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September 2005
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When good things make you sad

Make no mistake about it. Senator Richard Durbin is one of the good guys, and I’m proud to have him as my Senator. He was the only one to stand up to DEA head Karen Tandy in her confirmation hearing (proving she was unfit to serve). He also introduced the Truth in Trials Act to assist medical marijuana patients facing federal charges.
So I was pleased to finally hear back from him regarding H.R.1528: Defending America’s Most Vulnerable: Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act of 2005, sponsored by James F. Sensenbrenner (WI-5), an odious bill that would, among other things, make me a felon for not snitching on college students who have pot. As part of an action alert, I had written him asking him to oppose the bill if it made it to the Senate.
I finally received a reply. And sure enough, Durbin opposes Sensenbrenner’s bill. But am I satisfied? Not by a long shot. Here’s the letter.

Dear Mr. Guither:

  Thank you for your message regarding Defending America’s Most Vulnerable:
Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act, HR 1528. I
appreciate knowing your thoughts.

  I understand your concerns about this measure. On April 6, 2005,
Representative James Sensenbrenner introduced HR 1528, which primarily
addresses drug distribution involving minors by expanding mandatory
minimum sentences.

  Opponents of the legislation argue that it virtually eliminates the
ability of federal judges to give sentences below the minimum sentence
recommended by the federal sentencing guidelines. They also argue that
the measure is punitive because it requires a 10-year minimum sentence for
anyone 21 or older who gives marijuana or other drugs to someone under 18
and that the legislation further widens the disparity in sentencing for
crack and powder cocaine offenses. These provisions could cause severe
hardships and injustice and contribute to the growing population within
our nation’s prisons.

  I am concerned that this bill prohibits consideration at sentencing of a
defendant’s need for education, vocational training, or medical care. To
achieve the long-term goals we seek, tough punishment must work in tandem
with smart prevention and early intervention.

  This measure is pending before the House Judiciary Committee and the
House Energy and Commerce Committee. Similar legislation has not been
introduced in the Senate. However, I will keep your thoughts in mind in
case the Senate considers legislation involving mandatory minimum
sentences. Thank you again for contacting me.

     Sincerely,

     Richard J. Durbin
     United States Senator

RJD/el

P.S. If you are ever visiting Washington, please feel free to join Senator
Obama and me at our weekly constituent coffee. When the Senate is in
session, we provide coffee and donuts every Thursday at 8:30 a.m. as we
hear what is on the minds of Illinoisans and respond to your questions.
We would welcome your participation. Please call my D.C. office for more
details.

So why am I disappointed?
Because he refers to Sensenbrenner’s bill as if it is something to be taken seriously, although he is “concerned” about some of the provisions and notes that “opponents of the bill” make certain points.
I wanted him to say:

Dear Mr. Guither:

  Thank you for your message regarding Defending America’s Most Vulnerable:
Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act, HR 1528. I
appreciate knowing your thoughts.

You should know mine. My esteemed colleague, Representative James Sensenbrenner, is an ass. The fact that he is in Congress is a travesty. The fact that he is chair of a committee should be a point of extreme embarrassment to the Republican leadership. It seems that every time he proposes a bill, he violates his own oath to support the Constitution of the United States while traitorously destroying the freedom of his own constituents.

There’s no way in Hell that I’d let a bill even similar to his make it through the Senate. It’s time to reform the laws that don’t work, not make them worse. Thank you again for contacting me.

     Sincerely,

     Richard J. Durbin
     United States Senator

Now I understand why Senator Durbin couldn’t write a letter like that. There are ways you do things so you don’t piss people off, and public officials just can’t be that blunt.
But why did he feel the need to say: “tough punishment must work in tandem
with smart prevention and early intervention”? Why is it that one of the better people in Congress is unable to tell the truth about drug policy? Is our society so afraid to face reform? So paralyzed by the years of propaganda?
How long will it take before politicians can actually say that they favor reform, without including the obligatory tough talk?
Note that Senator Durbin invited me to join him and Senator Obama for coffee and donuts if I’m ever in Washington, DC. I don’t get there often, but I’d love to take advantage of it. I’d like to ask him a question:

Senator Durbin, why do you feel there is this need for “tough punishment”? Do you have any evidence that tough punishment works? Do you really think the country would have been better off if Senator Obama had been caught indulging in his youthful indiscretions (cocaine and marijuana) and spent time in prison?

Yes, I’m proud of Senator Durbin. He’s one of the best we’ve got. Unfortunately.
When I deal with a sado-moralist like Souder, I get feisty. When I get a letter from Durbin, it just makes me sad.

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