DENVER—Congressmember Barbara Lee is tough to keep up with. In a relentless pace, she often outruns even her staff. That staff can be seen here in Denver, scurrying behind this determined Alameda County congressional representative. She can be fiery and fierce when she needs to be, and she always plays to win.
Lee was a member of the California State Assembly and Senate and also worked as a staff member for then Rep. Ron Dellums, who retired in 1998, having served in the district since 1971. Lee was elected to Congress that same year and has been reelected every two years since. She typically wins with 85 percent of the vote in California’s 9th Congressional District. Lee is a member of the Appropriations Committee in Congress, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and First Vice Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
She met the Planet in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel off 16th Street in downtown Denver. The hotel is the hub for California Democratic Party delegates (441 total delegates, not all of whom are staying at the Sheraton).
Daily Planet: So, what have you been doing at the convention so far?
Lee: I attend the breakfast every morning for the California delegation, and meet with the Black Caucus; there are town hall-style meetings as well and, of course, I attend floor sessions [each day between 3-9 p.m. at the Pepsi Center].
Planet: Anything different at this convention from four years ago?
Lee: Basically we are getting more [attention]. Delegates are more progressive. The country is becoming more progressive, or at least Democrats are.
Planet: How are things on the convention floor?
Lee: Michelle Obama defined herself. We have to define ourselves and not let the other side define who we are—Hillary couldn’t have done it better—and the healthcare part [of the party platform].
(Earlier there had been a major progressive victory on the language of healthcare in the party platform, according to Tim Carpenter, National Executive Director for Progressive Democrats of America, a group that works closely with Lee’s congressional office. Carpenter said the progressives achieved a real victory in a recent platform committee “fight.” In an interview Carpenter said that “‘Universal coverage’ was changed to ‘guaranteed healthcare for all, every man, woman and child.”)
Planet:So, what will be your agenda on January 20, 2009 when a President Obama is inaugurated?
ee:End the occupation of Iraq as quickly as possible—from day one we will work on that. Healthcare … let’s begin that one immediately, and working to reduce poverty. We’ve been working on an “Out of Poverty” caucus. Barak Obama is committed to cutting it [poverty] in half. I’m committed to this and I will push Obama on it.
Planet:And what specifically will you call for on Iraq? Obama committed to 16 months.
Lee:Sixteen months is much too long. No more money to prolong this war, no permanent bases and no occupation. The Progressive Caucus will lead on this issue.
Planet:Obama said he wants to take the troops out of Iraq and put them in Afghanistan.
ee:You know the global war on terror is a “notion”—we don’t even understand what it is about. The Taliban is reconstituted, they’re growing heroin. Military action is not going to make us more secure in our country. We need a more comprehensive approach because no one says we should not defend ourselves.”
Planet:And what about local issues, what are you working on there?
Lee:My job is to make sure I get as much money as I can shake loose for the needs of the communities in my district; federal money. Those issues are crime prevention, community policing, health clinics, a green job training program, and money for community colleges.
And just like that it was over. One of her aides grabbed her arm and as I rose to say goodbye that aide put herself between the congressmember and me. But by that time, though, she was already galloping away to the next town hall meeting, caucus or media interview.