Antiwar Candidates Challenge Incumbent Democrats in House and Senate Races
Tuesday, June 6th, 2006http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/06/06/1337214
The 2006 mid-term elections are just five months away. In the Senate, close to three-dozen seats are up for grabs, while all 435 seats are open in the House. Democrats hope growing public discontent with the Bush administration will help them win control of Congress from the Republicans. But some of this year's most heated races won't just come down to Republicans vs. Democrats - or Independents - in November. Rather, in primaries this week and continuing through the summer, some of the country's closely-watched races will pit Democrats - against Democrats. And there's one main issue that's creating the fault line: the war in Iraq.
Across the country, a handful of challengers are taking some of the leading Democratic figures to task for voting to send US troops to Iraq and refusing now to bring them home. On this issue and others like government wiretapping, these candidates say many elected Democrats have betrayed core party values and provided political cover for the Bush administration.
We hear from four of these candidates that are shaking up races across the country: Jonathan Tasini in New York, Marcy Winograd in California, Ned Lamont in Connecticut and John Bonifaz in Massachusetts. [includes rush transcript - partial]
We begin here in New York with Jonathan Tasini. He is a union leader and organizer, and former president of the National Writers Union. He is running against incumbent New York Senator Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
Joining him here in our Firehouse studio is Cindy Sheehan. Since the death of her son Casey in Iraq in April 2004, she has emerged as one of the leading figures of the anti-war movement in the United States. She is the co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace. She has called on Democrats to vote against their pro-war incumbents. Welcome to Democracy Now!
We invited Senator Clinton to come on the program but her office declined our request.
- Cindy Sheehan, her son Casey was killed in Iraq in April 2004. She is the co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace and a member of Voters For Peace.
- Jonathan Tasini, union leader and organizer. He is the former president of the National Writers Union.
- Marcy Winograd, teacher and longtime activist..
Disenchantment with Lieberman within his own party has grown so vocal he recently refused to rule out leaving the Democratic ticket and running as an Independent. His opponent joins us now in our firehouse studio. Ned Lamont is a former telecommunications executive. He won a third of the delegate vote at the Democratic Party's state convention last month to put him on the ballot in the primary on August 8th. We invited Senator Lieberman on the program but he was unavailable to join us.
- Ned Lamont, former telecommunications executive.
As we continue our coverage of the candidates looking to unseat key fellow Democrats this year. We go now to Boston to join John Bonifaz. He is a Boston-based attorney and the founder of the National Voting Rights Institute. He is running against incumbent William F. Galvin for the Democratic nomination for Massachusetts Secretary of State. John Bonifaz is the only Massachusetts Democrat to challenge an incumbent from his own party in this year's primary.
- John Bonifaz, Boston-based attorney and the founder of the National Voting Rights Institute.
AMY GOODMAN: For today's broadcast, we'll hear from four of the candidates that are shaking up races around the country: Jonathan Tasini in New York, Marcy Winograd in California, Ned Lamont in Connecticut and John Bonifaz in Massachusetts. We begin here in New York with Jonathan Tasini, union leader and organizer, former president of the National Writers Union. He's running against the incumbent New York senator, Hillary Clinton, for the Democratic nomination. Joining him in the Firehouse studio is Cindy Sheehan. Since the death of her son Casey in Iraq in April 2004, she's emerged as one of the leading figures of the antiwar movement in the United States, co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace. She's called on Democrats to vote against their pro-war incumbents. Welcome to Democracy Now!, both.
CINDY SHEEHAN: Hi, Amy.
JONATHAN TASINI: It’s good to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to start with Cindy Sheehan. Tell us about this nationwide movement, where you have Democrats not only taking on President Bush, but taking on their own party.
CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, I think it's imperative. We have basically right now in Congress a one-party system. We have very few Democrats who are speaking to our core values as progressive liberal Democrats. And they are rubber-stamping and bobble-heading everything that this administration wants to do. And it's so urgent right now that we have an opposition party. And I believe if Democrats courageously spoke out to their core values saying, “This war is wrong; if we voted for it, we shouldn't have,” and to call for an end to the occupation of Iraq, I believe that we could have a government that is run with integrity, and the Democrats could have a landslide victory in November, if they would act different from the Republicans. And I’m supporting these candidates who are saying that this war is wrong, we need to bring our troops home, and we are not going to support the Republicans who are corrupt and who are leading our country down this path of destruction.
AMY GOODMAN: You're here in New York. You have personally spoken to Hillary Rodham Clinton. What did that conversation consist of?
CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, I was talking about the personal cost of war, about how her policies and her support of George Bush and this war, even though she says it's a mistake, you know, the war is being fought incompetently. There's no such thing as a competent war. And I told her about the pain of being a mother who lost a son. We talked about other mothers who have their children in harm's way, who are worried beyond anything they can imagine. And at the end, she said, “Well, we have to complete the mission to honor the sacrifice of your son.” And I think and have been calling for an end to the killing, that the killing has to stop sometime. How much killing is enough killing for these people? And there is no mission. She can't define the mission. George Bush can't define the mission. And to just keep them there because they're there is not a good mission.
AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Tasini, you were head of the National Writers Guild. What made you decide become a candidate for the U.S. Senate?
JONATHAN TASINI: Well, about a year and a half ago, several people who I know in the political movement in New York approached me to discuss the idea that somebody had to run against the incumbent senator, because her position in Iraq was appalling. And beyond Iraq, actually, we have lots of difference, but if we focus on the war, “How could it be,” they ask, “that in New York state, one of the most Democratic states in the nation, that we have an incumbent senator who voted for the war, has been a great advocate for the war, and as Bob Herbert put in a recent Times column, her position is no different really than Bush, Cheney and Condoleezza Rice?” And I gave it a lot of thought over many months. Mainly, I thought that somebody had do it. I was involved in many other union organizing projects that I didn’t want to put aside, but ultimately last summer I decided that I would do it.
AMY GOODMAN: Last week, both the Republican Party of New York and the Democratic Party had their meetings. Tell us what happened at yours? Nominating conventions.
JONATHAN TASINI: Well, you know, it was a -- I’m not a naive person. I’ve been around politics for a while. But it was shocking to go to the Democratic state convention and find out that they would not have spoken the two words, “Iraq war,” had I not been there. The Clinton campaign did everything possible to make sure that the Iraq war was not debated, for obvious reasons, because if the Iraq war is debated and Democratic primary voters find out what her position is -- and many of them still vague about it -- then I think a lot of people will vote against her.
And I pushed a resolution that was finally debated -- not my resolution, something quite weaker -- but the fact that we finally got them to focus on the Iraq war and talk about it for a few minutes -- it wasn’t a real debate -- but to focus on it a few minutes and not just have receptions and parties and coronations was, I think, a major step forward. But it was an eye opener that our own state Democratic Party refused to debate the Iraq war, the most important issue in this election.
AMY GOODMAN: What does it take to get on the ballot? Cindy Sheehan is here with you today, because you’re headed up to Union Square to begin a search for how many signatures?
JONATHAN TASINI: You need 15,000 throughout the state of New York, and they have to be -- you also have to get a hundred in at least half of the congressional districts. There are 29 congressional districts. We have to get a hundred in at least 15. So we have to get about 15,000, but you probably have to get at least two or three times that, because our signatures will probably be challenged by our opponents. But we have this amazing network of volunteers all across the state that have come into the campaign over the last six months. People can volunteer actually at tasinifornewyork.org. That’s our website, tasinifornewyork.org. And we have this amazing group of people, so they’re going to be out in the streets. Cindy is going to join us up in Union Square for the kick off. Today is the first day that you're legally allowed to collect signatures.
AMY GOODMAN: And how long do you have?
JONATHAN TASINI: You have about six weeks -- five weeks ‘til about July 13. That’s the final day, when all of the signatures have to be in. But realistically, we have to have it done by July 6.
AMY GOODMAN: We should say, of course, we put in calls to Senator Clinton's office. They did not get back to us about coming on the program today, as the other candidates, the incumbents, also did not agree to come on the program today. Here we are in New York. We're talking with Jonathan Tasini and Cindy Sheehan. Of course, talking about Hillary Rodham Clinton is not just talking about the next possible senator of New York or the -- you know, Hillary Clinton being re-elected as senator, but possibly president of the United States. So what happens in this country, in this state, really matters, what kind of debate or questions that are raised in New York.
JONATHAN TASINI: Well, I think that there's no question that because of who I’m taking on, there's an enormous amount of spotlight and attention to this race. And I think that's important for a couple of reasons. One is we have to send a message to the Democratic Party that we will not support Democratic candidates who support illegal and immoral wars. We also will not support and should not support Democratic candidates, incumbents who are for the death penalty, who believe that NAFTA is a good thing, who sat on the board of Wal-Mart for six years, whose best friend now is Rupert Murdoch who is going to hold a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. She is out of step with the Democratic primary voters in New York.
So I believe that separate from what might happen after 2006, she does not deserve re-election, simply because of her record in the first term. I believe that, you know, 2008 is 50 political lifetimes away. We're focusing on her record now. Voting for an illegal and immoral war, simply on that, she doesn't deserve re-election.
AMY GOODMAN: Cindy Sheehan, what do you say to those who say if you do this, support candidates against Democratic candidates, that you are ultimately supporting the man in the White House who declared the war that took your son?
CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, I think the candidates who -- I’m supporting Jonathan, I’m supporting Marcy in Los Angeles, I’m supporting John Bonifaz, and they are running against people who support George Bush. And I believe that we are not going to get leaders of integrity and honesty and courage until we start voting with our integrity. It's time for us to stop holding our nose and voting for the lesser of two evils, because that person might be just a little less evil, but they're still supporting the evil policies of the Bush administration. So we have to stand up and have courage. If we all have the courage we need to vote for people who do have integrity, then we'll get leaders of integrity. And that's the only time we will.
JONATHAN TASINI: And it goes even beyond -- I think Cindy is absolutely right. Cindy and I work very closely with something called the Progressive Democrats of America, pdamerica.org. We see a long-term vision of what we're trying to do, which is to build a progressive movement throughout the state and throughout the country.
We're also very much in favor of pushing the idea of impeachment. I mean, you have two leaders who deserve to be impeached and removed from office. And I’ve been saying this from the beginning of the campaign. Certainly if I was in the United States Senate -- I could say that certainly about Marcy in the House -- if I was in the U.S. Senate, I would be supporting Russ Feingold's attempt to censure Bush. We have a Democratic Party that’s running for cover and not supporting immediate impeachment in the House and not supporting censure in the Senate. We can't have a Democratic Party that has no spine.
AMY GOODMAN: We're also joined in Los Angeles studio by Marcy Winograd. She’s teacher and longtime activist running against the incumbent California congress member, Jane Harman, for the Democratic nomination in California’s 36th Congressional District. The primary vote in that race is today. We welcome you to Democracy Now!
MARCY WINOGRAD: Thank you, Amy. Great to be with you.
AMY GOODMAN: It is good to have you with us. Why have you taken on Congressmember Jane Harman?
MARCY WINOGRAD: Amy, it was time for somebody to challenge the leadership of this party that has been all too willing to acquiesce to the Bush agenda of eternal war. I happened to see my opponent on Meet the Press on February 12, at which time she said that she kept quiet for a year and a half while being briefed on the massive illegal wiretaps being conducted by Bush and Cheney, because frankly she didn't know the law. She is a lawyer, but she didn't know the law. Besides, she said, she deplored the fact that the leak had been revealed, that the wiretaps had been revealed, that people now knew the truth. And when I heard that, what raced through my mind is, “Wow! We have a Democrat who is surrendering the Constitution. She championed the war in Iraq, took to the floor of Congress to sell this war, refused to join 133 other members of Congress who said no. And now, what will happen if George Bush decides to invade or conduct air strikes over Iran? What will she say? What will the Democratic leadership do?” And I knew that at that point somebody had to challenge her.
AMY GOODMAN: What did it take for you to run in this primary, since each state has different requirements?
MARCY WINOGRAD: Actually, it was not a very rigorous bar. I had to collect about 40 signatures and pay $1,600. Listening to Jonathan talk, I thought, “Wow! I really got off easy on this one.” But besides that, it did take a great sense of urgency. I would not have done this had I not felt that we were on the precipice of losing any semblance of democracy and plunging ourselves into yet another war.
AMY GOODMAN: And how hard is it to take on the Democratic Party? How much criticism is there within that this is an absolutely key time for people within the party to come together, and to open up the debate in a primary like this will only weaken the Democratic candidate?
MARCY WINOGRAD: Well, I have to tell you, it is tough. I mean, initially people would say to me, “Wow, Marcy, you really have a lot of courage. You're really gutsy to do this.” And my response was, “No, I’m just passionate about peace.” I really do believe that that is the course for our future, not preemptive war. I have a great sense of urgency. But as we continue to campaign throughout the 36 District, which is a 30-mile-long district that stretches from the Port of Los Angeles on up through the heartland of defense contractor territory into Venice and West L.A. progressive areas. I saw that I was meeting with some pretty intense resistance from those inside the party, even those who you might consider progressive in the Democratic Party, that there is a club and it’s called incumbency, and a challenge to one is a challenge to all.
AMY GOODMAN: You are running against a congress member, Jane Harman, who was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. She's gotten the support of the United Farm Workers, United Auto Workers, as well. Your response?
MARCY WINOGRAD: Yes, the United Farm Workers Union and the United Auto Workers, they have both endorsed my candidacy, as has the United Teachers of Los Angeles. I’ve been a union member of the teachers’ union for 12 years, and initially they had endorsed Jane Harman. But through tremendous grassroots lobbying, we were able to overturn that, and they in the end rescinded their endorsement and endorsed me instead. We are seeing a lot of support from rank-and-file union members, regardless of what the leadership is doing in those individual organizations.
AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Tasini, what kind of support have you gotten? It seems that the major organizations have not gone yet to supporting your candidacy, that Hillary Rodham Clinton has it pretty locked up.
JONATHAN TASINI: First let me wish my friend Marcy really good luck in the election today. Both Cindy and I are really pulling for her and hope she wins.
Look, it's obvious that Clinton is a very big, big power in the Democratic Party. People fear her. Most of the, I think, union organizations, the heads of the unions, will probably end up supporting her. And like Marcy, I think we'll have a lot of support from the rank-and-file on the issue of the war, on the fact that my opponent says NAFTA was a good thing. And I think -- I can't wait to talk about that in the places that have been devastated by NAFTA. When they hear that she sat on the board of Wal-Mart for six years, I think there are many union members who have been working to defeat Wal-Mart will be shocked by that connection to corporate power. So I’m pretty confident that we'll get the rank-and-file support.
At the same time, we’ve gotten great support from P.D.A., Progressive Democrats of America, from Village Independent Democrats. There are many Democratic clubs in New York City who rejected the incumbent and supported me and many who took no position, no endorsement, which is again a rejection of the incumbent. When we talk about where she stands, when we talk about what she really stands for and what her positions are, Democratic primary voters reject her. Zogby just did a poll that showed that if there was a contest between Clinton and an antiwar candidate, Clinton would get 38%, the antiwar candidate would get 32%, and the rest aren't sure. So there's a great vulnerability there, and I think that we're going to shock the political establishment.
AMY GOODMAN: Cindy Sheehan, do you see pushing third parties now? In 2004, John Kerry, John Edwards, they authorized the invasion. They voted to authorize. Hillary Clinton, Joseph Lieberman -- we'll be speaking with a candidate against him in a minute, as well. The major leaders of the Democratic Party.
CINDY SHEEHAN: Right. I think that now that I’ve been a world traveler, I see how governments can be held accountable if there's more than one party, more than two parties. And like I said, we have to start putting up candidates, electing candidates that go with our beatitudes. Martin Luther King, Jr. said we can't make our leaders change their beatitudes. We have to make them conform to our beatitudes if we are going have a world where we can bring up our children and our grandchildren.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think you would run?
CINDY SHEEHAN: I got to get our kids home first from Iraq, and then we'll see.
AMY GOODMAN: Marcy Winograd, do you support impeachment of the President of the United States?
MARCY WINOGRAD: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I do want to say that I am the president of Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, which is a chapter of Progressive Democrats of America. There's been a lot of talk about impeachment within this organization. I am now running ads on Air America. I’m part of an impeach team with Charles Coleman and Bob McCloskey, two other challengers to incumbent Democrats, and we are calling for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney and asking everyone to join us in calling on members of Congress to sign onto this, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both very much here in New York for joining us, Jonathan Tasini and Cindy Sheehan. I know you're headed up to Union Square right now to kick off your petition drive. Marcy Winograd, I’d like to ask you to stay with us for a moment after break. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. Jonathan Tasini, running against Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, and Cindy Sheehan, peace mom.
- Ned Lamont, former telecommunications executive.