When I was in my early 20s, attending the University of Wisconsin--Superior, I remember seeing footage of then newly-elected Senator Russ Feingold thanking the people of Superior at the end of his acceptance speech. I remember the buzz around campus at that time, the sense of pride and hope surrounding the election of such a young and promising leader. At the time, I didn't know who Senator Feingold was, but in the intervening years, I've come to realize what made my fellow students and faculty so excited.
A former Rhodes Scholar, Feingold has made a name for himself as an independent voice in the Senate. While his votes against The Patriot Act and the Iraq War are well known, what is not so well known is that he was the only democratic senator to vote against closing impeachment hearings on President Bill Clinton in 1998. He also quarreled with then Senator Hillary Clinton on the issue of soft money contributions four years later. More recently, our senator has had the courage to disagree with the Obama administration in its pursuance of the War in Afghanistan and financial reform, feeling that the latter didn't go far enough.
A champion of campaign finance reform, Senator Feingold (unlike almost every other one of his colleagues) refuses to accept money from political action committees (PACs). Perhaps this is why he is free to vote his conscience on issues, and not robotically follow the party line. And, while he did vote in favor of the stimulus package and health care reform, he is far from the wasteful spender that his opponents are trying to paint him as. He has actually given back over a million dollars in spending increases that his colleagues voted in, and he voted against the bailout of Wall Street that was one of President Bush's final acts in office.
As far as healthcare reform and the stimulus package go, these are programs designed to help middle class Americans by providing jobs (many in the growing field of clean energy) and affordable health coverage. And while these programs have contributed to raising the national debt considerably, the health care bill is projected to end up saving us tens of millions of dollars in the long run, and the jobs created by the stimulus package will bring in millions in revenue to help pay off this debt in the coming years. These programs are an investment in our future.
Feingold's opponent, Republican Ron Johnson, complains that there are too many lawyers in the Washington, and that Senator Feingold is a career politician. And, while I believe Johnson may have a point about disparity in previous vocation among our representatives, Russ takes time every year to visit every single county in our state, and spend a few hours answering questions from concerned citizens about issues that are affecting them. I attended one of these sessions last year and found the senator to be not only prompt, but thoughtful, intelligent, and forthright as well.
Our country and our state face a lot of challenges in the years ahead--from financial woes to terrorist attacks to fluctuating milk prices. Senator Feingold did not create these problems, but he has worked tirelessly to help remedy them. Perhaps it is not such a bad idea to keep someone with experience and integrity working for us.
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