PEORIA -- The April 5 general membership meeting of the Illinois ACLU held in Peoria continues to generate reactions. (See April 15 post below for an account of Ray LaHood's talk at this meeting and links to podcasts of the meeting.)
Here's commentary from ACLU member Jeff Johnson:
Of Civil Liberties, Civil Unions, Civil Rights and…err, umm – well, just plain civility.
"Did I hear that correctly?" I then turned toward the young lady sitting beside me, probably looking very incredulous, and repeated myself to her: "Did I just hear Congressman LaHood admit that he and other members of the (US) House Intelligence Committee were intentionally 'lied to' by the administration" [in the Fall of 2002 – just prior to a vote in the House that would authorize the Cheney-Bush regime' to embark on a preemptive war against the sovereign nation of Iraq]?
I knew what I'd just heard Illinois' 18th congressional district representative say; but it seemed so unbelievable, that I was compelled to confirm it with the others at my table. Right there, just a few feet in front of us, was a GOP and sitting member of the US House of Representatives talking very candidly about the current Republican administration. Indeed, LaHood blatantly, and in a very matter-of-fact tone, asserted that this administration had intentionally cherry-picked, embellished and even fabricated intelligence reports, in order to gain the authorization for the war in Iraq.
This was the type of candor and straight-forward talk that could really come only from someone in Ray LaHood's current situation: a retiring congressman speaking about a lame-duck presidency with approval ratings only slightly above those of Josef Stalin. In other words, LaHood had nothing to gain or lose from being so candid.
The occasion for this open exchange of thoughts was the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) annual statewide membership conference, held earlier this month on a beautiful spring-time Saturday, April 5th, in downtown Peoria at the Pere' Marquette hotel.
Representative LaHood was probably the best-known of the half-dozen or so prominent speakers to address the audience of nearly 200 Illinois residents and ACLU members who had gathered for this day-long session of briefings, presentations and legislative or judicial updates. The atmosphere was casual and LaHood's presentation reflected that feeling. In fact, most of the 50-minutes or so that LaHood was at the podium came in the form of an open Q & A session with the predominantly liberal-leaning audience.
As others questioned Mr. LaHood, he himself confirmed what we had all heard earlier, when he readily repeated on two more occasions, that "we [the House intelligence committee] were lied to" and later used the term "mislead" to describe information they were given by the Bush-Cheney administration. Specifically, LaHood made reference to the still elusive 'weapons of mass destruction' and to the conjured-up ties between Saddam and al-Qaeda.
Another notable comment by Rep. LaHood was his referral to the Democratic nominee to replace him in the House as: "a very good and knowledgeable candidate here, in Colleen Callahan". That statement alone might not have been given a second-thought except that he never acknowledged, or even uttered the name of Ms. Callahan's GOP opponent. To several of us attending, it sounded almost like a subtle endorsement of Callahan. Interesting…
Also of interest to central-IL voters was guest speaker, Illinois State Senator David Koehler, our current State Senate representative for the 46th district. As most of us have learned, moments of succinct and straight-forward replies are rare in the political arena. One of those moments occurred when Senator Koehler was asked about his rationale for introducing and sponsoring Senate Bill 2436 (SB-2436) which both allow and protect civil unions in the state of Illinois. Senator Koehler responded simply, "Because it's the right thing to do". Here here!
Several other area dignitaries were on-hand for the 6-hour conference, which, despite the strong and often contrary political viewpoints in the room, proved to be a very civil and respectful discussion of issues rather than personalities.
Of particular note, in addition to Representative LaHood, Colleen Callahan and Senator Koehler, we were fortunate to have Coroner candidate Steve Schmidt, and local Democratic candidate for the Illinois General Assembly, Ms. Jehan Gordon – a quality candidate worthy of our serious consideration. And best of all, to compliment the outstanding candidates' presence, was Carol Van Winkle (the current County Auditor who is running for reelection.) -30-
NOTE -- Sen. Koehler is the speaker for the forthcoming Peoria ACLU annual meeting, Friday, May 2 at the Hotel Pere Marquette. For details on this meting see the website, where dinner reservations can be made until April 26.