The Road to the New Political Reality: The Gains and Losses

"All politics is local." I am fairly certain that all of you have to have heard this famous quotation on more than one occasion. It was uttered by the late Thomas "Tip" O'Neil, from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who was a longtime Speaker of the House in the U.S. Congress.

He uttered this phrase in order to explain how the problems and concerns of towns and cities around the country affect the actions of their representatives and senators in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately I do not think it worked that way this time around. It is my belief that this year the election had a lot more to do with the war in Iraq, and by extension President Bush, than the people who were actually running for re-election.

My position in this regard is strengthened by the words of J. Scott Orr of the Star Ledger newspaper of Newark, New Jersey. In the November 8, 2006 edition he wrote that, "Exits polls conducted for CNN showed the congressional races were decided on national issues rather than local concerns that normally hold sway in House races." Amen to that thought.

Regardless of who voted for what and why they voted, we in the fire service have suffered a blow in terms of the loss of some strong supporters of the American Fire Service. Senator Mike DeWine from Ohio and Representative Curt Weldon from Pennsylvania lost their seats in Tuesday's torrential rain of change at the polls.

Curt was the founding father of what is now the largest caucus on Capitol Hill: The Fire Caucus. These two men were ardent supporters and passionate advocates for our fire service in the halls of Congress. Each has a record of strong support for such critical things as the FIRE Act and the Hometown Heroes Act. Now they are about to become a part of history.

I was personally offended by the tone of attack in this year's election. The level of slime that was slung in the name of political expediency saddened my heart. However, in spite of this, I made my way to my local polling place and cast my votes as I saw the need to do so. I won some and I lost some.

Chris Smith, my Member of Congress was overwhelming re-elected to another term. He is a good man and a member of the Fire Service Caucus. At the local level, our collective discontent with the ruling party was made clear by the sweeping win enjoyed by the Independent candidates so many of us backed. We also beat back yet another attempt to change the style of government in Howell Township.

New Jersey was somewhat of an anomaly, as our Congressional Delegation was returned to Washington intact. I guess there is something to be said for that. I think it is a good thing to note that 12 of our 13 Members of Congress belong to the Fire Service Caucus. That is a great place to start. We shall commence work on getting newly-elected Senator Robert Menendez and Albio Sires, his replacement in the House of Representatives to join the Fire Caucus team.

I would suppose that it could be easy for us to fly the "black flag of sorrow" over the loss of people like Mike and Curt. We could engage in a bout of wailing and teeth gnashing, however that is not us. That is not the fire service I know and love. We cannot respond to this scenario like a bunch of bawling babies.

I would suggest that our position here is much like the situation we face when we are in the midst of an attack on a basement fire and are forced to pull back and regroup. How many times have we gotten our butt kicked and been forced to exit the building? I can remember a number of times when we were forced to meet on the front lawn of a burning building to dope out our next move against the "Red Devil" in the cellar.

That is where we are right now. We have suffered a temporary setback. I believe that it is essential for us to meet on the front lawn of our political house to strategize the next round. We need to create a plan for the future. What we had in the past may not be what we now have. However, we must take an active hand in the creation of a positive new reality for our fire service at the national level. We must not leave this one to the other guy (or gal).

It is extremely critical to note that all is not lost. Some of our greatest champions were returned to office by overwhelming margins. Bill Pacrell, the creator of the FIRE Act was returned for a 6th term by a substantial margin. Rob Andrews of New Jersey won his 9th term in an unopposed race in Southern New Jersey. Steny Hoyer of Maryland was returned by the voters of his district for his 14th term and there are others. This is truly great news for the fire service. These are the solid blocks upon which to commence the erection of our new home.

These are the folks who have carried the water for us up on the hill for years now. These are the people who have worked to get the job done in the past. Many times we did not thank them as much as we could have. Like I said, that is the past. We need to be out on the stump ourselves now. If you have a new Senator or Member of Congress, now is the time to begin creating that relationship which will extend into the future.

I shall ask you to act in a responsible manner. We need to be building bridges to the new reality which will exist in Washington, DC after the 110th Congress takes office in January. A few injudicious words or nasty, partisan comments might well kill the effort before it gets underway. Like my late Grandmother was so fond of saying, you can catch more flies with honey then vinegar.

Each of us needs to maintain a relationship with our local Member of Congress. We need to reinforce the importance of the FIRE Act to our operations here in our nation. We need to keep our case in the public eye. In that regard, I have created a tool that will help you serve as an active advocate for our campaign to keep the FIRE Act alive and well.

As you may recall, I spent a month on the road this past summer studying the success of the FIRE Act. I met with scores of people in 15 different states. Many of you made the journey with me via the blog which Firehouse.com was kind enough to set up for me. Your response to my efforts has been heartwarming indeed. I now want you to take up this cause in your area.

I am about to take this operation to the next level. Sometime before Christmas, my new book on the road trip will be available. This book is entitled Living my Dream: Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip. It will give you a reference tool to use in creating talking points for the meetings I am urging you to hold with your Senators and Members of Congress.

Just to clear the air here, there is no profit motive in this project for me. I am self-publishing and any income which might be generated by the sale of this volume to you has already been dedicated to the Building Fund at the Colts Neck Reformed Church where my family worships. We are on the doorstep of a three-year campaign to create a facility where our growing congregation can worship. I am doing what I can to help.

Let me be brutally honest with you. Following the election on local television was disconcerting. It hurt as I watched friends of long-standing lose their political battles. However life goes on. You and I must now work to create a new realty which is favorable to the fire service. The first step of this 10,000-mile journey begins with you. Get rolling.

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