The last few weeks saw the death of two former thoughtful and caring public servants: Congressman James Oberstar (D-Mn) and Butler Derrick (D-SC). During their time of service each made major contributions to the public good. Each Member went beyond his committee specialty to add to the common weal.
Jim Oberstar, an expert on infrastructure, brought to his public service Catholic social justice teaching and practice. He cared about children and life from birth until the end of life. That was why he passionately believed in the US Bishops strong criticisms of the abuses of Social Darwinian capitalism. He was determined to build secure safety nets. It explains why he was a passionate advocate of the Bishops peace letter on ending nuclear arms threats. When most elected officials stayed silent, Jim Oberstar raised his voice and advocated a needed and different direction for our country.
Butler Derrick represented a conservative district in South Carolina. But he took it upon himself to educate his district on key issues. Nuclear power plants dotted his district. He influenced other House members on the importance of dealing with nuclear waste and having strong safety standards, not always readily embraced by the industry. By embracing pro and sensible environmental policies he opened up the listening channel of environmentalists as to why the safety and waste issues had to be dealt with
even if some environmentalists were hostile to nuclear power.
Butler Derrick showed uncommon courage on hand gun regulation. Though coming from a district that embraced hunting, and though a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), he supported the Brady bill that required background checks and waiting periods to buy handguns. He distinguished dealing with the crime and death caused by handguns from hunting.
Each legislator served when the House could put together coalitions of moderate and liberal members to support progressive domestic legislation and efforts to reduce the threats of nuclear weapons that set the stage for positive arms control policies.
May 22, 2014