Thursday, October 13, 2005

A chat with Lois Murphy

Last night I sat in on my first blogger conference call with a local candidate, namely Lois Murphy, who is running against Jim Gerlach for the seat of US Representative from the 6th PA district (in the 2006 election). It was a small group, but Murphy was happy to be bouncing ideas rather than fund-raising, so I found the call interesting and enjoyable. More importantly, it was an excellent chance to see behind media ads and polished speeches to a bit of how the candidate talks and thinks informally, how she sees the race, what really motivates her to take part.

I was very favorably impressed. Not only did Murphy have a host of reasons that she'd like her opponent to be gone (from his entanglement with Republican cronyism to his lack of leadership on any issue and lack of connection to his disctrict), but she had a motivated and genuinely progressive vision for what the priorities of Congress should be. In general terms, she would like to see a turn from a national discourse of division and fear to a focus on building communities, and particularly on bringing people from a range of areas and lifestyles (much like her diverse district) into a shared vision of the common good, investing in people and resources for the future. [An example she gave was a change from "should wealthy suburbs have to pay to run Reading city schools" to "should we all invest in educating our children for the future."] The longer discussion gave reason to believe that she had concrete ideas to support those ends, and good notions of how they applied at both local and national levels. Further, she was upbeat about the prospects for this election ("I wouldn't have gotten in if the trends didn't make it look like I could beat him this time"), and had the numbers to support that view.

In terms of specific questions that were asked, a few glosses:
  • On Iraq: The Bush folks have and are blowing it, and should be required to give a timetable and strategy for getting out (she didn't offer her own, claiming no expertise from which to work). On the flip side, Americans must realize that the focus on Iraq has meant that others things slide, from health care to real security at home.
  • On her top issues: She has a long history of working on women's rights, including reproductive issues, and is concerned about restrictions on those rights (and Supreme Court trends, etc.). Health care also central, with some notions that state efforts can be used as test caes for what might work at the national level. Homeland security also a major concern, where administration action hasn't always matched their rhetoric -- wants to improve real security on the ground, communications among agencies, etc.
  • On Gerlach: His ties to DeLay are the closest in the region, in voting record (91%), in money received for his campaigns, in contributions to DeLay's defense fund, even switching sides (and positions!) on critical votes in response to leadership pressure. Meantime, he hasn't taken the initiative or leadership on virtually any issue during his time in Congress.
  • On her chances: She had a very close race against Gerlach two years ago coming from zero name recognition; her district is trending more Democratic (in registration, voting patterns, polls of GOP approval ratings); there were Kerry votes she didn't get who can still be won over; Rendell at the top (hugely popular in her district) may help as well.
  • On public financing of campaigns: Great in theory, but in practice there's a huge deficit and too many Congressional races, so no. She also noted that lobbying money is now so immense that it's probably a much bigger ethical issue than campaign contributions.
In sum, I don't live in Murphy's district (which starts just west of the Philadelphia city limits and loops through the near suburbs and then out to snag a piece of Reading), but I think that I will be motivated to support her campaign. It's likely to be one of the few contested races in my area (Brady will have a cakewalk), and it's one where the two candidates really represent different approaches to policy and to politics. A Murphy win would put a meaningful voice in service of her constituents and our national interests where now there is only an empty suit beholden to Tom DeLay. Keep your eyes open for more news and activity (as well as a website overhaul to incude opportunities to volunteer and participate in research efforts) as we move into the new year.

Update: read Dan's take on the call here.
Update 2: BooMan offers his take as well here.


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