“The people of this state told me to take a break.”
But Russ Feingold wants the break to end, and he used an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Tuesday to convey his enthusiasm for winning a race for a United States Senate seat that is shaping up as one of the most significant in the country this year.
Feingold served as a Democrat in the Senate for 18 years before being defeated in 2010 by a Republican candidate who was then a newcomer to politics, Ron Johnson. This year’s race is slated to be a re-match between the two. The two differ sharply on a wide range of issues and the outcome could be a key to which party holds a majority in the Senate, come 2017.
Feingold conveyed to a capacity audience in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall not only his enthusiasm for returning to office, but the consistency of his positions over the years, with a few adjustments and tweaks as he positions himself for the campaign.
HIs support of the health care reform law often called Obamacare, which was a big issue in the 2010 race? “It was the right vote,” he said, and the law is working to provide millions more people health insurance, among other benefits. It needs some improvements, Feingold said, but he stands by it as a whole.
His vote in 2001 against the Patriot Act dealing with national security issues when every other senator supported it? “I will stand by that vote,” he said. There were a lot of things that were good in the law, he said, but enough that concerned him, in terms of allowing surveillance of people who were suspected of no wrong doing, that he couldn’t support it.
His opinion on how to fight ISIS and other terrorist groups? Feingold, who was on the Senate foreign relations committee for all his 18 years in office, emphasized how long he has been sounding alarms about terrorist groups, but he continues to be reluctant, at best, about major military involvement directly in the Middle East. He supports steps such as targeted attacks on terrorist leaders and “choking off” the vitality of terrorist groups by disrupting their finances, their ability to purchase arms, and their ability to use oil to gain strength, as well as by effective use of intelligence agencies.
His long-time support of abortion rights and Planned Parenthood, now that there is so much effort from Republicans to de-fund the organization? ”It’s just so sad” to see the attacks, he said He praised Planned Parenthood and said the issue is being used as “a political football.”
There were new points of emphasis, such as the differences Feingold and Johnson have over what the federal government should do to help college students and graduates with large amounts of debt related to their education. A hot issue currently, Feingold called for substantial federal help, while Johnson has opposed that.
And Feingold responded to attacks being aired currently accusing him of not responding to complaints about problems at the veterans facilities in Tomah involving over-use of drugs. Feingold said the accusation had been debunked and the attacks were motivated only by politics. He emphasized how seriously he took the issue of bad medical care for veterans.
What did he learn from losing the race in 2010? He said he learned how the winds of political sentiment can change. He learned how tough it is to win re-election when the economy has been in trouble. He learned, he said, that “a lot of baloney” about an issue such as Obamacare can have impact.
After that defeat, he discouraged talk he would run for office again and fended off interest from Democrats in running for the Senate in 2012 or for governor of Wisconsin in 2012 and 2014. He taught, including two semesters at Marquette Law School, wrote a book, and was a special envoy for Secretary of State John Kerry dealing with issues in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
But now he’s back on the campaign trail. Why?
He said he had been living a good life out of office, but decided “the thing I love best is serving the people of Wisconsin, and they’re hurting. They’re hurting because they’ve been treated shabbily. And I felt it was my responsibility, as well as my desire, to be part of a team that would bring us back together, and that’s a joyful thing to be part of.”
Feingold’s appearance is part of an “On the Issues” double-header. On Feb. 5, Senator Ron Johnson will be Gousha’s guest at the Law School.
To view the one-hour conversation with Feingold, click here.