Wisconsin senator visits Pelham

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Sen. Russ Feingold has visited every Wisconsin county at least once a year during the past 12 years, holding &uot;listening sessions.&uot;

He came a few hundred miles south for one of his most recent sessions, though. Feingold visited Pelham while in the midst of a three-day Alabama tour.

According to some political pundits, the stop may have been partly to gauge interest in a presidential campaign. Feingold, a Democrat, has been mentioned as a possible candidate in 2008.

He may be most famous to Alabamians because of comments he made last year about the city of Greenville, located about 45 miles south of Montgomery.

Feingold visited Greenville while playing the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, and commented in an online column that the city may have been the &uot;reddest&uot; (most Republican) in the nation.

He also referred to check-cashing stores, trailer parks and a &uot;rundown&uot; car lot in the article, stating residents likely were missing out on the American dream because of their support for Republicans.

&uot;It created some controversy,&uot; Feingold admitted.

Feingold told approximately 25 people in attendance he wanted to hear why Shelby County-one of the most Republican counties in the state, if not the nation-supported President Bush in the latest election.

&uot;The Democratic Party hasn’t done too well lately,&uot; he said. &uot;Maybe we ought to be listening to people in other states.&uot;

Feingold fielded questions about a variety of issues, ranging from Social Security to the environment.

He even received a tongue-in-cheek question about the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee basketball team that defeated Alabama in the NCAA Tournament.

He said President Clinton and legislators worked hard approximately a decade ago to eliminate the federal deficit.

&uot;We agreed the deficit was bad, and we should get rid of it,&uot; he said.

However, he blamed 9-11 and tax cuts by the president for &uot;the largest deficit in American history.&uot;

&uot;I’m getting a lot of feedback on this deficit,&uot; Feingold said.

He said Estate Tax cuts touted as necessary by Bush only benefit wealthy Americans.

Feingold is known by many as co-sponsor of a campaign finance reform bill, along with John McCain.

He said political spending in non-profit 527s (i.e. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth) needs to be addressed.

&uot;Money continues to be a big problem in politics,&uot; he said.

Feingold said Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi is among those working with him to &uot;put the genie back in the bottle&uot; on 527s.

Other issues the senator addressed include:

* No Child Left Behind Act: Feingold was one of only 10 senators to vote against the President’s education initiative.

&uot;I am concerned it involves a lot of non-funded or poorly-funded mandates,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s probably doing some good things, and some not so good things.&uot;

* Health insurance costs: Feingold said a universal health care plan, administered by the states, is something that should be explored.

He suggested that states could at least cover catastrophic costs, so small businesses would not have to cover the brunt of increasing insurance costs.

&uot;It shouldn’t be the job of businesses to provide healthcare,&uot; he said.

&uot;Sky-rocketing insurance costs are brutal for any business.

&uot;We should be spending our time on this and job issues … How did Social Security get ahead of this.&uot;

Social Security is not a pressing issue right now, according to Feingold.

&uot;It clearly needs reform. We have to address it. But it’s not a crisis right now,&uot; he said. &uot;The fund is solvent at least until 2041, 2042.&uot;

* Feingold acknowledged that Democrats have work to do-particularly in Southern states.

He said if Democrats would &uot;talk about the bread and butter issues we face, it would have to help.&uot;

However, the party has to draw a fine line in mentioning values, according to Feingold. Otherwise, the party may come across as insincere.

&uot;There’s a certain absurdity if you start saying, ‘We have values, too.’ Maybe it’s more about character and how we present ourselves as people.