Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Rev. Straatemeier: Arizona Democratic Party Says, “Mr. President, bring our troops home - and BTW, please fully fund their benefits.”

Let us as Democrats take the lead to bring the US out of this quagmire.

This past weekend, amidst the cool Northern Arizona pines in Flagstaff, AZ, some very significant progress took place within the Arizona Democratic Party at its quarterly State Committee Meeting.

A resolution passed unanimously, asking the President and Congress, in support of our men and women in uniform and their families, to withdraw our troops from Iraq “as expeditiously and responsibly” as possible, and to fully fund veterans benefits. Arizona has thus became the seventh state Democratic Party to pass such resolutions, joining California, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and New Jersey.

Also, keeping in mind Joseph Stalin’s sage words that, “Those who cast the votes decide nothing; those who count the votes decide everything,” the State Committee heard a presentation by an election protection research group, AUDITAZ, who had discovered voting fraud in Pima County, Arizona, working with other groups, including AZ Citizens for Fair Elections, DFA (Democracy for America) Tucson, and AZPC (Arizona Progressive Caucus) Pima County. A recent article in the Tucson Citizen, “The Mother of Security Holes in State Voting System” has details.

After hearing the compelling reports from Dr. Tom Ryan, and Dr. David Griscom, a state level election integrity commission was formed under the leadership of the newly elected state party Chair, AZ State Senator Harry Mitchell. The presentation was led by State Rep. Dr. Ted Downing, whose voter protection amendments to the voting bill in the last legislative session were voted down, but who is determined to come back with even stronger protections this next term, now supported by the entire Democratic Party. This is a major step forward in making sure that every ballot cast is fairly counted and every citizen’s right to vote is protected.

Then, at lunch, in one corner of the large meeting room, a new 45 member “Progressive Caucus,” was birthed within the AZ State Democratic Committee, led by AZ State Committeepersons from PDA (www.pdamerica.org) and its state-level affiliate AZPC (www.azprogressive.us), who champion progressive causes within the political process. A cheering crowd heard presentations by Sen. Harry Mitchell, asking for our vote as party chair, and Bruce Wheeler, a charismatic Democrat running for Secretary of State, and signed a roster to stay in touch between meetings. Several states have already contacted PDA and AzPC to discuss doing this within their own state party, and the author has been invited to be on a panel to discuss this when PDA meets in Washington DC during the massive peace marches and lobbying efforts over the weekend of September 24-26.

All in all, not a bad day’s work for a day that was to be “routine.”

What happened?

Several days before the State Meeting, AzPC progressives statewide got wind of a resolution being proposed by two State Committee members from Sedona’s “Red Rock Democrats,” to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. Marv Stalcup and Haskell Fishell, the authors of the resolution, with the support of many statewide grassroots groups and progressive leaders within the State Committee, worked with the state and county leadership of the party to a wording, below, that won the UNANIMOUS approval of the State Committee.

Grassroots Democrats from AzPC invited members as they came in to read the Red Rock resolution and to wear a maroon sticker supporting a YES vote on the resolution. By the time the voting actually got underway at 1:00, a sea of maroon stickers decorated the room, and the will of the people was very clear: “Bring our troops home!”

The determination of the people was also clear: by the time the Red Rock resolution finally came up for vote, it was very late in the afternoon, and, remarkably, at least 150 delegates had remained solely to make sure their voice was heard on this issue, “Bring our troops home!”

So, it was unmistakable that the negotiations about the final wording of the resolution, conducted through the resolution authors, the County Chairs, AzPC and PDA members, progressive Arizona Representative Ted Downing, and former Dean AZ campaign manager Frank Costanzo, only acted to make the final vote unanimous, although several key provisions had been tabled to make that unanimity possible.

At issue, with a commitment to take a full pulse of the grassroots in town hall meetings throughout Arizona before the November meeting, were some vital elements. It is felt by those who brought the resolution that the grassroots may surprise the party leadership by overwhelmingly supporting even stronger wording than what was tabled. To be addressed within town halls...

  • the illegality of the pre-emptive war, with resulting US and Iraqi deaths
  • misallocation of OUR taxpayer funds to an illegal cause
  • leaving no permanent US military-controlled bases in Iraq
  • eliminating attempts by US government and US corporations to control the economy, government, and resources of Iraq
  • reducing the U.S. military budget to allocate that money for domestic programs and environmental protection

The final wording of the resolution passed by the Arizona Democratic Party follows:

Whereas the AZ Democratic Party is supportive of our Men and Women in military service and supportive of their families;

And whereas the AZ State Democratic Party opposes the reasons previously stipulated by the Bush Administration for war in Iraq, the method of prosecution of the war and its failure to have an adequate exit plan from Iraq;

Be it resolved that the AZ Democratic Party call upon the Bush Administration and the US Congress to support the families of our service people, and to fully fund veterans and military benefits for our service personnel, and to remove our troops from Iraq in as responsible and expeditious a fashion as possible."

Out of the challenges of coordinating grassroots efforts around the state on short notice, and working with the party structure to build consensus on both the election protection commission and Iraq withdrawal resolution, the idea of the progressive caucus was born and took root. The intention of the caucus is to form a solid progessive network within the State Committee, which will caucus early in the day before every State meeting, and take time between meetings to be in touch with each other, to adequately plan “progressive” policy initiatives, presentations, resolutions, and candidate support to present to the full State Democratic party. Eventually, there may be progressive caucuses as well at the county and legislative district levels to support progressive local Democratic candidates and policy initiatives.

Arizona State Committeewoman Sherry Bohlen, also National Field Director of PDA, and recently returned from a week in Crawford, Texas at Camp Casey commented happily, "It was a banner day for progressives in Arizona! Progressives from many groups and locations in Arizona showed up ready to work in solidarity to champion the people's agenda! Passage of the resolution to withdraw US troops from Iraq, support of the newly formed Election Integrity Committee, and the kick-off of an official Progressive Caucus within the Arizona Democratic Party were all major steps for the progressive community and for the Arizona Democratic Party."

Hope is thriving in Arizona!


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