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November 15, 2006

Democrats Win! - Now What?

George Wenschhof

What do the numbers 51, 234, and 28 have in common? These are the number of seats held by Democrats in the Senate, House, and in Governors' Mansions across the country as a result of the mid-term election last week.

There were Democrat gains of six seats in the Senate, 29 in the House, and six in the governors' races. They now have a majority in all three with 51 of 100 seats in the Senate, 234 of 435 seats in the House and 28 of the 50 governors.

The Republicans had held the majority of all three and the White House. Now they are left with President George W. Bush, who has two years remaining in his second term.

Well, what does this mean? The voters signaled they wanted a new direction. The main message being they wanted an Iraq strategy that included an end game. The other message sent was that they were tired of the partisan-style rhetoric dominating the country today.

This extreme partisan approach has resulted in political gridlock and Americans being driven against each other. What the voters want is for elected representatives to be passionate about and to argue strongly their positions. But when the voting is over, they want their representatives to come together to aid in the success of that vote.

The question that should come first to elected officials is: Will this action bring people together and move America forward? It is time to end the mean-spirited and divisive style of politics that has dominated of late.

However, changing direction in government is much like turning an ocean liner around; it takes time. While the changes demanded by this election are occurring, elected officials on both side of the aisle will be keeping an eye on the election in 2008 for president and Congress.

The most noticeable early changes will be in leadership positions in the House and the Senate. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D., CA) is the presumptive new Speaker of the House; her election will be the first order of business when the House convenes in January. Senator Harry Reid (D., NV) will become the Senate majority leader after the Senate votes, also in January.

President Bush, realizing he no longer has a Republican majority in either house of Congress, has already held meetings and photo-ops with Representative Pelosi and Senator Reid.

The next order of business for the Democrats will be the appointment of the chairmen of important congressional committees. Whether it is the Judiciary, Education, or Budget and Finance Committees, the chairs wield considerable power. Although many will be determined by seniority, these appointments will provide insight as to the direction the Democrats intend to take in areas of importance to Americans.

Some of the early issues Democrats have indicated they want to pursue are increasing the minimum wage, expanding research into alternative energy and stem cells, and lowering drug prices under Medicare. They have also said they want to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 commission that includes increasing security at our nation's ports.

Critical first steps must be developing a bi-partisan agreement on the strategy concerning our involvement in Iraq. It should include increased participation by other countries, the United Nations, and NATO followed by a reduction in U.S. boots on the ground.

We witnessed the tragedies in Vietnam and recall the images of South Vietnamese civilians trying to get into American helicopters as Saigon and the American embassy was being overrun by the Viet Cong. We should learn from our mistakes and work hard to establish a policy direction that will aid in the stability in Iraq and the Middle East.

Campaign finance reform is another change that voters want. They are tired of the politicians that are good fundraisers but poor representatives. True reform should involve some degree of public financing to include equal media time provided to all candidates. This would be a welcome relief to the voters who are inundated with direct mail, television commercials, and robo-calls in the weeks preceding every election.

While some Democrats may call for investigations into various Republican actions over the last six years, this would prove to be divisive and counter productive in moving American forward.

The money spent over the years investigating partisan actions and financing political campaigns would have been better spent on developing a national health care program that is effective and affordable to all.

Be patient, the ship will be turned around.

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