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children in schools and the free lunches, there’s a lot of that stuff we need to protect our people and see that they get educated.” And 37 years of union meetings have not been entirely lost on Herman. While he likes a good number of the provisions in the Republican contract, he’s not all that sure that the Republicans have his best interest at heart, “I actually feel that they are going a little bit overboard as far as protecting the big-money people. The Republicans have never really got out and worked for the benefit of the general public. They have always catered to and thrown their support in favor of the rich.” BUT IF A NUMBER of the older union members are seduced by the Contract With America, many of the younger ones are having none of it. “I think that the Republicans have done a good job in only one area and that’s clouding all the issues,” says OCAW union member Jimmy Davis. “They’ve got people walking around worrying more about toting a gun than having a job. These are not the things that people ought to be talking about.” Davis is worried that the Republican Party and the Contract With America is inevitably leading the country toward a twotier society, “When I was a kid back in the ’50’s, only the people with money got to go to college and they were the only ones and we’re moving back in that direction. We are going to end up like Mexico with the rich and the ones that are very poor and we are going to be in a lot of trouble.” But in Beaumont and Port Arthur there are two types of working-class people, those who are members of unions and who make good salaries and the vast majority of others who aren’t and who don’t. At the Parkdale Mall, I found a lot of the latter. There, a discouraging number of the people I approached said that they had never heard of the Contract With America or that they didn’t follow politics; that seemed particularly to be the case with the women. But those who did want to talk wanted to talk at length. A few were like Charlie Gilette, a small, energetic real estate salesman inside a large cowboy hat, who has lived in Beaumont for 35 years. Gilette liked everything about the Contract. “I think that it’s a good idea and I think it’s going to return control to the states where it ought to be instead of the federal government running everything we do. It’s a step in the right direction. They’re hollering and screaming that it’s taking away from our kids. It ain’t taking away from any of my kids.” But Gilette’ s enthusiastic embrace of the Contract in it’s entirety was the exception rather than the rule, even among self-described conservatives like Will Johnston, a traveling salesman of men’s apparel. “I’m pleased with the top-line,big-point conver sations,” Johnston said. “The words balanced budget amendment sound good, now the reality of it may be a different thing when you find out what’s really in it and how it really works and how they really get to balancing the budget.” Like Ross Perot and his followers, Johnston was most concerned with eliminating the budget deficit. When the interview took place, the battle over welfare reform in the House of Representatives was getting raucous and Johnston seemed fed up with the Republicans because of what he considered to be an irrelevant waste of time and energy. “I heard this morning that it’s 13.6 billion dollars which is less than 1 percent of the total budget. So to get back to the top line of the whole thing, they can argue it ’til they are blue in the face and if they chop it in half I don’t think it’s going to make a real dent in what I think is the most pressing matter, But if a number of the older union members are seduced by the Contract With America, many of the younger ones are having none of it. and that is aiming toward a balanced budget by the year 2000 and beyond.” The Republican’s effort to reform welfare was on everyone’s mind. Tommy Lindbrook is a 27-year-old African American who works on robots at the Goodyear Chemical plant. He worried about how the cuts are going to affect poor people in his neighborhood. “Man, there’s going to be a lot of hard times for a lot of people, because there are a lot of people who don’t have enough education, not even to go to McDonald’s and fill out an application,” Lindbrook said. “It’s hard to find a job and they’re leaning on welfare now.” Lindbrook worries that cutting people off welfare without jobs or other recourse will lead to an explosion in crime. He’s against the Republican reform but his analysis of the dynamics that he believes are inherent in welfare sounds, in part, like some of the Republican rationale in favor of the reforms. “I might be wrong and I’m not the one to down my people, you know … but at the same time, the situation that we’re in, we set ourselves up in that situation a long time ago. When they brought welfare here and they threw it amongst us, well there are a lot of blacks, blacks are, in a sort of kind of way, lazy. You know if you feed a man long enough, a stranger on the street he’s going to keep coming back to that same food, he knows you’re going to give it to him. That’s the same thing with welfare. You fed these people welfare for so many years they’ve got their hands out there looking for this little money coming in every month, these food stamps coming in every month, so basically they’re going to be left up a tree.” But Felicia Airington, a young AfricanAmerican housewife and mother, has a different, more personal perspective of welfare. Airington was on welfare for a year, simply because at minimum wage she could not make enough money to support her children, nor could she get benefits. She says that she used the year to collect herself, apply and get into college, and that it changed her life. “I would have never went back to college, I wouldn’t be able to get out there and work and make money and do things for myself,” Airington said. She worries that the Contract With America will mean that poor children are going to be made to pay even more. “Women who need the help are not going to be able to get the help and kids are the ones who are going to suffer. The kids are going to suffer big time. It’s going to be awful. I mean Head Start for children, early screening, all those programs are going to be gone once the Republicans get through and have everything their way.” HOUGH JOURNALISTS and aca demics love to make generalizations, the fact is politics are rarely simple. For example, at the same time that citizens of Jefferson County were replacing their longtime Democratic Congressman with a Republican who has close ties to the religious right, they also elected Beaumont’s first African-American mayor, David Moore. Moore is worried about how the Contract With America might affect Beaumont. “It could cause a lot of tension here. If you take away all the summer jobs that young people had an opportunity to get, and start developing a sense of accountability and self esteem, and those jobs are no longer there and the community does not step forward to offer those jobs, then you are going to create another class of people who are going to be very angry and very bitter and as the old saying says ‘You can pay me now or pay me a heck of a lot more later,’ and I see that’s where we’re going.” Excluding the true believers of both the left and the right, the majority of East Texans seem to give the first 100 days of the new Republican Congress a cautious nod of approval. But with another year and a half to go until the next election, most people seemed to want reserve final judgement to see what the next 612 days will bring. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9 , r…4014.1Wee.i..