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Give Peace a Chance?       by Jerry Sobieraj

There have been several groups involved in the peace movement who have been working to secure voter pledges for Peace Candidates. When I searched the Internet in July, I did not turn up any listings of Peace Candidates, so my partner in peace, Ed, and myself, began to construct such a list. Our plan was to facilitate the process of selecting a Peace Candidate for people who took the vote for peace pledge. We felt it was important to be comprehensive, so we needed to evaluate all listed candidates in all national races. We also wanted to have a clear definition of a Peace Candidate. Since the War in Iraq has been such a debacle, it seemed important to at least recognize the war as misguided. In addition, consistent with the efforts of Code Pink and Troops Home Fast, we required that Peace Candidates support an immediate withdrawal or redeployment of our troops from Iraq. The removal of our troops also needed to have a timeline defined, without dependency on undefined benchmarks and with no residual military presence in Iraq.

The goal of all this, of course, would be to achieve a 110th Congress next year that would implement a peace agenda. However, after completing the process (, I realized that the numbers didn't add up to peace. The most glaring problem was that Republicans had only a single Peace Candidate, Alan Fine of Minnesota. Yet, even his presence wouldn't affect the fact that any Republican elected would in essence be a vote against peace. Alan Fine was running in Minnesota's 5th District, which had three Peace Candidates, with the race expected to be won by Keith Ellison, the Democratic Peace Candidate.

Since every Republican elected would be a vote against peace in the next Congress, if Republicans didn't retain their majority in the House, surely that would result in a peace agenda, wouldn't it? This would assume that all the non-Republicans elected were Peace Candidates. Since non-Republicans elected to Congress would likely be Democrats, it turned out that this wouldn't be much better. A tally of Peace Candidates showed only 49% of Democrats running for national office met our definition. In fact, many Democratic incumbents didn't even list the War in Iraq as an issue on their official web sites.

The omission of the war as an issue did not appear accidental either. When a search of an incumbent Congress person's web site didn't turn up a press release or statement regarding Iraq, we still needed a way to evaluate their stance on the war. Fortunately, HR 861, a House bill proposed to support the "Global War on Terrorism", was a unique resource for fathoming Congressional views on the War in Iraq. Some Congress people had press releases with their statements on HR 861 posted on their web sites, though a dozen Peace Candidates did not post their comments about HR 861 on their web sites (I found their statements on Thomas, the web site of the National Library of Congress). The more secure a Democrat appeared to be in retaining their seat, the less likely they were to have Iraq on their web site. As the safety of an incumbents seat increased (e.g. running unopposed), the likelihood that they even had a statement about Iraq in the Congressional Record decreased. In addition, long term incumbents were much more likely to have out of date web sites (e.g. one didn't have anything regarding the 109th Congress, with press releases from the 108th Congress listed as "current"), and very sparse representation in Thomas (e.g. several had a tenth of the entries in the Congressional Record compared to someone early in their careers).

Does this make voter pledges for peace meaningless? In some cases, yes. For example, Indiana has 10 Congressional races and no Peace Candidates. If you live in Indiana, there is no way you can vote for a Peace Candidate. People in Districts that have no Peace Candidates (only 59% of races have a Peace Candidate), first have to create Peace Candidates. Since many Democrats recognize the War in Iraq as misguided, some of them could be convinced to support a more precise timeline for removing our troops. The peace movement clearly has work to do. If getting pledges for peace in Districts without Peace Candidates can result in a lobbying effort after the election to support our removal from Iraq, then it will remain a worthwhile effort.

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