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Joe The Nerd Ferraro Headshot

Breakfast with the Scars

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On the national level the blood sport game of politics is played on a grand scale.  Locally, the rough and tumble can leave real scars and scarring. 

I doubt that some of the talking heads on TV have families that would associate with each other at the Home and School Association, or the local supermarket.  Places where they would have to interact with families of those they are ripping for a living.

In local politics, these are the people you see at the lacrosse field when your kids are playing or at Augie’s Auto when dropping off for an oil change or grabbing a Pizza at Tosco’s (well-done Sicilian with ground beef is recommended).  There is real skin in the game here.

I call it a game for a reason.  Baseball is a game, basketball is a game, football is a game; but they don’t mean much.  In 1960, who won the presidential election, World Series, Rose Bowl (the NFL is too easy everyone knows the Eagles beat the Packers!), NIT Championship (the NIT was the bigger one back then)?   How did each of these events shape our national lives?  Politics is the only game that means anything. 

Local politics is where your life is affected the most.  It is also the least attended to.  That means if you get involved you have the biggest bang for your buck.

I wrote on the Berks County Democratic annual dinner a few weeks ago.  The Joe Sestak campaign asked if I could attend their county meeting. Berks County has a full slate of qualified candidates ANY Democrat would be proud to have.  It was a Saturday breakfast meeting in October – great idea.  You are not taking away any canvassing during crunchtime.  Start knocking on doors with a fresh attitude and a full stomach. 

I am still trying to figure out the real dynamic of what went on.  Berks is not a unique place.  I am sure things like the following are going on across the country.  A substantial portion of the county is served by Congressman Tim Holden.  He has been a Democratic stalwart for close to two decades.  I learned his district carries a 40% Democratic base.  This tells me the Congressman is listening to all constituencies and can successfully navigate his way back to DC every two years.

When I sat down at the breakfast meeting, I intentionally found a spot near a wall (appropriate for a firing squad) where no lit for candidates was placed. I am a guest delivering an announcement (Ned Lamont from CT endorses Sestak on Monday at Independence Hall). 

As the room filled, some of the more passionate and committed members of the committee sat near me.  I share their belief that Single Payer would be the best solution for health care.  This is part of a group that has taken control of one of the bridges connecting Reading, Pa. to the rest of the world.  On Fridays these folks carry signs for peace, health care and social justice.  They are moving the ball down the field nicely.  They are also for one of my candidates’ primary opponents.  The opponent has tactically set political positions; Single Payer, Pro-Life, Anti-Civil Union.  I suspect the bridge folks are attracted to his moral purity of Single Payer and can sweep all other things under the rug.

Since the seat I occupied wasn’t dressed with literature, I didn’t know there was a motion to be discussed.  The bridge group passed out literature about an amendment to the motion.  Didn’t pay much attention, but soon realized a circular firing squad was forming.

The bridge group was attempting to force language upon the entire county party that would formally hold accountable the Congressman’s vote on health care without naming the Congressman directly.  If they thought they could have gotten a motion to rip the Congressman’s toenails out if he didn’t go with them on health care, they would have tried.  Any waffling must be punished.  The guns were being raised.

The next hour and a half was that special ring of hell reserved for Roberts Rules. 

  • Motion,
  • amendment,
  • amendment to the motion,
  • flanker in motion,
  • v-cut to the left,
  • amend the word expect to urge,
  • amend to purge urge,
  • everybody sit down,
  • who has the urge,
  • now stand if you are for the fifth amendment and against the fourth one. 

When the firing stopped, by a series of close and hard fought votes, the committee decided to URGE any Democrat to support health care. 

The party chairman did an outstanding job of minimizing the damage, but some was inflicted internally.  I complemented him on running an excellent cat rodeo at the end of the meeting.

Basically, the underlying debate is; what is the purpose of the Democratic (or any) Party and how should it be used.  A long time ago I came to my conclusion the (Democratic) party system is an executive search committee for our government.  Find the best qualified people, warts and all, endorse them, and back up your endorsement with elbow equity and/or cash.  Get them in to do their stuff.  This is the group of people who narrowly carried the day.  They were the old heads of the party who don’t go away when a particular issue isn’t on the table.

An alternative position to this is that the party system is a vehicle to be used as a way to enact specific societal change.  In this case it was health care or bust.  Last year it was Hillary/Obama. These are folks that bring fire to the party.  They have the expansive energy to get things done.

I saw a political fight where everybody lost.  At least 98% of the people in that room are for health care with a public option at the minimum.  The first casualties were the row office candidates that need the full attention of everybody in the last month of a local campaign.  The worst scar was the sense we are all in this together.

Both groups are necessary for a vibrant party.  Mix them in the wrong amounts and you can have an explosion that can destroy a party. 

Want to see my scars?