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Currents: political events

Democracy in Action: Political Events on Campus

Colby-Sawyer hosted two political events recently, the first featuring Elizabeth Edwards and the second a forum for a variety of Democratic candidates from New Hampshire. These events, co-sponsored by the New London Democratic Committee, attracted members of the college and area communities.

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic presidential contender Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, was the center of attention at the college's Pierce Park on Saturday, Sept. 22. Following an introduction from Colby-Sawyer President and fellow lawyer Tom Galligan, Edwards began her second visit to campus in recent years by sharing with the 120-plus crowd that she had been a classmate of past Colby-Sawyer President Ann Ponder at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Turning to the issues of the day, Edwards repeatedly urged her listeners to take the upcoming election seriously, and to do their own analysis of the candidates for what she says will be an incredibly important election.

“You all have a responsibility to look at each candidate, to determine if they have the vision and the values that represent what they want to fight for, that they actually have policies that turn that vision into reality, and that we can nominate them and feel great about our chances of winning the White House,” Edwards said.

Moving smoothly through a sketch of her husband's early life as the son of factory and mill workers, and the ways in which healthcare and education – or lack thereof – affected their lives, Edwards emphasized that her husband's populist policies were no accident but a direct outgrowth of his own experiences.

“If we don't change direction now, if the Democratic Party doesn't assert itself now, to have the nation recommit itself to, and stand up for, working people, people who want to work … for children, for the disadvantaged and disabled - if we don't start standing up for them, I fear what will happen to the majority of Americans,” Edwards said.

“We have become even more what John talked about in 2003 and 2004, we've become two Americas. What we need is someone who has a progressive agenda, who has a populist heart, and someone who has incredible strength to get the job done. I think John's that person.”

Over the next hour, Edwards discussed her husband's stands on universal healthcare, trade policy, Iraq, paying for college and education in general, and answered questions from a thoughtful and engaged crowd.

A Forum for Democrats at Many Levels

On Sunday, Sept. 23, the college welcomed U.S. Congressman Paul Hodes, who has become a vocal leader of his “freshmen” class in the House of Representatives. He said that while he loves his job and believes he's been successful in serving his constituents' needs, he feels “enormous frustration” with the policy issues around the Middle East and specifically, the Iraq war.

“I was sent to Congress to change things…but we do not have a veto-proof majority,” he said, “and even worse, we don't have the 60 votes to get (Democratic initiatives) to the floor.” He criticized the current administration's policies “as bad judgment that has managed to destabilize the Middle East, diminish this country's reputation, left our military stretched, divided the country, and saddened many people” and ultimately not made this nation any safer.

Rep. Hodes advocated a “surge of aggressive diplomacy” and announced he would not support further supplemental funding for the war in Iraq in a time when the U.S. is imperiled by crumbling roads and bridges, an underfunded education system, and Hurricane Katrina victims continue to suffer.

On the issue of health care, Rep. Hodes said that while he and others are currently at work on proposals for universal approaches to health care, the issue will only become a national priority under a new and Democratic president. “First we need to come together as a nation, and ensure that we have affordable, portable health care for everyone in the country.” He also expressed his support for a new national approach to energy policy, remarking that “green should be the new red, white and blue.” This new approach, involving renewable energy sources, could galvanize the country, reduce our dependence on Middle East oil and create new jobs for the middle class, he asserted. “It's a simple imperative,” he said.

The new Democratically controlled Congress has made some strides, including passing an expansion of veterans' health care benefits, efforts to make college more affordable, and other important legislation. “We look forward to charging forward on a progressive agenda, and governing with integrity, idealism and wisdom,” Rep. Hodes concluded.

Dr. Jay Buckey, a Dartmouth Medical School faculty member and former astronaut, spoke next about his bid for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican John E. Sununu. Dr. Buckey is the only Democrat who has stayed in the race following former New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen's announcement of her candidacy in mid-September.

In his remarks, Dr. Buckey stressed the need to end U.S. dependence on oil and move toward energy independence. “We have the talent and the resources but lack the political will to get off petroleum. It has to be done; it's essential for our national security, it's essential for our economy,” he said, “and it's essential for our environment…Developing renewable energy alternatives should be a vital national interest.

Echoing Rep. Hodes, Dr. Buckey also stressed the need for universal, portable health care, and also promoted preservation of the national social security system; security after retirement; and a renewed commitment to education. “I'm not a career politician, but if I were elected I would work to end the war in Iraq, end the tax cuts for the wealthy that have increased our debt, and end our dependence on foreign oil.”

Two local representatives in the New Hampshire Legislature, Richa McMahon (Sutton) and Susan Gottling (Sunapee) also spoke about their work and accomplishments on behalf of their constituents. Both stressed their connections to the college in their introduction: Rep. McMahon is a graduate of Colby Junior College and Rep. Gottling's four children graduated from the Windy Hill School.

Rep. McMahon, a former staff member in the Clinton administration, expressed pride in the House of Representatives' work on ensuring funding for education in the state, which included more financial support for kindergarten, on supporting legislation for health insurance for low-income children (SCHIP) and for college students. She urged her constituents to phone and e-mail her with their ideas and needs, as well as to visit the Statehouse. “We get our best ideas from you,” she said.

Additionally, Rep. McMahon, now in her second term, expressed appreciation for Governor John Lynch, whose support has helped the now Democratic majority in the House to move forward on many different fronts. She will continue to work to protect Mt. Sunapee and fight hard for college students' right to vote in New Hampshire, even if they live in other states.

A member of the Resources, Recreation and Economic Development Committee, Rep. Gottling spoke about her work on the contentious issues of the state's potential move toward privatizing Cannon Mountain's ski resort and Berlin's effort to create an extensive network of trails for all-terrain vehicles (ATV). She reported progress in working with Cannon Mountain staff on a five-year plan to improve the resort. On the ATV trail, her committee found that the trail plan, while a potential boon to Berlin's sagging economy, overlooked important environmental regulations.

In the next year, Rep. McMahon expects education funding will continue to be a major issue, as will an effort to stabilize the benefit system for state employees. She also cited a lack of sufficient funding for state parks, despite the emphasis on tourism in New Hampshire. “The lack of funding bewilders me,” she said. “We want people to come here but we don't want to provide our parks with enough support to keep them going.”

For her part, Rep. Gottling intimated that great challenges lie ahead in generating sufficient revenue for the state. She indicated that a “big, big gambling lobby” is becoming more vocal and powerful, but added that not all residents believe this would be a good direction for New Hampshire.

-Kate Seamans and Kimberly Slover