I heard that Senator Obama asked a question of former Senator John Edwards recently. It went something like this;
"Senator Edwards, who is a good guy, he's been talking a lot about 'I'm going to fight the lobbyists and the special interests in Washington.' Well, the question you have to ask is: Were you fighting for (citizens) when you were in the Senate?" [h/t cosbo]
Ellinorianne at daily kos gave a pretty thorough response to that question.
I can't add any hard facts about votes and amendments and bills to her response, but I wanted to share my personal experience of Senator John Edwards. He was my Senator and this is the true story of how he fought for this regular citizen against corporate interests.
This story is not a short one, though I've cut it back a lot.
In March '89 I finally left an abusive marriage.
My ex and I negotiated a separation agreement with child support. That cost $5k from my parents.
Stuff happened. A lot of stuff (fights, threats, etc.) happened. He quit paying child support; took the kids; another attorney, another $5k retainer (borrowed again) just to negotiate reasonable visitation rights.
He drank heavily; a social worker accompanied a deputy to his home one day, was ready to place the kids with me but suddenly changed her mind when she learned I was gay. She left two small children in a house full of guns and a drunken father because she didn't approve of their mother's sexual orientation. I was becoming more and more depressed. Couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, couldn't care, couldn't think, couldn't concentrate.
I started working out and working a few more jobs. It helped.
In subsequent years, nannies who worked for him reported neglect and abuse; his employees reported neglect and abuse; finally, somehow, DSS paid attention and removed the children. They finally came home to live with me full time. I had been working extended shifts and doing off-the-books weekend and night work to make ends meet. That would have to end.
Spring 1995: The kids came home. A new challenge began.
I had to keep my day job in the chemistry lab; find an attorney who would take my case; borrow money from family and friends for yet another retainer; and go through the legal custody and support challenge. After what felt like months of investigation, a guardian ad litem, teachers and nannies and counselors who talked freely to attorneys but did not want to go to court, two full weeks of depositions, etc., we got to court the morning the case was to begin and his attorneys proposed a settlement.
I would have full custody with him having daytime visitation only, but the child support was close to nothing for two kids with a father who was a biomedical engineer, and attorney and an FDA consultant.
We had not seen that coming. Later I learned that my ex's Right-wing Christian law firm had visited him at his office earlier in the week and demanded payment in full or they were not going to represent him further. During the discovery process, they didn't seem to care who he was, they were only there to fight against me winning custody because I was gay (they couldn't have an openly gay mother winning a custody case in NC ... think of the precedent ... no matter what it meant for the kids). The settlement offer meant they had decided their client was such a total ass that a lesbian mom might win custody in NC Civil Court. They would sooner chew glass than see such a thing happen.
So that was it. I settled. Anti-climax of anti-climaxes. And everyone I knew, except my attorney, was mad at me. Everyone I knew yelled at me for not taking revenge on him and dragging his crap out into daylight in court.
But I didn't care about him one way or the other. I cared about my kids. I knew what all my friends and family were ignoring: At the end of my "revenge in court" there was one man to whom I would hand the fate of my children, and I did not KNOW what he would do. This was a relatively progressive Court district, but this judge was neither conservative nor progressive (it was 1995-96). And, he was retiring soon and would not want one of his last decisions appealed or overturned. Not to mention the fact that I already owed my attorney twice what I made in a year. I settled.
I was happy. With everyone I cared about mad at me, I was happy. I wanted to go home and hug my children and feel the joy of knowing they would be safe. I did the right thing. I had paid $1k for a psyche evaluation when I couldn't pay the water bill and it was turned off. I had taken them to therapy sessions for months. I had shielded them from insecurities by driving them an hour every day to school so my son didn't have to change schools and my daughter could keep going to her playgroup two days a week. When the new year began they changed schools. I had worked Saturdays to make up for the time all that took. It very nearly broke me. But not quite.
Next challenge, please.
It was 1998 and I still made nine-fifty an hour.
I had worked for the same company since 1991. When management excitedly and magnanimously gave me an additional 20 cent an hour raise in response to verbalized disappointment about the annual 2.5% raise (first of any kind in 3 years) I smiled graciously and said, "Thank you."
I guess I had been slightly broken, after all -- still grateful for every crumb.
Anyway, the financial strain of the previous years had me in bankruptcy desperately clinging to my house and car. The child support ordered in the '96 custody battle was always flakey: he wouldn't pay for months, then send a big check. In those spans of time I would get calls from the mortgage company, the bank who held my car note, the gas was cut off, the water was cut off the electricity was cut off. I put both kids in one bedroom and brought in a house-mate who paid rent to stop the expensive off and on of utilities, gas and water. It was tooth and nail on a daily basis and I was slowly sliding over the coo-coo cliff again. Seriously.
Mom called one day out of the blue when things were really bad. I lost it. At the end of the conversation, it was settled ... I'd short sell my house, go full bankruptcy, leave everything, and the kids and I would move in with Mom and Dad so I could go back to school and get a real job and be able to feed the kids and pay the bills myself.
My ex claimed I couldn't move per the divorce agreement. He filed some crazy legal thing. I moved. Back to court we went.
He was partially right. I couldn't move "out of W___ County" per the divorce agreement. Trouble was, the only reason I had to move was because he wasn't paying court ordered child support and I was losing my house because of it. The other problem was that my folks lived only 4 miles over the County line as the bird flies. We entered mandatory court appointed mediation.
First appointment he didn't show up. He was called. He was drunk. New appointment made. Another vacation day from work required. Second appointment he showed up. After it became clear that his goal was actually to cause me to lose my home he was asked why he would do that to his children. His response was that the kids would be fine because they'd have to come live with him.
At that point, the appointment ended and the mediator referred our case back to the Court.
I had to represent myself.
When all witnesses had spoken and testimony was over, the Judge ordered my ex to pay child support, berated him up one side and down the other in open court for his b.s. and his behavior, and wished me luck in school and thanked my parents for their open and willing support.
By the year 2000 I was set.
I had completed the AAS program and had an excellent job that I loved testing/validating long haul optical networks for a major North American switch maker and the kids and I moved into our own place near Main Street in a wonderful little small town.
We still live in the same cozy little house.
The great dotcom and telecomm meltdown began.
And NAFTA was in full force. By late 2002, my coworkers and I had trained our replacements north of the border, completed the special projects we had built, and we were all laid off.
The severance package was three months, but the telecomm industry was locked. down. tight. NO JOBS. Men and women who had lost $50k-$120k a year high stress, long hour, high performance jobs were scrambling for airport security positions that paid $28-$35k a year. Men and women with coding, Unix, networking, and switch trouble-shooting skills were doing contract work, went to: India, China or Iraq; to 100% travel installation jobs; to the cable company; to the dish company; to the first big box store that would hire them. Those who could retire, retired. Many who were close to retirement could not. They were the most skilled, the most loyal, the most heavily invested, and they were hurt the most. Some with older telecomm manufacturing experience got lucky and slipped into pharma manufacturing jobs. Some were also painting houses, cleaning houses, cleaning offices, and wrangling grocery carts. Wives were going back to work. Kids in college were going to work. Kids decided to go to community college the first two years, live at home and go to work. Bankruptcies were filed. Vehicles were repossessed.
These were ugly times in RTP. Those who could, moved to greener pastures; Montana, Atlanta, St. Louis, California. Those of us who could not move knew we had to find a way into a different industry. That meant back to school.
I was a little angry. I was a lot afraid.
Dammit! Didn't I just do this? I cannot handle weenie mac and ramen noodles five nights a week again! My parents live in a smaller house now. We cannot move back in with my parents.
Like I said, I was a lot afraid.
Then a coworker called me one day to tell me about the Trade Affected Worker program. She had been laid off a month before me and had already called the Unemployment office to get the details on filing for unemployment. She wanted to know what I thought about it. They had told her about the possibility of extended benefits when she explained that we had all been applying for jobs since before the layoffs and getting no responses.
She took the lead and made the application for extended benefits, and let all our ex-coworkers know what was going on so they could get on the list of names she had to compile. The response letter came. Our application for extended unemployment benefits was denied. My co-worker, livid, said she called the agency for more information and got nowhere. We just didn't qualify. Maybe they thought Canada wasn't really another country so we weren't really losing our jobs to NAFTA, I don't know.
My coworker called me again the next day, still livid, and told me the whole story. We found and read the legislation. We decided we needed to take the questions about our denial up a pay grade or two. We were both angry, so all inhibition was gone. My coworker declared with a deep breath,
"Ok. I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna call our Senators. I'll let you know what they say."
:::: click ::::
This is where I've been leading up to ...
After some back and forth communication with then Senator Edwards' staff, they agreed that we were not only qualified for those benefits but we were exactly the kind of worker the law was written for. They would recommend that the Senator take up our case. We got another call and were instructed to appeal the denial. I don't know what the Senator did, exactly. I don't know what the people in his office did, exactly. What I do know is that the Senator's office called a few weeks later to tell us that our appeal went through. We had won. We would be notified by mail and when we got our official notifications we could begin the process of filing and drawing unemployment and get our training programs approved. We could draw unemployment for up to twenty four months as long as we were actively retraining for an approved trade or industry at an approved school and were not otherwise employed.
Things were very hard in those two years living on unemployment and driving from here up to Chapel Hill every day, but as far as I know, the retraining for all of us was successful. Everyone from our old group is gainfully employed. I went into the pharma industry and I'm pretty happy there. We ain't rich and things can get tight from time to time, but the work is challenging, the pay is right at median for NC, and I stay busy every day.
So, if Senator Obama or anyone else wants to know what, in general, Senator Edwards did when he was in the Senate, Ellinorianne answered that pretty completely.
If Senator Obama or anyone else wants to know if Senator Edwards was fighting for regular people when he was in the Senate, y'all can all look at me and my former co-workers. I can't speak for everyone, but this small family, who will never be able to repay him for what he did, was pulled back from the edge of becoming a burden on the system. I realize there are those who don't think such things count for much, but I do. To understand why I feel that way, maybe it would help to know what would have happened had Senator Edwards not been there for my co-worker to call back in late 2002.
Here is what happens when a public servant doesn't care about the public or about their constituents or about serving the people or about anything other than keeping that precious God-given Senate seat. ... by God.
Another department at the same telecomm switch company applied for Trade affected worker benefits when their technical support work was moved north of the border. They applied in late 2004. They, like us, were initially denied. By the time they appealed the initial denial, there was only Senator Liddy Dole and Senator Richard Burr to fight for them. (If you live in NC and have ever tried to get help from those two offices, I apologize for the spew on your monitor.)
Unfortunately, neither Senator Dole nor Senator Burr dared take their constituents' side in a disagreement with a telecomm equipment giant at an appeals hearing. I don't know if they owed this company anything or if they just didn't give a flying flip about their constituents, but those tech support workers never got Trade Affected retraining benefits.
And that is what regular people are up against. That is why we need someone in the White House who is experienced at dueling with schmooozers, schmucks, slime balls, palm greasers and arrogant, out-of-control, greedy corporate attitudes.
That's why I support John Edwards for president.
That is why we all want more and better Democrats, isn't it? We want our country back!! We want to know our parents are ok, that we can take care of them and our kids if we need to, that all kids have opportunities to pursue their dreams and develop their gifts and skills -- even if we do live on the wrong side of the proverbial tracks. Right?
If we really want our America back, like Edwards warns us, it won't be a cake walk. We're going to have to take it. We're going to have to rip it from the fat, well-manicured, bejeweled little hands of those who currently hold it in their death grip -- without kissing any one of their gaudy rings.
Whether or not John Edwards is "the best" better Democrat among the 2008 Democratic field is a point that can be debated by good people on both sides. Many have said it before me, but I agree: We are blessed with good presidential candidates this year.
What is certain, however, is this:
John Edwards is the toughest better Democrat among them, hands down.
For me and my house, that makes all the difference.