"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).