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On Gun Violence

Over 33,000 people a year die from gun violence in America: 1000 times more than the soldiers who died in combat in 2017, 500 times as many police officers who died from gunfire in 2017. Surely we can do better.

As a Democrat I share the party’s statement: “We can respect the rights of responsible gun owners while keeping our communities safe.” I also believe that we need universal background checks without exceptions for gun shows and private sales. We, and even the nonpartisan League of Women Voters support banning military grade weapons, like AR-15s and equivalents. We all say we need to study gun violence as a public health issue, which is not possible now.

Some gun rights advocates see these as a slippery slope but I disagree. No right in the Constitution is absolute and all of them come with responsibilities, including the right to keep and bear arms. Other reasonable ideas I support that would reduce gun violence are:

  1. Red Flag Laws. Most gun deaths take place in homes, either as suicides or domestic violence. Judges should be able to impound firearms of those with substance abuse, domestic abuse or dangerous mental health issues.

  2. User Licensing.  Like a driver’s license which ensures people can use a car safely, a gun user’s license would indicate someone who has been educated and trained in the use of firearms and include the necessary background check as well. Though voluntary, user licensing would have positive incentives to encourage responsible use.

  3. Liability Insurance.  Having a firearm in a home or office statistically raises the risk of injury and death. We should require gun owners to take responsibility by having liability coverage for the added risk. And we should end the legal immunity of gun manufacturers as well.

  4. Youth and firearms. No one under 21 should be able to purchase or own firearms. And only those 16 or above should be able to hold a user’s license.  Like driver education, firearm safety should be taught beforehand by trained teachers.

  5. Illegal arms trafficking.  The source of many firearms used in crimes, these weapons move secretly across state lines due to wide variations in state law.  Having clear national standards about gun sales would lower the rate of illegal trafficking.


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The Business of Politics

If you asked me what has made politics so bad in the last twenty years I would answer, the ‘Business of Politics.’ Once you’re a candidate, it finds you:  I get email from direct mail firms, job requests from field managers, questionnaires from PACS, and this morning a pamphlet from a cable company about how to “reach my audience.”

Experts in the future will dissect how it came to be, but all I know is: win or lose, lots of people still make lots of money.  The direct mail firms, the pollsters, the cable companies, the campaign managers, the cable news channels, the websites, etc, etc. Like stock brokers who make a commission whether you buy or sell, gain or lose, the Business of Politics wins no matter who wins or loses. And that, I believe, is what is corrupting our politics.

In the Business of Politics a vicious cycle exists that requires vast sums of money for someone to get elected: over $1m per House candidate, $10m per Senate candidate and $1b for presidential candidate.  There is no way a candidate can raise that from constituents, so they are driven to get money from PACS, where wealth bundles its money anonymously and dangles it in front of candidates who need it to pay staff, and advertise, and so on.

No wonder citizens have given up on politics; they are no more than market share, demographics, audiences.  The ‘Business of Politics’ has bought out democracy itself.  

How to change this?  Pass laws!  

Not this Congress.  We need a new one.  And that takes two ingredients.

  1. Candidates who are willing to risk failure by not doing the ‘Business of Politics’
  2. Voters who are willing those who they vote those take such risks

I am such a candidate. I got into this race to be that candidate, knowing it would reduce my chance of success. But I also believe I can get elected for less than $1m, that I do not need more money than any individual person can legally give ($2700 by the way). I believe there are 3000, even 5000 people in my district who are willing to give $50 or $100 to support such a candidate. I am also betting that you will vote for someone who walks this talk.

I also believe that it is worth it, because this is how we defeat the ‘Business of Politics’ and if we succeed it will send a shock wave of hope to others who want to believe that we can have a better Congress, that we can have Representatives that actually represent the people, not the money, that we can still be a democracy.

I believe I can help this happen.  But I know that only you can make it happen.  

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John Lennon and Love over Fear

While working on this week’s sermon, and pondering why we seem so divided these days, I stumbled, by accident or grace, upon these words from John Lennon:

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance…”

As someone who is anxious by nature, very susceptible to fear, I can attest to the ‘pull back from life.’ There are lots of reasons to fear. But there is no future in fear. So I choose to love, to trust, to believe in life despite the fear. It is a conscious and daily choice.

America is a place that was created from a vision of a future, one of equality and democracy, of liberty and justice. Fear will not get us there. Only love can do that. We have to love our country into the future – love it and love its people, love its strengths and its weaknesses, love its best and worst moments.

We have reasons to fear, without doubt. But as it says somewhere ‘love casts out fear.’ Choose love. At bottom, before everything else, that is my politics, to choose love.


Why I am a candidate

I should have written this six weeks ago when I announced my candidacy, but better late than never, right? Why I am a candidate.

That came up in spades this week when someone I was meeting, a man of some local repute, asked me “What are the top three issues as you see them?” I did not have a clear answer. That bothered me, and set me thinking. Unlike other candidates, I am not in this for particular issues like healthcare or taxes. Don’t get me wrong, I care about those a lot. But what motivates me is: why those are issues in the first place?

It is our politics itself. That is not a top issue for most people, especially those who are struggling with basics like employment and housing and education and healthcare. But I truly believe that our political system, what I have called the ‘political industrial complex,’ is what prevents us from making real progress on so many fronts.

A system dependent on money and focused constantly on seeking or keeping power, even when sought for noble reasons, inevitably becomes solely about getting and keeping power. And while I believe my Democratic party is more in touch with what the people need and deserve, they are as entangled in the ‘political industrial complex’ as the Republicans. How could they not be? Who would risk their political future for changing the system?

Me. Someone without a future in politics. I am almost 65. If elected I would show up with a Medicare card in my wallet. I cannot imagine serving more than 4 or 5 terms, if I get that lucky. And believe me, there are things I want to do before I can’t do them: see Victoria Falls, be a hospital baby cuddler, finish reading Don Quixote. Congress barely gives you time to get dressed.

But if I can bring a different attitude, one of actually representing people, of acting as though Congress can be a genuine democracy, not just a pair of punch-drunk fighters in suits and shiny ties, then it’s worth it.

You see, I was a boy scout long ago. I totally bought the idea of duty to God and country. I’ve done forty years for God, so a decade for country is not too much. And it seems to me that a little more trustworthiness and loyalty and helpfulness, a bit more friendliness and courtesy and kindness, would do Congress a lot of good.

“The occasion is piled high with difficulty,” said Lincoln to Congress on this day, December 1, in 1862. “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present,” he said. “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

That’s what we need, to think anew and act anew. We need to disenthrall ourselves.

I believe I can help.