Yesterday I met with Ginny Goldman, the lead organizer for ACORN in Houston. ACORN is an organization of low and middle income families working for economic justice in 70 cities around the country. In Houston, ACORN has taken on the issue of affordable housing. ACORN is also known for getting their members active in political campaigns and in running for office, and that's why politicians pay attention to ACORN, whether they want to or not.
I spent the afternoon meeting with two former elected officials, Chris Bell and Mark White. Congressman Chris Bell, whose fight against DeLay's ethics last year occupies the first two paragraphs in Mike Crowley's wide-ranging cover story in the current New Republic, is readjusting to being out of office (he was redistricted out), setting up a new law office, and, as has been reported, considering a run for governor in 2006. He maintains that American voters are paying more attention to ethics now, and the pendulum swing is heading the right direction. I share his frustration that this theory is either not one House Democrats subscribe to, or that they are simply too paralyzed by their own perceived vulnerabilities to engage the issue. It's disappointing, but for people like Bell, it's leadership vaccuum they can try to fill.
Mark White served as Governor of Texas fom 1983 to 1987. He keeps a somewhat low profile -- he doesn't appear at all to be a man driven by desire for spotlight or credit. Anyone who spends time around former, current, or future politicians will understand how unique that is. Mark and I met in a quiet hotel bar to discuss our DeLay work, the state of the Democrats, and what happened in 2004. Like Bell, he sees the same trends -- that voters are ready to reject unethical big money politics and embrace common sense solutions. He bemoaned a lack of gumption in today's Democratic leaders. One non-DeLay-related example: A few weeks back, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld was asked by a Tennessee national reservist about armor for vehicles in Iraq, and Rumsfeld gave a callous reply that we fight with the army we have not the army we want. White thought Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee should have jumped on a plane to Washington immediately and knocked on the front door of the White House insisting that Bush and Rumsfeld apologize and fix the situation. He's right.
He is also right on another national issue with major money in politics connections: credit cards. I have been thinking awhile about the need to take on some of the most egregious practices of banks and card distributors, which are allowed because Congress just doesn't crack down on them. This is an issue Mark urged me to explore and take on. The number of families and college kids with mounting, stifling personal debt is astounding. These companies are crippling the American dream, and Congress and state legislatures prefer the industry's campaign contributions to the political fight it would take to protect consumers from the rapacious card companies.
Last night I drove the three hours to Austin. It's cold here -- 30 degrees this morning, or so. I'm tired, but energized by the people I am meeting, and the conversations. I met this morning with Nathan Wilcox, a web consultant in Austin with lots of political ties. I'm having lunch with people from Democracy for Texas and meeting with reform organizations at Texans for Public Justice later. (Unfortunately, a meeting scheduled for this morning with The Hammer author, Lou DuBose, was cancelled due to a family matter that took him out of town. There is no particular reason to mention this, just wanted to plug his book again!)
More about my Austin visits later. I fly out tonight in order to get home for my daughter Carson's fifth birthday party.