theater. But I decided I would stop by Timberlake’s on Connecticut Avenue, about two blocks from the hotel, for a special edition of Drinking Liberally. I was the first to arrive, perhaps 15 minutes early at 6:45, and stayed until about 9:39 PM, although I was informed it went quite late. Let me talk about Friday evening first.

The crowd was full of regular habitués of DL, and an fair smattering of bloggers, some well known like Matt Stoller and Justin Krebs, others perhaps less well known. I was delighted to catch up with Jeff Feldman, who was liveblogging both Friday and Saturday’s sessions at dailykos, and whom I had gotten to know at Yearlykos. We both were active participants in Pastor Dan’s Sunday worship service, and later that afternoon were in a group that wound up talking with, perhaps berating, Garance, a writer for American Prospect. Jeff had told me that his cousin managed the Clarendon Ballroom at which Webb had held several events, and I was able to meet his cousin.

There were other familiar faces from Yearlykos: Gina Cooper came into town, and stayed with Nolan Treadway who is doing a masters at American University. It was good to catch up with old friends, to talk about the forthcoming convention in Chicago in August. But for me the highlight of the evening came when I went outside to hear a cell phone conversation with my wife, or rather, when I came back in. Someone else had also stepped outside and come back at about the same time and we began chatting. It was Scott Kleeb, who ran such a wonderful but losing race in Nebraska. He’s a fascinating guy,he is considering running again, although he was not sure about when. I tried to convince him that 2008 will be a good Democratic year. I also talked about how he could use Nebraska’s approach to assessment - which the state’s commissioner had to fight to defend from the Bush education department - as an organizing idea. Turns out that the commissioner, Doug Christiansen, was supporter of Scott, and Scott was intrigued at how this could be played as a states’ rights issue. We agreed to stay in touch.

I also ran into Tracy Russo of the DNC, who agreed to give me blogger credentials for today. So I got to the hotel at about 7:30 this morning, and by 7:45 had my credentials, and was engaged in several very interesting conversations. One was with Sharon Grosfeld, who is executive director of the DNC’s Women’s Leadership Forum. She is a former state legislator in Maryland, and we talked about education, since her son is a teacher who loves government. The other was with several supporters of Mike Gravel, one of whom was the famous Granny D.

I also was introduced to a staffer for Richardson who remembered me from Las Vegas, and that the Governor had actually not really answered the question I had asked him (that he remembered that surprised me). I chatted with a couple of staffers for Vilsack, who of course recognized my name and were very friendly. I saw Tom walking through on the way to a tv interview, and he stopped to give me an important heads up about what he was going to say .. if you don’t know what that was, I will tell you later, but it was appropriate for him to tell me.

I chatted with Sally Peterson, former Lt. Governor of Iowa, who talked a bit about how they are going to do the campaign. I later heard more of this from dailykos’s own Kevin Thurman, chief internet guy for Vilsack, who was the person who had put Tom and me in touch with one another about education. I saw the Vilsack people setting up to make Iowa popcorn - I note that Jonathan Singer of MYDD later admitted to being on his 5th bag.

I went into the press area to ensure I could get an outlet. I was soon joined by Jeff Feldman, so I decided I did not need to live blog. I chatted with some press, including Roger Simon. I saw and chatted with Andy Shallal, born in Iraq, who runs the fantastic Busboys and Poets restaurant/internet cafe/bookstore/etc. at 14th and U, which was one site of the CTG book tour, and which often sponsors progressive sessions on things like impeachment (where I had first met Kagro X).

Jeff’s summaries of the presentations are pretty spot on. I will say that I knew where gravel was going and decided to take my bathroom break after he had droned on for more than 20 minutes. Let me offer some surface reactions. I agree with Jeff that Biden had a lot of concrete proposals, but I did not feel as if his speech connected. I first met the Senator at a Penna State Democratic Committee event in 1983 when i was doing field for Fritz Hollings. He is bright and perceptive, and I don’t think makes an effective national candidate now anymore than he did in 1988, although he does give an important voice on some key issues.

Bill Richardson is almost larger than life, although I note when I later showed him the picture of the two of us at Yearlykos he proudly noted how much weight he has lost in the past almost 7 months (I’d guess around 30 pounds). He is not a polished orator, but he has a good sense of humor, knows he has the best resume in the race, and is not afraid to talk about it. I did find when he walked the blogger alley outside the press room after the morning events that he was a fairly typical politician, kept moving. He could be an effective candidate, if his candidacy does not get derailed by personal issues, about which there have been rumors for years although I have never seen anything substantial. One person with whom I spoke said he would make anyone a terrific Secretary of State. My response back was that I saw people talking about Gore for a Nobel Peace Prize, and I wondered if anyone might have nominated Richardson for what he just did in Darfur, and whether he might thus actually win for the accumulation of efforts he has done over the years. Just thinking aloud.

Gravel left me cold. Intellectually I could agree with some of what he was saying. But he seems to want to focus on having a national initiative process, both for amendments and statutes, and I see that as a fundamental abandonment of the American system of government.

Now to Vilsack. For those who don’t know Tom and I have a relationship. it started when Kevin arranged for the then governor to have phone conversations with a number of educational bloggers, one of whom was me. I later blogged about it, and about Tom’s ideas on education, he responded by beginning to post on dailykos. We later got together when he was in Arlington where I live. We stayed in touch, occasionally exchanging emails. He eventually became one of my education panelists at yearlykos. We have stayed in touch since. He knows my opinion about No Child Left Behind. He had once told me that he was opposed to the direction we were going in testing. His wife Christie is a teacher, and Tom made clear that Iowa would have no graduation tests as long as he was governor.

What Tom told me before the session this morning was that he was going to come out against reauthorization of NCLB. This presents me with a dilemma. I have made clear that my focus politically will be Virginia legislative races this year. I have told a few people (not Tom), that the only thing that might move me off of neutrality would be if one of the candidates came out strongly against reauthorization of NCLB. Tom now has, he is a friend, and I like and respect him. More about this later.

Let me return to Richardson for a moment. He is an intriguing candidate. he had 14 years in the Congress. he has relevant national security and foreign relations experience, having served at the UN, as head of the Department of Energy (which is responsible for our nuclear weapons), and in the various missions of negotiation he has done over the years, both officially and unofficially. He has executive experience as Governor. He is hispanic, and were he the nominee I think it fair to say he would carry NM, NV, CO and AZ (only losing the latter to McCain). Were he able to hold the states Kerry carried, that is sufficient for election. And he is quite good on quite a few issues. Ignoring the rumors about personal life, he should be a very attractive candidate. He projects a great deal of warmth. He is clearly intelligent. And yet . . . while I could happily support him, I don’t find myself connecting with him. Perhaps it is because he is so smooth as a politician, and after spending half a year laboring on behalf of Jim Webb I look for something a bit more, a bit different, and in my gut I think that’s what the American people want as well.

During the time when we got to go visit the candidates, I decided to only go to the room with Vilsack. My intent was to observe and listen, but I inevitably got drawn into conversations, perhaps because of my blogger’s badge, perhaps because some people knew who i was and came over to talk with me. I also chose to introduce some people - Maura Keaney had come up to the room and since she is a teacher by background I introduced her to Christie Vilsack and they had a nice talk. I got to talk with Christie several times, and she told me about some of the initiatives on which she is working. I think her own involvement with education has clearly shaped Tom’s response on the issue. It is something about which they both care deeply.

I also got to meet and talk with Ray Mabus, former governor of Mississippi, who is a very strong supporter of Tom Vilsack, and actually thinks Tom could do well in some places in the South because of how he speaks.

Tom Vilsack is terrific at retail politics. That will serve him well in his home state of Iowa, where he knows how to work the caucuses, and he also has the strong support of Tom Harkin. Retail politics is also important in New Hampshire. Kevin Thurman told me that the Vilsack campaign has had help organizing town meetings from Jim Ryan of Merrimack, one of the architects (along with Governor Lynch) of the Democratic takeover this past cycle. Ryan has not endorsed, but is clearly friendly. And I would say Tom Vilsack could surprise in New Hampshire.

In previous cycles I could see Tom winning his home state in a crowded field and using that to leverage a good finish in NH two weeks later and thus generating momentum - and money - for the further contest. Even the addition of Nevada is not necessarily a problem per se, since it will be caucuses, and although the rules for those are not yet announced, one would think there would be some transfer from the knowledge gained in Iowa, especially as there is no track record for how to organize in NV.

But this cycle may be dangerously compressed. If CA and NJ both move up to early February, I wonder if the contest might become simply an issue of who can do the most paid media in two very expensive markets.

An assessment - I think the Democratic party is actually hungry for someone who is willing to speak strongly on issues. Thus I think Biden’s efforts at a non-binding resolution actually hurt him with many Democratic faithful. Governors who did not have to vote on AUMF do have an advantage over senators who did and who voted wrong and now have to explaining that vote. Richardson and Clark and Vilsack are all pretty forthright that the Congress needs to do far more than non-binding resolutions, and that resonates, not only with Democrats but with much of the American population.

But my sense is that there needs to be something other than Iraq to galvanize the sense Americans have of their country slipping away from them. And I believe that it must be something domestic. Here I think the opposition in the country to No Child Left Behind might be a key - here i think the American people are ahead of the Congress, as they are on Iraq as well. Increasingly we see people as a whole, not just teachers, who see something basically wrong with our test-crazy approach to education. There is a sense of foreboding that there will be a federal takeover - people don’t want a national exam, and anything that seems to move in that direction such as national standards potentially can be something that can truly galvanize a large segment of the population.

I am not YET (please note the qualification) endorsing Tom Vilsack, or committing to his candidacy. But I find myself far closer to making that leap than i had expected would be possible. It is in part because education is for me the single most important issue, and not merely because I am a teacher. I believe it is a key to the future of this country. That is why I am active in the Educator Roundtable which is striving mightily to stop reauthorization of NCLB. It is why I am taking the lead in an effort for Yearlykos to redesign education (and if you missed it read the 4th of sdorn’s diaries on educational history from earlier today).

I do not know who will be the nominee. I do know that it is important that we keep the process of selecting a nominee open, that even as we begin to commit to favorite candidates we not bash others - on this Richardson spoke clearly and rightly today. I had thought that the only thing for which i would have time politically was a few legislative races in Virginia, because I am so involved with my own teaching and with educational policy. But to see a presidential candidate make key to his candidacy something that is dear to my heart opens another path - that I can simultaneously address an issue i care about and help a decent man whom I respect and whom I believe could make a good president.

So I have had an interesting 24 hours - I am finishing writing this a few minutes more than 24 hours from when I walked into Timberlake’s to begin my experience with a DNC meeting. I come out of the position in a position that would before have been surprising to me, heavily inclined to support one candidate, even if to many people he may seem like a long shot.

And how has your weekend been?

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