National elections are always important. None more so that the Congressional elections on Nov. 7. Polls show the nearly 60 percent of the American people feel the country is headed in the wrong direction. I suspect the percent of Local 802 members who feel that way is substantially higher and that many members would suggest its not only going in the wrong direction, its heading off a cliff.
The waste of young peoples lives and national resources on Bush’s war of choice in Iraq is tragic. The continuing health care crisis leaves thousands of our members with inadequate health insurance or none at all. The tax burden at the national, state and local level continues to be shifted onto working families and off corporations and the wealthy. None of this will change without some major changes in Washington.
This year’s House and Senate races give us that chance. A change of 15 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate would shift control to the Democrats. Just by way of example: Democratic control of the House would make our good friend Congressman Charles Rangel chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
Often there are few competitive races in our area where we can make a difference. This year there may be several that need our help. Here in New York State we have one of our own — Local 802 member John Hall — running for Congress. John recently won the Democratic nomination in New York’s 19th Congressional District and is seeking to unseat Sue Kelly, the Republican incumbent. Kelly was first elected in 1994 with the Gingrich gang. She has been a consistent supporter of the Bush agenda at the expense of the working families in her district.
John Hall knows our issues He was an accomplished musician, guitarist, singer and songwriter with the band Orleans. Early in his campaign he was endorsed by Local 802 and by the AFM. He has held local elected office in his district, which includes all of Putnam County, most of Orange County, southern Dutchess County, northern Westchester County and northern Rockland County.
He decisively won the Democratic primary over three other candidates. He won with a strongly progressive program that clearly spoke to the needs of voters in that district. He has a chance to win.
While Local 802 has fewer than 200 members in that district, there is still much we can do. You don’t have to live in the district to donate funds, to volunteer for phone banks and get out the vote efforts. Campaigns like his rely on small donations from many people. You can go to the John Hall campaign Web site and contribute at www.JohnHallForCongress.com. We intend to help with phone banks at Local 802 and you can contact my office to volunteer.
The other area contest that deserves out attention is the senate race in New Jersey. Shifting control of the Senate means holding on to the Democratic seats we have and that include Senator Robert Menendez. He is being challenged by Republican Thomas Kean Jr. who is mainly running on his family name. While there are important differences in the candidates’ positions on a host of issues, the most important issue may well be their vote on control of the Senate. Local 802 has more than 2,000 members who live in New Jersey. We will be working to inform our members on the issues in this race and urging our members to vote. Again, if you would like to help, please contact my office at (212) 245-4802, ext. 111.
Also, there’s still time to register to vote. You must register no less than 25 days before the Nov. 7 general election. To register or find your polling place, call (866) VOTE-NYC.
HEALTH CARE CRISIS
One of the most critical reasons we must be involved in local, state and national politics is the health care crisis that so threatens the members of Local 802 and their families. Too many of us are one serious illness from financial disaster. The health care crisis must be solved and that requires action at the state and national level. In many states there are efforts to force every employer to contribute their fair share to health coverage. At the national level the solution that makes the most sense is simply extending the successful Medicare program to cover everyone and eliminating the wasteful role of the insurance companies.
As I write this the Local 802’s Health Benefits Plan is facing serious problems that you will be hearing more about in the coming months. Like hundreds of other employer funded health plans across the country, ours is being squeezed by double digit cost increases each year and contributions levels that do not keep pace. Employer contribution levels must be increased, and in future contract negotiations we must do everything possible to insure that musicians’ health care needs are adequately secured. Right now more than 2,000 members and their families depend upon the Health Benefits Plan. For many it is literally the difference between life and death. If it takes a fight to save these benefits and secure them for the coming years, it’s a fight we have to be prepared to wage.