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irregular times logoA Conversation With Barbara Ann Radnofsky, Candidate for United States Senate in 2006

As we edge further away from the election of 2004, America is experiencing a shift of perspectives. Between 2000 and 2004, the presidential election to come loomed so large that almost all other electoral contests faded into the shadows. Now that President Bush is in his second term, and no one can accurately predict who will run for the White House in 2008, America's political focus is returning to the Congress.

It's a plain fact that President Bush would be powerless to enact his agenda if he didn't have a cooperative U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. So, it's only common sense that Americans who are seeking a return to a more reasonable government that works within a traditional understanding of liberty and justice are thinking about the mid-term congressional elections of 2006.

In Texas, home to so many of America's more controversial political elites, there is a new kind of candidate coming to the fore in 2006. Prime among this new group of alternative voices for Texas is Barbara Ann Radnofsky, who is running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate in 2006.

Radnofsky is that rare politician who is able to offer a genuinely moderate political agenda without compromising the ideals of progressive democracy. I spoke to Ms. Radnofsky about her campaign recently, and was struck by the persuasive steadiness of her approach. She offers an articulate, principled and capable alternative to the Republican elites who have caused Texas so much trouble over the last few years.

The following is a transcript of my conversation with Barbara Ann Radnofsky.

What specific events provoked your decision to become a candidate for the U.S. Senate?

I had watched as I saw the destruction of the two-party system in Texas on a statewide level and I really saw at the time, and still do see a great potential for someone who is a fresh face and a moderate, problem-solving Democrat who could win statewide in 2006.

Could you talk a little bit more about the destruction of the two-party system in Texas?

In Texas, we have no statewide elected Democrats. It's been happening year after year as we run as Democrats, very honorable good men and women, and they keep losing. It doesn't do the people of Texas well to have a single party representation. There's nobody there advocating against what a Republican Congress or what a Republican administration would do.

We're a net donor, by way of example, of our tax dollars to the rest of the country. We have dreadful problems in this state. Can I give you one specific example?

Of course.

This budget cuts Upward Bound. That really affects a lot of people in this state, even though it's not a huge program in terms of dollars in this state. It affects a whole lot of people, and it's a good program. I know because I'm involved in it, and I've taught in it.

You don't hear any statewide politician clamoring over that kind of cut, just like you don't hear any clamoring over any specific cuts that have really done a disservice to the state. There aren't any statewide Democrats to clamor.

Tell me more about Upward Bound and what cutting that kind of program says to you about the priorities in the current budget cuts.

Upward Bound is a program for what we hope will be college-bound, disadvantaged students. It is premised upon the notion that they will work hard. The program that I have done some volunteer teaching in has kids who actually go to school six days a week, and they commit to it. There are wonderful anecdotal accounts of just how well the program serves these students and sees them on their way to college and success in life.

The budget would take that money and put it into No Child Left Behind, and the teachers I have spoken to, to a person, realize that the No Child Left Behind provisions are not nearly as effective as they were touted when they were put in. We could talk about No Child Left Behind for a long time.

Barbara Ann Radnofsky Bumper StickerWhat are the plans of the incumbent senator, Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, for the 2006 election, and how are those plans affecting your campaign strategy?

I'm in. I filed in January. So, her plans are not something that I'm waiting for. I don't know what her plans are. We've not had a conversation, and there are many rumors about, but she has not confirmed those rumors, so I don't know.

The new chair of the national Democratic Party is Howard Dean, and we all watched his campaign for the DNC chair. I'd like to know what positive and negative lessons you've learned from Dr. Dean's presidential campaign, and I'd like to know how your approach to campaigning will compare to what we saw from Dr. Dean.

Well, I think that in the last year and two months, I was in exploratory mode and traveled to about a hundred venues, so I think I have energy. I think that you can compare me to anyone as having quite a bit of energy, and I really enjoy the process. I think I've learned that people respond to you being yourself. So, I've just gone out there and been myself.

I think that the other positive thing I've learned is that the Internet has tremendous, tremendous potential. Frankly, given that here's a guy who put himself out there, I haven't learned anything that I think is negative for me. Not a bit.

As a lawyer, you've been outspoken about the Patriot Act, even before declaring your candidacy for the Senate. What is you opinion about the Patriot Act, and would you vote for the renewal and extension of the Patriot Act as proposed by the Bush Administration?

The Patriot Act renewal and the various proposals, I don't think have been put into very concrete language yet. If they have, then I have not seen a specific proposal that says, "Here's exactly what we're going to do." So, I'd need to read it. Do you have specifics?

Well, unfortunately, no. That's pretty typical of the Bush Administration right now, that they're promoting their ideas before they get specifics out, but the basic framework is that they want to renew it because it has a sunset provision in it.

That I was aware of. Just renewing it, as it is, is not productive. The whole thing needs to be studied. As you're probably aware, what it really is is a series of changes to at least 15 existing statutes. The Patriot Act is a bunch of changes to those, including the Electronic Communication Privacy Act and the FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Those acts have been around for a long time. I think that FISA is back from the 70s, and the Communication Privacy Act is from the 80s.

I think that one of the big changes from those old laws was a shot in the arm for the form of administrative subpoena that was called the national security letter. I think that that shot in the arm needs to be studied. I think what has gotten people very interested in the Patriot Act is that it caused a great deal of interest in the FISA courts, about which little had been written or studied. What the Patriot Act tries to do to cross over the line between criminal and FISA activities is something that needs to be studied a whole lot more.

So, do you recall that when the Patriot Act was first put into play that the senators and the congressmen, they didn't even have time to read the thing? Do you recall that there was just one vote against it by a senator, who said, "I'd like to read it before I vote for it or against it"? I'll tell you, we really ought to, when our civil liberties are at stake, we ought to read the thing, and we ought to see it's application. It was done in such a rush that there are clearly ways that it can be made better.

You know, there are certain provisions which, if carried out correctly, and with a court that actually weighs the issues, might be effective. For example, in criminal law, they're finding that roving wiretaps in the case of drug lords can be effective because it's catching up with the technology that everyone has cell phones and not just a land-based phone.

So, it's not the specific provision that's so offensive so much as it is the failure to distinguish between the need for foreign intelligence gathering and criminal intelligence gathering. I don't think there was very much of a study of it. It just got thrown in there. So, clearly, it could be improved.

You have a history of involvement in legal battles over medical malpractice, environmental pollution, civil rights and other similar issues. What is your reaction, then, to the recent passage of what the Republicans are calling "tort reform", which forces class action lawsuits into the federal courts?

I guess my reaction is that, it having occurred, we have to see whether or not the federal courts are going to be able to address consumer needs in this country, and the needs of individuals. By that, I mean that the federal courts are seriously overburdened, and when you're going to give them increased burdens, you ought to fund them properly. These are courts that are already way overloaded.

I think we see what works, we see what doesn't work, and then if it needs to be changed, we need to get someone up there like me to change it. I'm willing to give it a chance as long as we see whether these forums can deal with the class actions.

I also think that if the real problem is the lawyers, and that's what everyone is centering on, you shouldn't punish the citizens by denying them access to the courts. So, I think we need to see whether this statute does deny people access to the courts.

President Bush has proposed changing Social Security, and claimed that the Social Security system is in crisis. Do you support President Bush's plan, and if not, what would you do to preserve the viability of Social Security through the 21st century?

I do not think that Social Security is the crisis of our time, by any means. I think our far bigger problem is the deficit. Privatization of Social Security won't solve anything. I think that it would generate huge, unacceptable costs, including the cost of guaranteeing benefits to the elderly. It's going to be a huge cost, and I find it unrealistic that this budget that's been proposed doesn't include a penny for what will be trillions in costs for the privatization of Social Security.

To the extent that there is any kind of funding problem for Social Security, what would you do to shore it up?

I think one of the things we need to look at, but not go at it immediately, is the 90,000 dollar cap on payroll taxes. But, I should emphasize that the actuarial information that is being looked at certainly does not indicate that there is an immediate crisis.

This comment, for example, that you hear about, where they say that there is an eleven trillion dollar deficit, where the Republicans are saying that there's a large deficit in Social Security, relies on a report which even the actuaries who wrote the report, this technical panel on methods, used what's called the infinite horizon terminology. It really is not something that can be quoted in the debate as accurate, and I think that it is, again, unrealistic to claim that there is going to be this eleven trillion dollar shortfall when you don't look at it in terms of what the payroll tax will be over the same infinite horizon. That taxable payroll that we're predicting is going to come in is something like 275 trillion. So, when you compare what's happening over 75 years, which is what they're doing to try to get their numbers, to what's happening with the deficit right now, and how we're mortgaging our children's future, it's clear that the problem, between the two of them, does not lie with Social Security.

I'll tell you what's got me riled up. I cannot watch all these nice people running and losing and running and losing as Democrats, and not speak out. This is my time. I can do it. I can be an articulate spokesman on the issue of Social Security.

Back in Texas, you were talking about the loss of two-party system. We read in the news that the political allies of Tom DeLay are pushing to create a special loophole that would enable the Texas Elections Commission to prevent politicians from being prosecuted for violating elections law. What can you tell us about this effort and its potential impact on politics in Texas?

I'm not well versed in that particular effort, but it's obvious that politicians should not be above the law. That one I think is real, real clear. I'm very hopeful that Texans and the Texas legislature will not stand for some special loophole to help Tom DeLay.

On your web site, you make reference to your experience serving as a mediator, and suggest that this experience has given you the expertise necessary to find genuinely bipartisan solutions in the Senate. In your opinion, what is the proper place of bipartisanship for a Democrat in the Senate, in these days when the the Bush Administration and Republican Party are working to make so many radical changes to the American government and the American way of life?

As a mediator, my work is to find a common ground, and to fight for bringing people together. That's what I've been doing for 25 years as a mediator and a lawyer. So, I think that what we need in the Senate is a mother of three who has been the wife of a busy doctor and a professional mediator and a problem solver. I think that that kind of service in real life, and not as a professional politician, makes me ideally suited. I really do.

As a mediator who has dealt with some difficult situations, would you say that the meaning of bipartisanship or the meaning of common ground changes in a time like this, when the side that's really in political power has moved more in a radical direction to make strong changes?

No. In fact, I think that the role of a mediator, as someone who has strength, even as a loyal opposition member, is even more important, because what we have to do is find people who, by their nature and by their training, are persuasive, effective advocates. I've been fighting for people my whole professional career. I don't just know how to fight for people. I know how to bring them together, and that's why I'm hired by people to do it, and that's what I teach children to do. My passion is to teach children mediation skills, and if I can teach junior high kids how to get along and how to solve problems in the school, deterring violence, then anyone can learn those skills.

Even politicians?

I can even do it for politicians, and I've raised three kids to be problem solvers.

How would you describe the current status of your campaign, and what is the best way for people, in Texas and across America, to help out with your campaign at this time?

Well, the campaign is two months old. It was in exploratory mode for one year. It is the most exciting time of my life, and if you visit and check out Rad-Note-Skys, which is on the upper bar, you'll get a good idea of what we're doing and what our status is. We try to update the blog weekly.

You've met Howard by phone. Howard is the web master, and we're sitting here in the folding chairs that we use once a week to update the blog. We're going to do it after we speak to you tonight.

How can you help? I need help on a variety of levels, and I'm learning that the Internet is the way that we can reach out to people without any intermediaries. I need people to visit the web site to get to know what I'm like, and I need them to give me input on issues. Of course, I wouldn't be a candidate if I didn't ask people for financial help too. So, if people are able, I would love for them to be able to donate, which I think helps promote a lot more than just me. It helps promote the two-party system in Texas, and I think that it proves to people that a mother and a wife and a teacher can also become a U.S. Senator.

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