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A Paul Welistone Alan Pogue EDITORIAL The Democratic Democrat Back when Bill Hobby was lieutenant governor and Bob Bullock was a Democrat, Port Arthur Senator Carl Parker had a standard one-liner about public education. “In this state, you can’t say that throwing money at public education doesn’t do any good because we’ve never tried it.” At the time, Parker was fighting with his own party \(which then controlled both houses of the with Republican Governor Bill Clements, because Parker understood that as long as conservative Democrats align with Republicans on fiscal issues, there will be no real difference between the parties. Paul Welistone, the Democratic Senator from Minnesota, has a national version of that argument, and he is taking it on the road to see how it might resonate in the Democratic presidential primary. After the Democratic minority, at Bill Clinton’s urging, surrendered to the Republicans on welfare reform, Wellstone began traveling beyond Minnesota, to coal mining towns in Harlan County, Kentucky, to inner-city neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Baltimore, to the Mississippi Delta visits intended as both an examination of the conditions burdening the poor, and an attempt to focus some attention on poverty and the decay of social services. It is a national tour reminiscent of the 1968 travels that moved Bobby Kennedy from traditional liberalism toward social justice radicalism. Wellstone has also visited New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Iowa, Colorado, and other states suggesting he is at least laying the groundwork for a possible presidential campaign. If he decides to run and loses, Welistone says, then he will at least bring the issues of race, gender, education, and poverty back into the national conversation. Wellstone stressed that he will not run if he does not believe he can win. “You know, the Democrats talk about rebuilding schools, and they call for $5 billion when they know that the GAO says it would take at least $112 billion. When the President talks about schools, he talks about school uniforms and voluntary testing, as if that was an education renewal program.” Wellstone was in Austin partly to preview his presidential stump speech at a Texas Observer political party at Scholz Garden, and to drop in on a “Labor/ University/Community” conference organized by the Texas AFL-CIO. Welistone said he will decide, over the next several months, whether he will enter the presidential race. He said he represents “the democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” a party he describes as so completely beholden to the same financial interests that control the Republican Party that it’s often hard to tell one party from the other. “I find that the difference goes like this. The Republicans will say that when it comes to some of these pressing issues, affordable health care, affordable child care, jobs at decent wages, crumbling schools Republicans will say that these are problems, but there is nothing that government can or should do about them. “What the Democrats say is that these are problems, and of course it’s important to invest in and rebuild crumbling schools, to have affordable child care, and affordable health care, to have jobs but politically we really can’t do it. And that’s a difference that doesn’t make a difference. And that is really the kind of void we have in American politics right now.” Wellstone’s approach to filling the void is both programmatic and political. “I’ll have a major piece of legislation on child care, a major piece of legislation on health. care, and a major piece of legislation on jobs.” Because he recognizes that the current makeup of the Senate imposes real limits on any progressive legislation, Wellstone is traveling the country in an attempt to organize a constituency for the issues that are being ignored in Washington. “I will be a serious legislator, I will work very hard at it,” Wellstone said. “But I can’t, given the composition of the Senate and the House right now I can’t put all my energy, everything that I do, into that framework. “We need to have some external pressure, we really need to begin again. I think people in the progressive community need to be introduced to one another around the country. People have been beaten down, we’re demoralized, we’re highly disorganized, and it’s time, it’s time. Lord, if there ever was a time. It’s time from the point of view of recapturing the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. It’s also time, from the point of See “Wellstone,” page 15 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5 DECEMBER 19, 1997