How Much Have We Lost?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Senator Jim Webb's Retirement

Yesterday, our senior U.S. Senator, Jim Webb, announced his retirement.

Senator Webb is somewhat of an enigma as a politician. He once told me that he's the only U.S. Senator with a Union Card, three tatoos, and two Purple Hearts. He served as Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Navy. He's written books and movie scripts. He's a very interesting guy.

I have vivid memories of his hotly contested U.S. Senate primary in the Spring and early summer of 2006 when I first met him. He won a hard-fought campaign which was famous for Senator Allen's the Maccaca Moment in late August. I was chair of the Mount Vernon Democratic Committee that year and we ran a constant battle against yard sign theft (here, here, and here). I have vivid memories of the Tyson's Hilton at midnight when Fairfax County's absentee ballots were reported, putting Senator Webb over the top and switching control of the U.S. Senate.

Senator Webb strongly felt that the Democratic Party lost its moorings in the 1970's and ceased its focus on working people and economic fairness. I couldn't agree with him more.

As a U.S. Senator he pushed a new G.I. Bill through, served as a measured voice on military policy, and improved our Asian relations. Senator Webb also was very focused on improving our criminal justice system. He expressed frequent concern about the plight of the poor in our country pointing out that you measure the strength of a society at its base, not its apex.

Senator Webb frequently pointed out that we have 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prison population, we over-incarcerate the mentally ill, drug offender prison populations are up 1200% since 1980, and prisoner re-entry programs are virtually non-existent. His Commission passed Congress, but was never voted on in the Senate. In his remaining term, he will continue to press for movement on this issue.

While I did not agree with Senator Webb on everything, he has been a voice of reason and a passionate advocate for very important causes. Serving in public office is an incredibly time-consuming sacrifice. I can understand Senator Webb's desire to return to private life. His retirement will not only be a loss for Virginia, but also for our country.

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