THE BLOG

To House and Senate Democrats Who Don't Believe in Expanded Background Checks: Stop Using California as a Campaign ATM

04/23/2013 04:37 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2013
  • Mary Buffett Author, international speaker, entrepreneur, political and environmental activist

After seeing the shameful vote emerge on expanded background checks, I now know why it took four decades for an anti-lynching bill to make it out of the U.S. Senate.

However, when it comes to raising money, everybody beats a path to California. My friends and I are sick and tired of writing checks to people who end up trashing our beliefs. Senators, like Mark Pryor (D-AR) , Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Max Baucus (D-MT), and Mark Begich (D-AK), have all showed up in California looking for open wallets. They will be back and we should turn the other way and close our checkbooks.

Every week, I get emails for a fundraising dinner with this senator or an evening reception with that congressman. It's one thing for people to come to California and ask for financial help because they're up against tough opposition at home. It is something all-together different when they vacuum up our money but then "take a dive" for the votes that matter most.

Last week's Senate cloture vote on expanding background checks was one of these defining moments of truth.

So here is my message to "The Cowardly Four:" Stay the hell away from California.

Don't insult our intelligence. If you intend to take our money and vote against issues near and dear to our hearts, go fund raise somewhere else. Don't stand in the living room of a wealthy Westside L.A. attorney and his wife to tell me how important it is to fund a Democratic majority only to jerk us around when the tough votes emerge.

Perhaps when you enter the Golden State, you should staple a surgeon general's warning to your forehead that reads, "Giving money to me will be harmful to your wallet and your self-respect."

That means you, Freshman Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) who is now the Number One Coward of the Senate. She won a narrow victory in 2010 but has four more years until she is up for reelection. Her commentary that she could not see a pathway to support is simple nonsense. If she feels that this one procedural vote can seal her political doom, then she would have never won her Senate election. If freshman Senator Kay Hagen (D-NC) can support expansion in another tough state for Democrats -- and she will face the voters in 2014 -- certainly Heitkamp could find the stones to do the right thing. Do us all a favor, Heidi Heitkamp. Why don't you raise your money elsewhere? In her case, some freshmen never grow up.

That means you too Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), who appears to be more worried about keeping his job as Chair of the Senate Finance Committee that he forgot to do his job. Baucus is worried that he will be beaten by a conservative Republican when he is up for reelection 2014. Really? In 2002, Baucus beat his challenger nearly 2-1. In 2008, when he ran for his 6th term in the US Senate, he beat his challenger by nearly 3-1. These were two major landslides. If Baucus feels that one vote to expand background checks for gun purchases on the internet and private sales will cost him the Senate, clearly this is the most politically insecure member of any legislative body. Moreover, he announced his retirement at the end his current term. So he is free to vote his conscience. However, he clearly forgot to bring his conscience to work with him.

That also means Mark Pryor (D-AR), who appears be hiding out in the Senate chamber. Mark Pryor is the son of David Pryor, who served three terms in the US Senate and was a former Governor. Pryor won his first term in 2002 and won reelection in 2008 by a 3-1 majority, when no Republican chose to run against him. He is up for reelection in 2014 but has enough conservative credentials to withstand any Republican onslaught. The Pryor name has been an Arkansas mainstay for nearly a half century and if Mark Pryor has not built up enough goodwill after all his father has done over the years, the apple fell miles away from the tree.

So that leaves you, Mark Begich (D-AK) and some may be willing to give this freshman Senator a pass because he will be facing red-faced voters in red-state Alaska in 2014. However, I'm not part of that crowd. I can understand if the newly-minted Senator did not want put his political life on the line when it came to expanded background checks. However, I know of another guy who put his real life on the line for his father, former Congressman Nick Begich. In the fall of 1972, House Majority Leader Hale Boggs flew up to Alaska to assist the senior Begich to help him retain his seat in a tough race against Don Young. The plane carrying Boggs, Begich, the pilot, and a staffer disappeared over a remote part of the state; their bodies were never found. As House Majority Leader, Boggs could have easily remained in Washington. Had Begich lost, the Democratic House majority would remain secure with a 50 vote majority. However, Boggs went out on a limb to help a Congressman and paid with his life. Had Boggs stayed home, he (and not Tip O'Neill) would have become the Speaker of House upon the retirement of Carl Albert. Boggs showed courage flying through the terrible weather; sadly the junior Begich has shown nothing.

Note: Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) supported the expansion of background checks but voted against it for procedural reasons, per Senate rules, so that the bill could be reconsidered at a later date.

In the end, voters will reward courage and punish cowardice. Voters may disagree with you but there are times when you have to look in to your heart and make the right decision. I think of one Texas Congressman who braved an angry reaction to supporting Open Housing in the 1960's. His name was George H.W. Bush, then a young Houston Congressman, and he became the 41st President of the United States.

Here is what political courage looks like: His name is Freshman Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). Don't be surprised if Manchin becomes the next vice president of the United States, running with either Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden. Manchin, who served five years as the Governor of West Virginia reached across the aisle and crafted solid legislation with conservative Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. If the Manchin-Toomey compromise had been voted on by secret ballot, it would have won easily. Here is a guy who is pro-gun, endorsed by the NRA, and took a courageous stand in the gun-friendly state of West Virginia. He was willing to offend his constituency and the special interests of his state for the national good.

Let me also show you how the voters reward political cowardice: His name is former Congressman Bill Baker (R-CA). In 1993, a crazed gunman entered 101 California Street office building in San Francisco's Financial District. He burst into a law firm and emptied a semi-automatic arsenal which killed 8 people. Cornered, the shooter eventually committed suicide. It was one of the first instances of semi-automatic carnage that has become commonplace every couple of months. The tragedy inspired then-freshman Senator Dianne Feinstein to author the assault weapons ban that was part of the 1994 legislation. The widower of one who died, Steve Sposato, wanted to sit down with Bill Baker to talk about the crime bill but his Congressman repeatedly refused. Sposato was incredulous that Baker refused to even "spend about 15 minutes with (his) 2-year-old." Baker's unwillingness to sit down with his constituent horrified his moderate district. When the next election came around in 1996, Bill Baker was shown the door. Baker's cowardice when it came to dealing with his constituent's tragedy cost him his political career.

I hope my point is clear. If you come to California to take our money but insult us later when tough votes come up for consideration, go fund raise elsewhere. Those who write the big checks in California, especially after this vote on failure to expand background checks, refuse to be taken for saps. We refuse to assist those who will find themselves on the wrong side of history and offer up nothing but burnt offerings or poor excuses.

You're the ones who make politics the grubby, cynical, and grimy turn-off it has become.