February 08, 2006

Joshua Micah Marshall interviews Lampson

Lefty blogger Joshua Micah Marshall interviewed Nick Lampson:

TPM: What is the case you're making to the people of the 22nd District why they should dump their congressman, who was until recently the most powerful guy in Congress? What is the case you're making to them?

Lampson: Well, first of all, they deserve to have a representative who is making headlines for the right reasons -- someone who will take a bipartisan approach to Washington and do the right thing for Texas and for that congressional district.

It's important that we work on issues that will make a difference for them – and Homeland Security, and fiscal responsibility, and education and health care are the kinds of issues that certainly I have worked on, and that I think is what the people, not just of the district, but of the nation, want us to be doing.

Tom DeLay had the opportunity to do that. But he spent his time doing something else, something different. I want to work on those issues every day that I’m in Congress.

TPM: So what is the other thing – when you say "something different?"

Lampson: He was more about either his personal wealth, or his personal power, or his party's power. He clearly did some things that are -- not just should be, but are being questioned. Whether or not something comes of it remains to be seen as they go through the process.

Standing up for sweatshops and sweatshop owners in the Marianas islands and then coming back following that trip with Jack Abramoff -- and the involvement with Jack Abramoff out there -- coming back to the floor of the House of Representatives and defending these actions on the floor of the House. Clearly that was something different from paying attention to the needs of the people of the 22nd Congressional District.

Using the lobbyists for his own personal benefit, taking a $56,000 golfing trip to Scotland. That is clearly something not in the best interest of the people of the 22nd Congressional District.

And then, just to pick another thing, the million dollars that was contributed by Russian oil people through a London law firm that came into a charity that DeLay had set up – ultimately some of the funding was used for the purchase of a building that he uses for his political activities. Those have to be reasonable questions to be asking.

Whether or not he's guilty, that's for the courts and the ethics committees to decide. But the questions certainly ought to be asked. And certainly those were things that he was doing, rather than attending to the business of the 22nd Congressional District and the citizens of the United States of America.

He was too focused on his special interests.

TPM: Now, this election as a whole, for the Democrats as a whole -- ethics and political corruption are going to be defining themes. National Democrats are trying to balance, 'how much are we against the amount of sleaze that the Republican majority has brought to Congress' versus a positive agenda, whether that's health care, fiscal responsibility, on the foreign policy, front, whatever.

Now, you're up there front and center with the man who literally and figuratively was the leader of what the Republican majority created. How are you balancing that? How are you balancing what you were just talking about -- in terms of all these accusations of wrongdoing against Tom DeLay -- versus the positive agenda – on policy issues, on health care, on fiscal responsibility?

Lampson: I want to make sure that this race is about those issues. I don't need to talk about Tom DeLay. And I try not to talk about Tom DeLay in the district. People are reading about those things that he was involved with. So I can concentrate on the legislation that I worked on when I was in the House of Representatives, my efforts on task forces that dealt with Homeland Security, with education and health care specifically, the work I did on creating the Congressional Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. If I can concentrate on those things, then I believe that I will win the confidence of the people to put me there.

Certainly there is a question of integrity that could come up in that comparison. And I think that I bring something different to the table. I hope I bring a different kind of openness and a willingness to look at the needs of the people of my district first.

TPM: Another question. Not as much as Tom DeLay, but over the last five years, President Bush nationally has become a very polarizing figure. His poll numbers are fairly low now, they're right around the low forties, forty percent, something like that.

You're running in his home state, in a district that is, I would say, at best a swing district. There are a lot of Republicans in the district . . . A race like this against someone as prominent as Tom DeLay has sort of an in-district and a national dimension. So where are you on President Bush?

Lampson: I've been campaigning with him since, I think, 1992. I think that was the first time that I met him and started showing up at different places when we were campaigning for different offices.

I made a comment, right after his first election, before he was sworn into office when I was asked by a reporter whether or not he would be able to pull this divided congress together. And I said that I think that no matter what his interests were in trying to accomplish that, that there were other forces in play that would prevent him from doing it. And what I was referring to, and I even said the name at that time: Tom DeLay has caused such a polarization and such a lack of civility within our congress that regardless of what he was able to do, the president was able to do, they were going to stop him from doing it. And I believe that.

So I believe that there have been those who have, not intentionally, I don't believe they intentionally set out to divide it, but they certainly intentionally set out to win their issues. I think they're preventing him from accomplishing a lot of what perhaps he would like to be doing.

TPM: Preventing President Bush?

Lampson: Yeah.

TPM: On a few basic issues – the President has been in office for five years – what would you say from your perspective are his biggest successes and his biggest mistakes in office on basic points of policy?

Lampson: Let me start with his mistakes. I think that certainly you have to consider that we still have problems with access to health care and Social Security in this country. They're both huge problems for us. 46 million Americans don't have access to health care. And the bill that we passed -- I didn't vote for it -- but the Medicare bill that passed in 2003 was a piece of legislation that put the resources of the nation behind the pharmaceutical manufacturers more than it did the people who we were trying to help.

I think the foreign policy, the position, the reputation of the United States in the eyes of much of the rest of the world is significantly diminished and so I think you can't look at that positively.

Maybe from his perspective -- and I voted for some of the tax cuts -- from the President's perspective, he'd probably say that some of his biggest successes have been to pass the tax cutting legislation that they had. I believe very strongly that we need to have tax cuts, but to be put in an area where it's going to help small businesses, where it's going to help people who have less rather than those who have more.

I guess that's at first blush my answer to that.

A couple quick thoughts:

1. It's about the incumbent. Elections are usually about incumbents -- and if voters don't like the incumbent, whether the alternative is better -- and that will be the case here. What Lampson says and how he campaigns is probably a relatively small factor in whether he wins in November or not. The outcome of legal problems is the biggest factor, of course.

2. The funny. Lampson says, "I've been campaigning with [George W. Bush] since, I think, 1992."

I'm sure that's news to W. Perhaps his statement is slightly out of context or Lampson simply misspoke, but the way he phrased it made me laugh.

3. The balancing act. Lampson has to pull off several balancing acts. He says, "I don't need to talk about Tom DeLay," but that's what he spent most of the interview doing. He knows he doesn't need to attack DeLay -- his allies will do that whether he wants them to or not -- because he wants to represent himself as a down-to-earth moderate, not a partisan. A partisan won't win, but he couldn't resist the urge to attack (eg, saying DeLay had used power for "personal wealth," which is a charge I haven't really seen anywhere else and for which I can't find much support) in this interview.

Lampson also has to balance how he speaks about Bush, not depressing. Saying that he campaigned "with him" seems somewhat akin to the ad that Daschle ran showing him hugging Bush. It's an interesting juxtaposition.

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