Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

I’ll Miss You, Dennis Kucinich!

Ohio was one of the states which lost population in the 2010 census, which meant it also lost 2 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Since Republicans captured both houses of the OH state legislature and the OH governorship in 2010, they merged Democratic House Districts–forcing fellow members to campaign against each other in primaries if they wanted a chance to continue in the U.S. Congress. Two Democrats pitted against each other this way, were favorites of mine, Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich–in a merged district that included more Kaptur territory than Kucinich territory. The result: Last night U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) lost to Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), which means that his Congressional career will end this year.

I’m saddened by this since Dennis Kucinich, although he had quirks (a vegan diet; befriending some “New Age” personalities; belief that he had once seen a UFO), was also one of the few progressive champions throughout his political career. We often say that we want more politicians with real convictions, who will vote their consciences and not be swayed by special interest lobbies or career asperations–and Kucinich was that kind of person.

Kucinich was elected to the Cleveland City Council in his 20s and became mayor of Cleveland at 33 from 1977 to 1979, the youngest mayor of any major city in the U.S. Big money special interests wanted him to privatize the Cleveland power company (Muni Light) so that they could charge higher rates. Kucinich, who had grown up very poor and had watched his parents have to choose which bills to pay, refused to privatize the company. So, the big money special interests deliberately put Cleveland into default, leading Kucinich to lose reelection in a landslide. (They also had the mafia put a hit out on him, but cancelled it when he lost the election.) His political career was seemingly over. He was in political Siberia in the 1980s, except for a short term on the City Council, a failed House bid, and a failed run for OH governor.   But as privatized power companies raised rates throughout the nation during the 1980s, Cleveland continued to have some of the lowest electricity rates in the nation–and Ohio’s newspapers started to notice and wrote stories saying, “Dennis Was Right.” In 1998, Clevalnd honored Kucinich for refusing to sell Muni Light, a decision that saved the city an estimated $185 million just in the years between 1985 and 1995.

In 1994, Kucinich won a seat in the OH State Senate and in 1996 narrowly won election to the U.S. House in OH’s 10th District. He has served that District from 1997 until now–and no other election was close.  In 2004 and 2008, he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination. In neither case, did he get very far, but he pushed the right issues and forced candidates to talk about things they’d rather have ignored.  I was proud to work for his campaign in ’04.

Informed by the “Dorothy Day/Catholic Worker” strand of Catholicism in his upbringing, by a childhood of poverty and hard work, Kucinich’s political principles have been that of an old-fashioned liberal Democrat.  He has been a champion of economic justice in the tradition of FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society. A near-pacifist, Kucinich has also been a strong peacemaker who was one of the few voices to speak out against the Bush invasion of Iraq.  Kucinich proposed a cabinet-level Department of Peace which would operate with 1% of the military budget and work to solve both international and domestic problems nonviolently. He wanted to bring the Fairness Doctrine back to broadcasting so that news would no longer be propaganda.  Kucinich was a champion of the environment, of gun control, of public education, and of single-payer, universal healthcare.  He fought against torture, unlimited detention, and the erosion of the bill of rights.

When Democrats gained control of Congress in 2006, Kucinich tried to stop the Iraq War by impeaching first VP Dick Cheney and then Pres. G.W. Bush.  When Pres. Obama authorized NATO air strikes on Libya without Congressional approval, Kucinich was consistent–saying that this was clearly an impeachable offense since the Constitution never allows for the president to go to war without Congressional approval.  He opposed the expansion of the war in Afghanistan and would cut the military budget in half, using 50% of the savings to pay down the national debt and the rest to fight poverty here at home.

Kucinich’s political career seems to be over, but that was true once before. Perhaps he’ll run for Governor of Ohio in 2014 or for the U.S. Senate in 2016.  But, if this is the end, Kucinich can be proud of his record of service.  I wish him well.

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March 7, 2012 - Posted by | U.S. politics

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