Friday at 3:00, Sherwood Boehlert will announce whether he plans to run for re-election. Signs abound that Boehlert plans to retire, and reactions of Republicans in the district indicate that they wish he would.
If Sherwood Boehlert retires, he will become the Sandra Day O'Connor of the 24th District, the Republican Democrats use as a point of comparison against which all other Republicans running in the district will look like Jesse Helms. If Sherwood Boehlert doesn't retire, he'll get a strong challenge from the Jesse Helms Republicans in our district anywhere, and Boehlert's defenses against such an attack appear to be weakening quickly.
Now, on the Democratic side:
There is a contingent of commenters here, who appear to be aligned with the Arcuri campaign, who are arguing that a United States Representative is really a local official who should be concerned about local issues. The claim made by one of these commenters is that, if a politician is interested in national issues, that politician should run for the US Senate, not the US House.
Of course a US Representative should be familiar with the local issues of his or her district, but that doesn't mean that a US Representative is elected to address local issues. Both chambers of our national legislature are given the duty of dealing with national issues, especially issues dealing with interstate commerce and oversight of the executive and judicial branches. It is absolute nonsense to suggest otherwise, and to depict a member of the House of Representatives as some kind of Supervisor of a multi-county area.
If you want local issues dealt with effectively, go to a member of your village, town, or county government. If you have to deal with statewide issues, go to your representative in the New York State Assembly or Senate. If you're concerned about a national issue, then it's time to call upon your representatives in Congress.
Of course, that's on the theoretical level. On the practical level, members of the House and Senate alike meddle in local and state politics. They use their influence to try to reshape the local environment, and to reward their supporters with special favors.
However, this is the secondary, lower, function of members of the United States House and Senate. It's also the function that most often gets members of Congress in trouble, abusing their power to inappropriately reward campaign donors and otherwise engage in corrupt acts.
There are always plenty of people on the local level who try to hitch their wagons to a rising star to a candidate for the House of Representatives. These people get involved in politics for how it can profit them personally, not because they've got the good of the district or the good of the nation in mind. This is a reality that must be contended with, and the degree to which the influence of such people is resisted is a good measure of the worth of a congressional candidate.
I'm not saying that Bruce Tytler or Michael Arcuri, the two candidates in this race who are basing their campaigns on a tradition of support based on local issues, are corrupt. I have no way of knowing if they are or not.
However, Tytler and Arcuri will be under much more pressure than Les Roberts, who has built his appeal on the very important national issues that we Americans face today. Les Roberts is more independent of local political cronies - which is another way of saying that he has had to compensate for a relative lack of support among establishment Democrats in our district.
As Sherwood Boehlert's involvement with Walter Rich demonstrates, there are plenty of people in the 24th District who expect to be able to use their United States Representative to make a personal profit. Sherwood Boehlert's example also shows what kind of damage our Representative can contribute to on a national scale. Congressman Boehlert voted for the Iraq War, in spite of local residents begging him not to do so. Boehlert could have been part of a principled Republican opposition to the Iraq War, based on the lack of evidence for any need of war, but he chose to go along with the crowd instead.
When we pick our next Democratic representative in the US House, we need to be mindful that we pick someone who would not repeat Boehlert's mistake. Ask the families of soldiers from our district who are now serving in Iraq (and keep in mind that 70 percent of soldiers in Iraq are now calling for the USA to pull out within one year) - national issues matter.
Another national issue that is of importance to us all is the issue of government spying against law-abiding Americans. It isn't just about the NSA wiretapping and email surveillance. It has to do with the infamous Patriot Act as well. It has to do with extensive, well-documented programs by the FBI and the Pentagon to spy against political dissidents within the United States.
The issue also has to do with the Total Information Awareness program, which it turns out is very alive and well within the National Security Agency, under a new series of code names. Total Information Awareness is a program to grab information from commercial databases about the legal, private activities of American citizens, and compile that information into a gigantic single database so that the legal activities of all American citizens can be tracked by the government without any supervision. Information going into this database includes credit card purchases, email messages, medical records, video store checkouts... any information traceable back to you that's stored on a computer.
This stuff isn't wonky, abstract political philosophy. It has a real world impact on us all. In this time when the traditional, progressive ideas of what being an American means are under attack, national issues are of more relevance to us than ever before.
Yes, having local experience matters. But, we need a candidate who can rise above the small view of the issues that matter to Utica or Cortland. Arcuri and Tytler could do so just as well as Les Roberts would. But, some of their supporters seem quite anxious that they do not transcend the local ties that bind. That's cause for concern.