rice.JPG[Please welcome Andrew Rice from Oklahoma -- the state that gave us Woodie Guthrie, Will Rogers and Bill Moyers.  As always with guest chats, please be polite, stay on topic, and take any off-topic discussions to the prior thread.  Welcome, Andrew! -- CHS]

You’d be hard pressed to find a worse member of either House of Congress than James Inhofe, one of two right-wing senators from Oklahoma. This guy defines “reactionary.” His environmental views are so extreme and out of the mainstream that he’s on a scary limb of the crazy tree shared only by Dick Cheney. But the problem in deeply “red states” like Oklahoma is that neanderthals like Inhofe are more likely to be opposed by some kind of a reactionary pseudo-Democrat of the Max Baucus/Ben Nelson/Mary Landrieu mold than by someone who is grounded in genuine progressive values. Not this time.

My friends, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Blue America’s newest candidate, Oklahoma State Senator (and Flaming Lips fan) Andrew Rice.

Andrew is taking on the execrable Inhofe in a race most of the Beltway pundits and insiders think is next to impossible. Who ever heard of an outspoken populist, measly state legislator in a red state taking on a powerful, big-name conservative incumbent U.S. Senator? Ummm… think Jon Tester– only way better.

Andrew is like a dream candidate for Blue America– more like one of us than someone floating above us somewhere who we can support. In 1999 Andrew graduated from Harvard Divinity School, the same year he directed a documentary film, From Ashes about an ex-con in southern India running a hospice for people with HIV.

Three years later, Andrew’s life was drastically altered by 9/11 when his brother, David, was killed in the World Trade Center. He didn’t like the way the Bush Regime started framing the debate and he decided to start organizing religious leaders to start advocating progressive policies and to stand up to extremism and bigotry. In 2003 he established the Progressive Alliance Foundation in Oklahoma which is built on the basic idea of making sure fairness and equality are considerations at all public policy debates.

In 2005 he won an inner-seat state senate seat from Oklahoma City, running a completely grassroots campaign and personally meeting ever voter in the district! He and his wife, a physician, and their two young sons, love living in OK City and I asked him why he wants to take on a life in Washington. When he was finished telling me, the interview was basically over.

He spoke about how he likes the immediacy with which the state legislature can impact the lives of Oklahomans, something he knows he’ll miss when he goes to the U.S. Senate.

But there are a lot of federal issues that have to be dealt with, complex and crucial issues that came directly out of the mishandling of the aftermath of 9/11.

The war in Iraq was connected to al qaeda though it should have never been and has nothing to do with it; and now we’re bogged down in an untenable situation there. And then there are a lot of concerns many Americans have about civil liberties that we wouldn’t even be dealing with if it wasn’t for 9/11 and decisions that were made by the Bush Administration and an overly willing Congress.

How fast does he think we can get out of Iraq?

We need to start now. All the parameters are set for us to get out of Iraq. There’s nothing for us to wait on. It’s not the jobs of our soldiers to police a civil war while the Iraqis work out their political problems. They need to come home as soon as possible. We need to start it right now but it won’t be completed overnight; it will take a while to do it in a safe and orderly fashion with all of our equipment. Because they rushed us into this thing without adequate planning and because of the mess we’re in now, we’re not going to be able to get out of it as quickly as we got in.

But Iraq isn’t the only reason he’s running for the Senate.

We are rebuilding our Democratic Party in Oklahoma. We used to have a strong party. Our congressional delegation 20 years ago was all Democrat except for one seat and we went downhill [Now that is reverse and the one Democrat is... Dan Boren, who only infrequently votes with Democrats in the House.] So I stepped forward when many of our other electeds didn’t want to– whether being afraid that Inhofe was going to be nasty or not wanting to take a risk or whatever… This race isn’t about me, it’s about the state and everybody, Democrat, independent, Republican who wants change and it’s about our party being proud of what we stand for and really being aggressive and shining a light on the Republican failures and talking about our party’s values and principles and a platform that helps everyday people across the board and across the state. The way I’m going to run this campaign with our team and everybody around the state is going to be in a way where all of us Democrats in the state at all levels– city councils, legislature up to federal races… we can all stand side by side and run on common ground issues; it’ll benefit us up and down the ticket.

I prodded him on reactionary Democrats like Boren. He didn’t criticize anyone but he took the opportunity to demonstrate where he’s coming from politically. His voting record and his record of leadership and consensus building is firmly rooted in progressive values. He doesn’t shy away from difficult issues.

I’m a pro-choice Democrat; I’ll be running pro-choice. I support civil unions. I’m a progressive candidate and I’m not going to be doing what a lot of politicians have been doing in Oklahoma which is to try to fit themselves into a mold that they think is where voters want them to be and thereby have zero authenticity and zero substance. Oklahomans like mavericks. I take it on a case by case issue and I’m not a politician who just puts my finger up to the wind and tells people what they want to hear. I’m a libertarian type Democrat that you find more and more in the West and southwest… On some issues I’m a moderate and when it comes to gun control I come down more on the conservative side. We have a big problem in the state with undocumented immigrants and the focal point is not to punish them– and especially not their children or families– but to focus on employers and try to get some sort of progress made on the borders and to figure out an ethical, reasonable compromise approach of how you deal with people who are not here legally.

One issue I hope we’ll be talking about here today is health care. Because his wife is a physician and because he’s on the Oklahoma senate’s health committee, he’s gotten more down into the details than almost any of the candidates — or even incumbents — we’ve talked to.

My wife is a physician and she’s been very influential on my thinking in terms of health care and medical issues. She’s really helped me to understand a lot of the factors that are driving costs up and that make it hard for people to be adequately covered. I don’t think single-payer is the most feasible approach for the short term. The Massachusetts plan, which I’ve learned a lot about as the co-chair of the health committee in the state senate, is a great stepping stone [to single payer] because it brings everyone to the table. Working class, lower middle class and below… everyone is mandated to have coverage and the state helps them financially with their coverage and employers kick in. The insurance companies are still involved but it’s a completely different dynamic because the consumers are put back into a position of power. They have to take people; there are no excuses like pre-existing conditions and the plans are diversified with healthy young people as well as less healthy people, which brings the costs down. It’s a stepping stone to single-payer; it’s more reachable for the short term; that’s what they found in Massachusetts.

Let’s give Andrew an opportunity to hear what we think and let’s delve a bit into what he thinks. If you think you’d like to replace Jim Inhofe with him, please join me over at our Blue America page to help him seal the deal.

Or maybe you think Inhofe is just fine.