Saturday, September 22, 2007



Sam Bennett with her husband Martin

Pat Toomey was elected to Congress in a moderate swing district (PA-15) and went on to launch a career of right wing extremism. Today he is the leader of the GOP hate group, Club For Growth. He was succeeded in 2005 by another fake moderate, Charlie Dent, one of those Republicans the traditional media consistently labels a "moderate" for some inexplicable reason, while he continues to amass a rubber stamp voting record that would be completely suitable for a far right Bible Belt district of Alabama but is completely at odds with Pennsylvania's very moderate Lehigh Valley. Today we welcome Siobhan ("Sam") Bennett, the progressive Democrat running for the congressional seat in PA-15 for her first Blue America session at Firedoglake. As you can probably tell from the title, she's pretty much my ideal candidate. I hope you'll see why when you meet her here yourself (2pm Lehigh Valley time).

Sam is probably best known for her grassroots activism-- she was the regional field director for America Coming Together in 2004-- but this isn't Sam's first run for office. In 2000 she came within 42 votes of winning the Democratic primary for Allentown's mayoralty. I found a kindred soul in her though, because she comes from an entrepreneurial background. She was very impressed with the Blue America interview with Jon Powers. She thinks that realistically the military can extricate themselves in an orderly fashion from Iraq in the next 12 months and she found hope for that in reading the FDL chat with Jon.
"I really loved reading about some of the successes he enjoyed with his entrepreneurial endeavors. Those are some of the kinds of things we're going to have to look at-- how we can continue to invest in Iraq (taking into account what Colin Powell told Bush: 'you break it, you bought it') to make a difference, which will be very, very difficult to craft and sustain-- but it must be done.

"With the right kind of creativity and entrepreneurial problem-solving anything's possible. Anything can be solved, That is a thread throughout my life. Right out of college I started buying dilapidated apartment buildings and renovating them, which led many years later to my non profit, Properties of Merit; anything is possible if you apply fresh thinking and that entrepreneurial approach and that's what I heard in that interview with Jon. We need more of that because the answers don't come when you go by the playbook."

As the ACT regional field director she worked in a grassroots coalition with partners from pro-choice groups, labor unions, environmental groups, they were the top-performing swing region in the country. She hired and trained fresh young talent right out of the high schools and worked early on registration and knocked on a lot of doors. "We turned in 10,000 Democratic registrations compared to 1,000 Republican registrations in the that cycle." And then she paid enough attention to the details to be able to successfully fight the Republican-dominated Board of Elections which said they intended to process them after the elections. "That's the way we win this district: in the field, bare-knuckle boxing, vote by vote."
"This is a district that should be Democratic and should have a Democrat representing us in Congress. And Charlie Dent doesn't vote like a moderate and I need to get that word out to the voters. In the state senate he was somewhat of a moderate, although on the social justice issues I feel so passionately about he had never been tested. Now that he's being tested in the big boys' game in Washington, he fails every time. And there's a voting record that he can't crawl out from under-- a zero from the Children's Defense Fund, a 5% rating from the League of Conservation Voters in the 109th Congress. NARL gives him a 35% rating. NEA gives him a C-. The National Association for Retired Americans gives him an "undesirable" rating. He fails on every single front. Getting the facts in the hands of the voters is what I need to do. On the other hand, he's a nice guy; I go to church with him; he is a nice guy. He just doesn't vote like a nice guy. And he has a 100% voting record in line with George Bush on the Iraq War; he's been unwavering in his support of Bush and that is unacceptable."

But what about Sam? How do we know she won't get elected and turn into another Chris Carney or Jason Altmire, both freshmen Democrats who have been supporting the reactionary Bush agenda since being elected last year. I asked her and she said she found them "very disappointing. Far be it from me to speak ill of another Democrat but I'm very, very deeply disappointed... There's a motto, to paraphrase, that is very important to me-- something we raised our children with: 'If I am silent people think I agree.' There are hard, hard fought battles-- like a woman's right to choose, and like the GBLT communities' rights to have basic civil rights every other American is entitled to-- that some of the votes that we have seen by the folks on our side of the aisle not only are disappointing in the immediate but upend many, many years of work by people who have dedicated and given their lives for these basic values. And when we get to the war in Iraq... very, very troubling."

Her stepfather was the administrator of a children's surgery unit in a Saigon hospital and she lived in Saigon during the war. "My perspective on the war is informed by having seen the direct cost. It's pretty easy to be academic about war when you're looking at numbers on a piece of paper. But when you're playing with children who have lost limbs because of war, and particularly a war filled with such inexcusable folly as the Vietnam War was, that's a problem. And the Iraq War was entered into-- as everyone would acknowledge now-- for false reasons."

Meanwhile Gore and Kerry each carried the district against Bush. And Bush's popularity has sunk considerably since then. The war is unpopular. The Republican stands on Social Security, education, energy, and health care are unpopular. The DCCC is targeting PA-15 and with Chris Van Hollen at the helm instead of Rahm Emanuel they will not try to replace Sam with a pro-war "moderate" (like the ones who are consistently voting with Bush this year). Sam will be the grassroots, the netroots and the DCCC candidate and she will have a great shot at taking another Pennsylvania seat away from the Republicans. But it won't just be a win for the Democratic Party; this one will be a win for heartfelt progressive values and street smarts. Sam Bennett is a future leader worth investing in. Please join me at the Blue America candidate's page in contributing to Sam's campaign.

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