OP-EDS

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March 5, 2004

Democrat Barack Obama

On March 16, Democrats all over the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois will flock to the ballot box to vote in their party's primary. Although Illinois Democrats will have little effect on the presidential primary, they will presumably pick the state's next U. S. Senator. The incumbent Republican, Peter Fitzgerald, has announced that he will not seek re-election largely because the state is becoming increasingly Democratic. As a result, the candidate who wins the Democratic primary will most likely win the general election in November.

In the crowded field of seven candidates for this coveted nomination, Barack Obama, a state senator and a professor at the U of C Law School, is unquestionably the best candidate. His nomination would be a victory not only for Democrats but for Chicago and blacks across the country as well.

As shown by my previous articles, I have been wary of accepting any of the Democratic candidates as the party's savior, and yet, with Senator Obama, I find little to criticize and much to praise.

Educated at Columbia University and Harvard Law, Obama was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He moved to Chicago to organize one of the most successful voter registration drives in the 1992 election. Now he teaches constitutional law at the Law School across the Midway.

Since his election to the Illinois Senate in 1996, Obama has proven to be the most effective liberal legislator. He was instrumental in writing and passing campaign finance reform in the state. He was the key sponsor of legislation that required police to record all confessions and interrogations in homicide cases, in an attempt to correct the abhorrent pattern of wrongful convictions in Illinois. He engineered the legislation that instituted the state earned income tax credit, which has provided over $100 million in tax cuts to working families over three years. He has also fought to reform the juvenile justice system and to increase domestic violence penalties.

Obama's legislative records on education and health care are impressive as well. He has consistently advocated increased spending for public schools in an attempt to bring more qualified teachers to low-income school districts. Obama co-sponsored successful legislation this session to limit tuition increases and maintain state scholarships. Senator Obama is not only the chief sponsor of an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would require health care coverage for all its citizens, but he has also led efforts to improve women's healthcare by forcing insurance companies to cover mammograms and contraceptives.

What's so incredible about Senator Obama is that he does not simply have the correct policy positions (which he does), but that his efforts do not end with the floor vote. Unlike so many other liberal representatives who have been scared by the Republican attack machine, Barack Obama has fought for his issues with well planned legislation that has earned him respect from both sides of the Senate aisle. In fact, many newspapers who have endorsed him (including the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times) have noted that although they might disagree with Obama on some specific policy, they cannot ignore the integrity and consistency in his positions and actions as a state senator.

Hopefully by now you are asking, "With Obama, why would anyone vote for someone else?" That's a good question. Unfortunately in American politics, money talks. In fact, money screams so loud that it often drowns out principle, and in this race, the multi-millionaire Blair Hull has a megaphone.

Blair Hull has spent $24 million (all his own money) in comparison to Obama's $4 million, and some projections predict that Hull will outspend Obama ten to one by March 16. Never mind that Blair Hull has never run for elected office before. Never mind that he has installed himself in the Democratic Party by donating large amounts of money to officeholders. Never mind that he did not register to vote until 1995 and that he didn't vote in the 2000 election. Never mind that he has been accused of hitting his ex-wife.

Obama is barely ahead of Hull in recent polls. Obama has his legislative record, myriad endorsements, and a grassroots campaign. Hull has no political experience, encouragement from Mayor Daley, and his personal fortune. I believe that Illinois voters can and will see beyond the flood of Hull's cash to Obama's remarkable experience and integrity.

Yet, like all important elections in American politics, this contest is bigger than the candidates themselves. In 1860, the presidential election was not merely a vote on Lincoln, but a vote on slavery and secession. In 1960, Kennedy symbolized the torch being passed to a new generation of Americans. In this election, it is necessary to give Barack Obama the democratic nomination because it is a vote against the Chicago machine and a vote for blacks all over this nation.

Also, if elected, Obama would be the only black in the U.S. Senate. Although there are 39 members of the House of Representatives who are black, there is not a single black senator. For almost 20 years, the Democratic Party has neglected blacks, taking their electoral support for granted. As the economic gap between the races widens, blacks are generally subjected to poorly-funded schools, less healthcare, and more criminal prosecution. Blacks need champions in Congress to insure that they are part of national policy. Barack Obama is the champion blacks deserve.

Obama has the right experience, the right positions, and the right context to be nominated by the Democratic Party. He is a candidate that will make the party proud and he will be a senator who will fight for the people that are rarely fought for and so desperately need the fighting.