Holding the Bush administration accountable?

By Matthew Stone

Now seeking a fourth term in the heavily Democratic Fourth Congressional District of Minnesota, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-St. Paul) sat down with The Mac Weekly last Sunday during a visit to campus. She discussed her outlook for the November elections, her role in supporting Democratic candidates and what a Democratic House would do differently.

The Mac Weekly: Why should the voters of the 4th Congressional District reelect you?
Betty McCollum: Because I’m anxious to go back and hold the Bush administration accountable for their failure to move America in a positive direction forward, whether it’s investing in education…whether it’s the phony choice of consumer-driven healthcare.

I want to continue working on local projects here, getting a mass transit system developed for the East Metro.

Then there’s environmental issues I want to continue working on—speaking out about global warming, …going to more renewable energy.

And internationally, …restoring a lot of that high ground that people expect from Americans. No torture, no preemptive war.

What are some of the things you’ve been doing this season? The fourth district isn’t that competitive. What have you been devoting your energy to?
Well, I have two functions. One is to work to be reelected and I do take that job very seriously…. We have a full campaign agenda here at home.

The other that I have is that I have been serving at a national level on the Democratic House Recruitment team, which is headed by Congressman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.). I’ve been involved in recruiting some candidates and mentoring some candidates both here at home…and then I have some national races. It looks like I’ll be going down to Iowa and we have phone calls that we make in Illinois and Nevada.

Through the end of August, Federal Election Commission records show that your campaign committee [in 2006] donated almost $50,000 to other Democratic candidates and other Democratic interests. I’m wondering how you decide to dispense that money.

Well, first off, I owe a lot to members of Congress who helped me out on my first election. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. That’s the golden rule.

But I look at House races where we seem to be very competitive. Sometimes candidates, especially women candidates, need a little early money to get moving forward. And it’s also finding people who are going to be kind of a match for some of the issues that I want to work on—healthcare, education, and progressive issues.

If Democrats get the 15 seats they need to regain control of the House in November, what should be the first priority for a Democratic House?
It’s to start setting up a system where there’s oversight and accountability on what has taken place the past few years in Iraq, not only with the reconstruction of Iraq, [but also] due oversight in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is critically important to the region and to the world.

I think America, if they put the Democrats in charge of the House, will be saying that the priorities are education, they are healthcare and it is reducing the amount of debt that has accumulated under this Republican Congress.

About the scandal involving former Congressman Mark Foley…you told a Star Tribune reporter this past week that Congress should take measures to protect Congressional pages.

Congress should, absolutely, if we’re going to have the page program. And I think that means having an independent board be in charge. Obviously, politics was allowed to come before doing what’s right, and that’s protecting these young adults.

I personally think [the page program is] good for me when I’m casting a vote, to have the presence of young adults…in the chamber because I shouldn’t just be making decisions that are expedient or decisions that look easy today.

I would like to see a system put in place that is political-proof, so that if a member—Democrat, Independent, Republican—is doing something that is inappropriate…or out-and-out wrong as in the case of Mr. Foley, that there is a system where the pages know that they can go to, it’ll be addressed, and it won’t become political.

What would that system look like?
I haven’t gotten into…I would think former pages would do well to serve on there and have people who have experience in how to make young adults feel comfortable reporting either harassment or abuse. I think we should listen to the experts on how to set that up.

Toward the end of September, the House voted to pass the Mississippi River Trail Study Act, which originated from you. If it passes the Senate, what do you hope it achieves eventually?
What this bill looks to do is to work in unison with the [Mississippi River] Parkway Commission and the ten states [along the river] to put together an inventory of historical sites, bike trails, birding trails, to tell the story of this country, the Mississippi River. That I think will be a great resource for our national park system to tell another story.