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April 19, 2007

State Senate talks about the war, but only a little

Posted by David Postman at 2:49 PM

Senate Democrats could not agree on an anti-war resolution after days of editing drafts and negotiating amongst themselves. Divisions among the 32 Democrats parallel divisions in the country, said Majority Leader Lisa Brown.

So instead of debating a non-binding resolution, Sen. Eric Oemig, D-Kirkland, who had earlier pushed to get the Senate on record calling for impeaching President Bush, rose to talk about the war as a point of personal privilege.

Oemig was answered by Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, a veteran of the Vietnam War. Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, also spoke against the war, and other senators are expected to give their opinions later in the day and through the final days of the legislative session.

Here are transcripts I made of the full comments of Oemig and Swecker, which I think are worth reading.


Democracy is often easier to enjoy than it is to participate in and protect. We inherited a great democracy and those who shaped it were not perfect. It'd be easier to point out their mistakes than to live up to their example. Our American tradition, our inherited tradition, is to aim high. And we're bound to make mistakes. We made plenty. History's filled with them — Gulf of Tonkin, Iran-Contra. But it's with action that we fix our mistakes. And when people are honestly mistaken and they learn the truth, they either cease to be mistaken or they case to be honest. If we do not act to correct our mistakes, our children will inherit them. We cannot restore the lives lost in Iraq, or the lost limbs or the lives shattered. But we can act.

Our commander in chief can be relived of duty. The truth has surfaced. He abused our proud traditions and brought us torture while telling us we don't torture. He violated our proud traditions and spied on American citizens while telling us we don't spy. And he made claims about aluminum tubes and yellow cake that the evidence did not support.

The truth has surfaced. Do we cease to be mistaken or do we cease to be honest? I would never trust this president with the life of my son. How can I trust him with the lives of my neighbors' kids? How many more lives will this president sacrifice from Washington state? Six since we convened in January. For the soldiers who are going to die next month and next year and to avert more death and to prevent handing out more gold stars to mothers, we must end this war.

The commander in chief must be relieved of duty. The framers of our Constitution gave us the tools of impeachment and conviction. We must not be afraid to use these tools.


We find ourselves on the floor of the Senate today hearing speeches about war and peace and perhaps even impeaching a president. That's something new for me, and probably even new for you who have been here a long, long time.

The reason it's new is because that's not what we were elected to do. I'm not saying these issues aren't important. They are. I know that first hand. As many of you probably know, I'm a veteran of the Vietnam War. While I was there I earned the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and more than 20 air medals.

As a veteran, I can tell you that people deciding to volunteer to serve their country, they do this for a variety of reasons; patriotism, educational opportunities, family tradition, belief in a cause. But once they get into combat, that all goes away and they share one thing in common: The desire to see the war end. They don't like the isolation, the loneliness, the crummy food and especially getting shot at.

But what keeps them engaged and what makes many of them sign up to go back?
It's their deep desire for freedom on the part of people they are there to serve. The desire for freedom, to them, out weighs all else,

There's no better example of this than Valley Forge. Think about the despair, the disease, the death, that the Constitutional Army suffered during that winter of destiny for this nation. Yet it was the desire for freedom that caused them to endure and go forward.

I've been in combat and I've seen the eyes of the people that I was there to help. You can't turn away. Their faces stay with you. You see the suffering and you realize you can help them and help the people back home.

We all want peace. But peace at the price of freedom is failure. That's what I believe. And whether it's our policy as a nation, is something that we do need to decide. But the debate on this issue should not be occurring in the state Legislature. It should, Mr. President, and is, occurring in Congress.

These are issues of foreign policy. This is an area outside the jurisdiction of this body. People in our districts ... did not elect us to solve national problems. They elected us to solve the unique problems and challenges facing Washington state.

This year the Senate Republicans have been talking about a symbolic woman named Beth C. Budget, education, transportation, health care and crime — those are the issues that are important to her and those are the issue that this body should be dealing with. Solving the problems of this state and local issues is a commitment we must keep. We all understand that people feel strongly about these issues. But let's focus on the things we were elected to do and leave the matters of national security up to our colleagues in the other Washington.

One visitor's gallery was full of impeachment supporters, and after the speeches they chanted, "Impeach, impeach, impeach." They then filed out politely, one elderly protester apologizing to the security guard for those that were so loud and the guard telling the visitors, "Thanks for coming today folks."

The discussion about the war and impeachment seemed to occur with as much civility as possible. But first there was a silly bit of political gamesmanship that did nothing to add to the debate.

Republicans, knowing that the war was expected to come up on the floor today, put small American flags on each of their 17 desks this morning. When Democrats came in for the morning session, they saw the flags dotting the Republican side, and immediately sent someone to buy 32 American flags so their desks, too, could fly the miniature Stars and Stripes.

It didn't stop there. Some Democrats removed the flag from the tiny flag poles and reattached them at half-mast to honor the people killed in the Virginia massacre. And that prompted a Senate Republican staffer to point out to reporters that the president's directive on the flying the flag at half-mast covered only full-size flags, not novelty desk flags.

UPDATE: While some Democratic senators said their little flags were at half mast for the Virgina shootings, Sen. Darlene Fairley, D-Lake Forest Park, said she started the move as a way to honor war dead; in her case particularly from the Vietnam war where she served as a civillian nurse.

Sen. Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma, talked later in the day and explained:

So my flag is at half-staff to honor those who will never come home,
those who will come back maimed or injured physically and mentally, those whose lives will never be the same.

And also for those Iraqis who have died, whose families have been torn apart, whose country is in turmoil; for our countries and for the region which face an uncertain future due to the fiscal costs of war, the devastation of war, and the instability that has been created in so many lives.

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