JK: Yesterday, Winds carried a Guest Blog piece by Hank Johnson, explaining who he was and what he was about, asking for support from the blogosphere, and inviting your thoughts and questions. Several of our readers took him up on that last bit - and true to his promise, Hank has responded. The discussions cover bigotry, education, illegal immigration, Iraq, and Israel.
Hello, all! This is DeKalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson. As you know, I'm in a runoff for the Democratic nomination against U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney in Georgia's 4th Congressional District.
Thanks so much for reading, responding, and (I hope) contributing. I can't thank you enough for your kind words and support.
I won't be able to respond quickly to all of your questions and comments, but I'll take a stab at a few. My answers are going to be frank, I certainly don't expect you all to agree with me, but everything I see and hear about this web site makes me confident that you will consider my responses seriously and take them in stride.
Jdwill asked for my take on the immigration issue.
Without question, insecure borders threaten both economic and national security, and no one is above the law. Illegal immigration and the employment of illegal immigrants should be discouraged and reprimanded.
That said, most illegal immigrants are honest, hard-working individuals. Many have risked life and limb and worked essential and frequently undesirable jobs for years in order to make better lives for their families. To unduly punish these people by imprisonment or deportation would not be an act of prudence but an act of cruelty – and harmful to the country's economy. Those who work hard, abide by the law, and make an effort to become a part of the American community deserve a second chance at legal citizenship. A second chance; not an amnesty.
The essential point is that security is not won by policies of cruelty or fear. Our immigration policy should effectively secure our borders, protect the larger national interest, and work to do so without causing extraordinary suffering for those who seek to contribute to our society and find a better life among us.
Colt asks how I will ensure that additional funding for education translates into better education, not wasted taxpayers' dollars.
I struggle with that question myself. Let me start by saying very directly that I believe in education, I believe in public education – my children are products of it-- and I believe we need to allocate more resources to it. Too many of our kids are learning in trailers, using ancient textbooks, and receiving inadequate attention from a understaffed, underpaid, undertrained corps of teachers.
Good appropriations legislation will increase funding to schools. Good education legislation will set reasonable, smart standards for while empowering local districts with the autonomy to educate their children as best suits their communities.
Competitors abroad are devoting enormous resources to the education of a multilingual, globally savvy workforce. This country cannot thrive and continue to succeed with anything less. We can't afford to have anything but the best schools in the world if we are to be prosperous in this new century which, at least so far, has been full of challenges. Smart legislation, coupling expanded funding with clear, rationale and actionable standards and accountability is really the only solution.
HA says he sees "a rising level of anti-Semitism among the base of the Democratic party" and asks what I will do "to confront this growing cancer within the Democratic party."
Thanks for the question, HA.
These last weeks have been sobering. I was proud to attend a rally of more than 5000 at Atlanta's Ahavath Achim Congregation on Sunday and was moved by such a powerful demonstration of support for the people of Israel. I agree that anti-Semitism must be resisted with all vigilance. In some parts of the world, influential leaders are fanning its flames to a frightening intensity.
Israel must continue to exist. Israel has carved a beautiful, vibrant state out of the desert, surrounded by hostility and forces trying to drag the region back to the middle ages. Its people have served their country with courage and selfless conviction. It's an amazing story of our time – a people nearly decimated by fascism have in fifty years built out of the sand one of the world's most successful countries, the only democracy in its region and a staunch ally of the United States.
If I believe that Israel's tactics in its wholly justified struggle for survival are wrong, I will not hesitate to say so. Wrong tactics deserve to be criticized but do not call into question the country's fundamental legitimacy. I also have great empathy for the Palestinian people, one of history's most tragic stories. A solution to the crisis will give both peoples the opportunity to thrive, hopefully together. But I will never – never – abandon my support for Israel's people or statehood.
Mark Cicero, responding to my assertion (posted on my web site) that the War in Iraq is and always has been a mistake in light of the nonexistent WMD, says, "If your opinion that Saddam's WMD program -- as it was understood and accepted as credible at the time -- wasn't worth going to war, it would be good to know why."
Mark: to me, the fact that we had the wrong information doesn't make the war right. We were told over and over again that Saddam's WMD stockpiles posed an "immediate threat," that he had chemical and biological weapons and would soon develop a nuclear arsenal. Wrong on all counts. American lives continue to be lost on bad intelligence, bad strategy, bad leadership.
Hindsight? Sure. But contemporary accounts of the buildup to war make it very clear that we should have known what was really up in Iraq. I was never confident in the Administration's case, and my concerns have been fully vindicated. I wish members of the intelligence community, the press, staffers at the White House, and the American people had come to a similar determination before we were made hostages of such a complicated situation.
I'm not a defeatist by any means. As you pointed out, my philosophy on withdrawal is that we must leave as soon as is possible, sensible, and ethical. Immediate pullout doesn't make sense. But lingering doesn't, either.
Matt asked if I would be willing to defy the party leadership if my personal convictions were at stake.
Easy question. Simple answer: absolutely. My convictions aren't for sale, even if it means I don't get a plum committee placement.
I enjoy and appreciate this opportunity to discuss these issues and explain my views. Thanks again for your interest and support. If I've convinced you that I am worthy of this office, please, I hope you will consider making a contribution to my campaign. Even a $10 donation can make the difference.