Monday, March 29, 2010

What Happened To Larry Kissell?


-by Diane Frederick, North Carolina Democratic activist

The night John Kerry lost the election in 2004; I was one of the progressives who woke up stunned and deeply dejected. Soon after I vowed to do everything in my power to help elect a Democratic majority, with an eye towards progressive Democrats I could support in North Carolina. My progressive friends shared a desire to work for Democratic majorities that would support our goals and objectives including ending the Iraq occupation and shifting the focus to problems at home. We needed to provide healthcare for all; address climate change; and level the playing field for working and middle class families who were losing ground at alarming rates under Bush policies. Enter Larry Kissell.

In late 2005, progressive activists in Charlotte were making the rounds at candidate forums; there were several Democrats running in the primary. Robin Hayes was a “moderate” Republican, who had held this seat for several terms in North Carolina’s 8th congressional district. The 8th district has a majority of Democratic voters, and Democrats were confident that they could take back the 8th. The DCCC was promoting a “conservative” Democrat as the frontrunner; someone in the group discovered Larry, and invited him to come out and speak to local progressives. Larry told us what we wanted to hear. He was for bringing troops home from Iraq, healthcare for all, support for working people, immigrant rights, etc. That was what we needed to get on board Larry’s campaign and volunteer to help. Progressives began helping Kissell, and others took notice. We knocked doors, made calls, and worked polls for Larry… and he won the primary! Democratic activists in the district mobilized and volunteered in large numbers to fuel Kissell’s grassroots campaign. Kissell’s campaign lost to Hayes in 2006 by 327 votes; a disappointment that was somewhat tempered by the Democratic majorities we won in 2006.

In 2008, Democratic activists and progressives were more fired up then ever! Volunteers spent countless hours calling, knocking doors, and donating to Kissell’s campaign in the 8th district. Larry campaigned as a populist who would go to Washington to represent working people. With the help of President Obama’s win in NC, Kissell was propelled into office and progressive rejoiced! We had finally taken back the 8th District; Kissell would be there to help the President implement the change we voted for! Healthcare for all! Action on climate change! Representation for the working class! Hooray! ...Or not.

When Kissell got to Congress, he surprised us by voting against the cram down bill which would have helped judges restructure mortgages and keep people in their homes. Larry’s responded by saying it was “unfair” to help people who took out loans they couldn’t afford when other were “doing the right thing” and paying their mortgages. Kissell’s vote against Cap and Trade was even more worrisome; he responded that it would cost jobs in the district; ignoring the potential for green manufacturing in a district devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs.

When the debate shifted to healthcare, local activists expected Kissell to support healthcare reform. Sure he had voted against cram down and cap and trade, and was promoting the repeal of the estate tax, but surely he would stick with the Democrats on this key initiative. We began mobilizing through MoveOn, OFA, and HCAN, calling Democrats and urging them to contact their congressman and support healthcare reform. Alarms began going off when callers to his office were told that he had not taken a position on healthcare reform. More calls were mobilized, and protesters showed up at Kissell offices to encourage his support of the bill. Letters were written to Kissell’s office and local newspapers, petition signatures were collected and sent to Kissell. While other Democrats were holding town hall meetings to promote healthcare reform, Larry avoided the issue and refused to take a position. As the first vote neared in the house, progressive and Democratic activists were pressing Larry for to support healthcare. A few weeks prior to the vote, Kissell and staffers told several groups of Democrats that he would be supporting the President on healthcare; activists breathed a sigh of relief. Then, on the Thursday before the vote Larry put out a statement saying he would be voting "no" on the healthcare reform bill. We mobilized once more; calling his office, reaching out to everyone who had been influential in his election. We called, emailed, lobbied; Kissell wouldn’t take anyone’s direct calls. Staffers announced that Kissell was voting "no" to protect seniors, embracing false Republican talking points to justify his no vote. Despite Kissell’s no vote, the House passed the healthcare bill by an extremely close margin. After the Senate passed their version, and the Democrats lost the Senate seat to Scott Brown, the House was poised to vote once again on the final healthcare bill. Activists in the district once gain targeted Kissell; calling, pleading, and visiting his office. Thousands of pro-healthcare calls were placed to Kissell’s office and promptly ignored. Pro-reform letters and calls were discarded; Larry Kissell was a no show at local events. Constituents around the district watched with frustration as Larry cast his final no vote against the healthcare bill even as we celebrated the historic passage of healthcare reform.

Progressives and rank and file Democrats are outraged and angry. Kissell’s no vote on healthcare left many people feeling let down and deceived. Democratic and progressive voters, key grassroots supporters and donors are being ignored, their concerns left unanswered and their wished ignored.  Voting against the best interest of voters is not what we elected Larry Kissell to do. We don’t need just any Democrat in that seat; we need a proud Democratic progressive who will support our agenda. Nancy Shakir is that progressive, and that is why we are working to elect Nancy Shakir as the Democratic candidate in the 8th district in 2010 and send Kissell home.

As a progressive in North Carolina reflecting on the last year’s fight over healthcare, there is one more point I’d like to note. Activists like me pushed long and hard for a more progressive healthcare bill; we strongly supported single payer, and then the public option. Although Republicans stayed in lock step opposition to even the moderate healthcare bill that finally passed, it was Blue Dog and conservative Democrats like Larry Kissell who really prevented a more progressive healthcare bill from being considered. Blue Dogs undermined our efforts at every turn. As one fellow activist said to me last summer; it’s not supposed to be this hard! Having to fight our own at every step was almost more discouraging than fighting the Republican party of no. We need proud Democrats who will fight hard for our issues, and explain how progressive policies will positively impact the lives of their constituents. Please contribute to Nancy Shakir's primary campaign here.

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At 6:26 AM, Blogger lawguy said...

If I might, it was the biggest Blue Dog of all who prevented a real Health Care REform bill and that BD was of course the big O.

Not to suggest that Kissel is anything but a complete an utter liar.

At 6:23 PM, Anonymous rootless_e said...

Wait, it's not Rahm's fault?


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