There's a lot of talk in Washington these days about the best person that Massachusetts Democrats can nominate to take on Republican Scott Brown in 2012. To my mind, the choice is clear, once you step outside the Beltway haze: the best choice is Alan Khazei. He was one of the founding fathers of the national service movement, a skilled citizen who knows how to bring about landmark federal legislation. I'm as inspired by him and his story as I was when I first met him, 23 years ago. When you learn his story, I think you'll agree with what the Boston Globe wrote in 2009: that he is "Massachusetts's best chance to produce another great senator."
Alan Khazei can make a difference in the U.S. Senate for the people of Massachusetts and for all Americans. As one of the original organizers of the Peace Corps, I was delighted, in 1988, when I saw in action Alan's determination to co-found City Year, a domestic version of the Peace Corps that mobilizes young people to revitalize urban communities. He turned his vision into a model for nationwide domestic service. He joined with President Clinton and Senators Kennedy, Mikulski, Nunn and me to craft and win passage of the AmeriCorps legislation, which has empowered over 700,000 Americans to serve here at home--educating our children, conserving our environment, and fighting poverty. He also led the coalition to Save AmeriCorps when Republicans in the House attempted to defund it in 2003.
More recently, as CEO of Be the Change, Inc., he worked with my prime mentor in the Senate, Ted Kennedy, to enact the bi-partisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which passed the Senate with 79 votes (including a majority of Republicans). That Act, if and when it is fully funded, will enable one million Americans to serve their country every four years. Again the new majority in the House of Representatives is now trying to terminate AmeriCorps. With the strong support of President Obama, and champions like Alan Khazei, that will not happen.
With that track record as an active-duty citizen, Alan was moved in 2009 to seek to pick up Ted Kennedy's banner. I actively supported Alan and blogged about it in this space. In helping to launch that campaign, I got up at 4 a.m. one morning to fly to Western Massachusetts to join him and his wife Vanessa to visit examples of "what works," what citizens are doing to solve critical problems in their communities. In the 48 hours before Election Day, I joined Alan in a round-the-clock "campaign-a-thon," barnstorming the state, meeting with voters.
Alan came into that election as a first-time candidate, with less than 90 days to build a campaign, raise money, and get his message out. While we were disappointed Election Night, this time there is much more cause for optimism. In less than three months in 2009, Alan went from zero name recognition to almost 90,000 votes, and won the endorsements not just of the Boston Globe, but also the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, the Cape Cod Times, and Blue Mass. Group, a promising trajectory for a dark horse candidate with little time for more than an introduction to voters. With sixteen months before Election Day in this round, Alan will have time to share his impressive story with voters and to build a winning grassroots campaign, as he has done so effectively in building national service in America.
An early strong sign is his well-reported remarkable success in fundraising performance. He was outspent by each of his opponents in 2009; this time, he starts with the third largest fundraising total for any Democratic challenger in his or her first quarter versus a Republican incumbent in the past three electoral cycles. With nearly $1 million raised (nine times that of his closest rival), and with more than 1150 contributors--more than half of them giving $200 or less--it shows his candidacy's grassroots potential. Not a dime came from corporate PACs or corporate lobbyists, and not a dime will in the future. He will be beholden only to the people and their interests.
In the midst of the usual political grandstanding, people look for a candidate who can be measured by the value of his deeds, not just his words. Alan Khazei is such a candidate. In an era of partisan gridlock, we all seek someone who can win respect on both sides of the aisle through dedication to country and practical, innovative ideas. Alan Khazei is that candidate. In an era of political crisis, we all need someone who can lead, inspire, and bring new people into the democratic process--who can point the way forward. Alan Khazei is that candidate.
John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, and Paul Tsongas (my colleague in the Peace Corps in Africa) were all friends and leaders I was proud to campaign for. They had the vision to see where we needed to go as a country and the skill to bring people together to make that vision a reality. Whether the Washington insiders have noticed yet or not, Alan Khazei is in the same mold. His whole adult life has been dedicated to serving the country and empowering people. He is the kind of person independents and progressives should be rallying around to take on Scott Brown. He is the kind of leader we need in the United States Senate.