On Thursday evening, April 28, Ericksom & Associates, a Democratic political consulting group whose clients have included Lois Capps, Bobby Scott, Darlene Hooley, and Ben Cardin, held a “fundraiser” for Nick Lampson, who on Monday May 2nd will formally announce that he is going to run against Tom Delay for the House of Representatives. I used the quotes because there was no minimum contribution required, in fact, no contribution at all.  

I attended this event because of the interest progressive bloggers, especially at dailykos, have had in this CD, especially as shown by the support of Morrison against Delay in the 2004 cycle.  I was there for 2.5 hours, talked with many people, including about 20 minutes one one one with Lampson (in several different conversations), and took extensive notes.  Rep. Lampson and others were all informed that I was going to blog the event.  People remained open and forthcoming, and were willing to be on the record.

The attendance included an interesting mix of people.  Among the attendees were current members of Congress Charles Gonzalez of TX, Jim Matheson of UT, and Jim Oberstar of MN (with whom I talked  — more below).  Also present was former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, who remembered the occasion when we had previously met years ago (although she probably didn”t remember me) –a  fundraiser for then Congressman Bob Edgar.  She remarked that my attending this event showed a continuing good taste in supporting good men.  
There were a number of labor lobbyists present.  When I asked why they supported Lampson, one from IBEW told me that it was more than  just the politics of it, it was the absolutely clear difference in policy.  The first example cited was that Lampson  supports Davis-Bacon, Delay opposes.  This lobbyist listed about a half dozen issues that demonstrated the absolute chasm between the positions of the two men.  

Others in attendance were former staffers and interns for Lampson.  One staffer now retired, when I asked him what phrase he would use for his ex-boss said

“The nicest person in the world.  Just one word:  NICE in all capital letters.”

 When I repeated this to the Congressman he joked that I had talked to the only one he had paid to say that.  One former intern said that she was so looking forward to the campaign so that she could work on behalf of the most honorable man she had met in public service.

Another Congressional staffer, who had previously worked for Martin Frost and now works for Emmanuel Cleaver told me that Lampson was greatly respected by the staffs of all of the Texas Dems.  I also spoke with a staffer from Ted kennedy and i noticed more than a few staffers from the DCCC, although I did not have the change for any conversations with them.

When I talked with Jim Oberstar, I asked him if he could tell me why he supported Nick Lampson.  I have his permission to quote:

“Honesty, Integrity, a genuine commitment tom public service for itself and the good that it can accomplish.”

 Mr. Oberstar went on to talk about how Lampson had stayed on the issue of missing and exploited children (he used to regularly introduce legislation about this), raising it in foreign capitals when traveling on behalf of the Congress, and raising it with notable foreign visitors to Washington DC.

As I have noted, I had several opportunities to talked one on one with Lampson.  He is a very friendly and engaging guy.  I also had the opportunity to listen in on several of his conversations, and I have his permission to post all that I have included here.  I will not distinguish whether the remarks were made only to me or to a broader group:  what is important is the content.

Rep. Lampson noted that when deciding in which district to run after the `redistricting” split his previous district, although he ran against Poe and lost (because most of his previous district was there) he actually polled better against Delay than he did against Poe.

He does not yet have an exact budget, but thinks that it will be in the neighborhood of $5 Million (which is an astronomical amount for a House seat).  He does not seem to think that raising money will be a problem, and based on what I was seeing there, with major DC players such as Lannie Davis, I would tend to agree.

A bit of background might be relevant.  Nick Lampson is a former teacher, having taught science both at his alma mater Lamar Tech and also in public schools (about which he told a funny story I will relate shortly).  He first was elected as a tax assessor, and from what some of the people from his part of Texas told me, managed to remain popular even while in that office.   He then ran for Congress, getting elected I believe in 1996.

After we had chatted for a couple minutes, he told me that I might not agree with him on all of the issues (he’s right), but we were able to quickly find enough in common.  I liked the fact that he was upfront about it, that he didn’t want me to think he was soft peddling the differences.  He was willing to listen to people who talked to him, and got quite interested when I told him about the role dailykos had played for Morrison.  He wants to know more, and told me to contact him by email, and he wrote down the url.  Here i would note that given the demographics of his district he might not want to advertise here.  But he was fascinated when I told him about the elected officials who post here.

The immediate bond between us is because we share the experience of teaching adolescents.   While we did not get into a great deal of detail on educational policy, when I mentioned that it was my real passion he told me that not only had he been a teacher, his wife was a Special Ed teacher  working with kids on Life Skills, and his daughter was getting so frustrated with what was happening that she was thinking of leaving her job as a public school teacher.  he then added “That should give you some idea of what I think about No Child Left Behind.”

I want to share a story he then told me.  I won’t use quotes, because it is not word for word.  In will put it into block quote, because it was Nick Lampson’s story.

I was teaching around the time we really tried to integrate the schools in our district.  We didn’t do it by moving the kids, we started by moving the teachers.  The took about 75% of us, strong teachers, from the white school, perhaps the newest and most modern building in the district.   The black school was one of the oldest, if not the oldest, buildings.  I remember that there was a group of buildings in a shape around a space, like a U, with a sidewalk across the end.  There was always several inches of water in that open space, because of all the rain we get in that part of Texas.  It never seemed to dry up.  I went to talk to the principal about it, and he said he had been complaining about it for around 12 years.   I  asked if I could try to do something about it, and he told me if I wanted to, go ahead.

So I went out there with my biology students.  They took samples, measured, and examined what they found.  Sure enough, there were three things they identified that were harmful to humans.  So I had them turn over their information to the Department of Health.  The Health people told the school people that that “pond” had to be cleaned up or the building was going to close.  They told the school in the morning, and by the afternoon there were crews draining the pond and fixing the site.

He and I talked a bit more, but this story encapsulated several things.  One, this was authentic learning, relevant to the worlds of the students, applying knowledge in a real-world setting.  This is the kind of lesson that sticks with kids forever.   Further, it shows Lampson as one who can come up with creative ways of fixing problems for which others have not been able to come up with solutions.

I was quite impressed with Nick Lampson.  I’m sure it shows in what I have written.  I intend to stay in touch, to explore educational policy some, and to encourage him to find creative ways to use the blogosphere.  I heard from others that he believes he can defeat Delay, but has some concerns that were Delay to drop out it would actually be harder to win the district.  I think the fact that he is declaring early will enable him to build a base of support that will sustain him even should Delay drop out.  That will require him to run a campaign which is not primarily based on attacking Delay.  My sense is that Nick Lampson is actually far more comfortable running a campaign on issues and not on personalities.  Yes, he will have to address the subject of ethical issues. He will want to make a contrast between his high ethical standards and the behavior of the incumbent.  But his real focus needs to be on what he will do positively.  If he can keep that kind of focus, then it might not matter who is his opponent.  And should Delay face more ethical reprimands and/or and indictment from Ronnie Earl, Lampson can express his regrets for the people of the district that they are unable to receive their proper representation because of the ethical problems of his opponent, but then also note that all are considered innocent until proven guilty and return to focus on the issues.

Two thoughts come to mind.  One is part of the first part of the West Wing “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen” episode, looking back to before Bartlet was president.  When Bartlet cannot understand why Leo wants him to run, Leo says that he is tired of settling for the lesser of whatever, and wants to see if a good man can win.  Folks, you will not agree with Nick Lampson on all the issues.  But I guarantee you this, he is a good man.

The other is a halfremembered tale about Lyndon Johnson.  I will probably not get the quotes right, but it is how i think Delay can be hoist by his own petard.  Someone told Johnson that he really couldn’t accuse his opponent of being a pig-f***er, that no one would believe, and Johnson respond to the effect that “yeah, but I’d like to see him have to deny it.”  I’m not saying the Lampson would ever do something like that. I don’t think he has to.  I think merely expressing sorrow at the ethical problems of his opponent creates a similar situation  —  what can Delay do without keeping the ethical charges in the public view??

Nick Lampson still has his website from the 2004 campaign.  Here is the  home page.  You can find out his bio, including his public service, and especially where he stands on the issues

I consider myself fairly progressive.  Considering the demographics of the District he will try to represent, Nick Lampson is actually fairly progressive.  Many progressive/liberal types will disagree with him, especially on some social issues.  But look at the total package  — this is someone who can be a real plus, someone for whom the progressive/liberal side of the party should be willing to support with enthusiasm.  

My first loyalty in 2006 will be to Don Beyer should he run for the Senate in Virginia.   But I will find a way to help Nick Lampson one way or another.  I encourage others to browse his website, and draw your own conclusions.  Clearly he is far superior in every way  — on issues, on ethics, as a human being  — to the incumbent former exterminator.   I think he is deserving of support on his own merits, not merely by comparison with Delay  — that is a test even a dead armadillo in the middle of the road could surpass.  This, folks, is a very good man.  We have far too of those in our public life.  Is it not time to restore another to a position in our nation’s leadership?

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