Monday, October 30, 2006

Joe Roberts for Congress


Today's PNJ carries one of the few articles the newpaper has printed this election season comparing local incumbent congressman Jeff Miller (R-Chumukla) with his opponent, Joe Roberts (D-Gulf Breeze).

Reporter Larry Wheeler wasn't given much space to work with. He writes, in a little over 740 words, as if differences over the Iraq War is the most important issue in the local congressional race:
"Despite the increased violence in Iraq and growing public dissatisfaction with U.S. involvement there, Republican Jeff Miller declines to criticize the Bush administration’s policy and remains staunchly supportive of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

"Joe Roberts, the Pensacola Democrat trying to unseat the three-term congressman from Chumuckla, believes the president’s strategy of “unending presence in Iraq” is unacceptable and Congress should step in to force a solution."
It's certainly true that the two candidates disagree over Iraq. It's also true that the whole Iraq mess is of vital importance to future generations of U.S. citizens, from new born babes to teens approaching draft age -- and quite likely the children of those children.

Joe Roberts has taken a position closer to the critical views of prominent retired and active military officers whom we mentioned yesterday. Miller, by contrast, seems to have swallowed the Bush administration's Kool-Aide to such an extent that he still wants to 'stay the course' even as George W. Bush is trying to disavow that policy.

To be sure, Wheeler writes that "The war in Iraq is just one of many issues on which Miller and Roberts don’t agree." But he's given space to mention only one other in any detail: veteran's benefits.
"Roberts says Miller is not the friend of veterans he claims to be.

The Disabled American Veterans “key votes” chart shows Miller voted against legislation the organization endorsed nine times while voting with the group just three times."
Miller's response?
“The DAV has chosen to play politics in an extreme way in the 2006 elections,” Miller said."
That's an odd thing for a politician to say. It's not as if Miller doesn't "play politics" himself all the time. More to the point, at 1.2 million members the D.A.V. is, just as it claims, the foremost representative of the interests of disabled veterans and their families, their widowed spouses and their orphans before federal, state, and local governments."

Miller counters that, "A different organization, American Veterans, gave Miller a 100 percent voting record." It's not immediately clear which of the dozen or more "American Veterans" organizations Miller means. But if he's referring to the well-known AmVets organization, founded after W.W. II to support veterans generally, then Miller's claim isn't quite accurate -- or relevant, for that matter.

Miller voted as the AmVets wanted on 6 out of 7 "key votes." That's high, but not 100%. The AmVets is a venerable veteran's organization, but not one for disabled vets.

A fundamental problem with Jeff Miller is that over the entirety of his five full years in Congress he has displayed no imaginative ideas, no leadership skills, and no political muscle around Capitol Hill. Although he's one of many members of the Republican-dominated House Armed Services Committee and Veteran's Affairs Committee, the fact is that he has accomplished little and initiated nothing notable, even there.

It's as if even his Republican colleagues in Washington see him only as the small-time county commissioner he once was. He may be a nice enough fellow, personally, but he's a light weight and always will be.

According to a detailed run-down by the non-partisan, completely independent Project Vote Smart, Miller is particularly weak on environmental issues, labor, education, personal privacy rights, public health, and (shockingly) senior citizen issues. There are a lot of items in that list that are of interest even to hard-core conservatives of Northwest Florida. Yet, as reporter Wheeler summarizes, while voting for virtually anything that contained spending money for "
military and homeland-security" (not to mention Halliburton give-aways) Miller regularly opposes other bills that would "fund energy, water, foreign operations, legislative-branch, commerce, justice, science, transportation, treasury and housing programs."

Even when it comes to projects that would serve the legitimate needs of his own district in Northwest Florida, Jeff Miller has under-performed. Over a five-year stretch when Republicans dominated all three branches of government including the House of Representatives, he collected only a few leftover crumbs from the table -- and those were in the oven long before he was first elected.

If, as most polls are now saying, the Democrats win a majority in the House next week, how much less effective will the nay-saying Miller become for us?
Panhandle voters concerned about the local economy, wage base, affordable housing, hurricane preparedness, beach cleanliness, and better highways -- as well as the Iraq disaster -- ought to give Joe Roberts a second look for Congress.

He's been running a "spirited campaign," as another PNJ reporter remarked the other day. He's honest, forthright, and energetic. And he'll fit in with the new Democratic majority a heck of a lot more comfortably than do-nothing Jeff Miller.

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