Listening session covers education, immigration
Those were topics that came up often Monday morning as Sen. Russ Feingold conducted his 69th listening session of 2007 and 1,077th since 1993, the year he started the practice of annually visiting each Wisconsin county.
A Janesville native, the three-term Democratic U.S. senator kicked off the session by talking about a bill he and Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., introduced to change President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act.
“The federal government’s one-size-fits-all education policy under No Child Left behind is the wrong approach,” Feingold said.
The bill calls for federal money to help states and local school districts create higher quality assessments of student performance and would give states and local districts flexibility about how often to test students.
Flexibility also is needed when it comes to mandated fuel-economy standards, Feingold said.
One speaker, a General Motors retiree, was concerned that a single standard eventually requiring 40 to 50 miles per gallon on average for all automakers’ vehicles would result in a majority of vehicles being small, unsafe “European roller-skate cars.”
But another called for aggressive fleet fuel-economy standards that would be met gradually as a step toward U.S. energy independence.
Feingold told the 50 or so people present that he favors separate standards for cars on one hand and light trucks and sport-utility vehicles on the other. The truck requirement would call for less fuel economy than that mandated for cars.
“If it’s done wrong, it will drive the market to our foreign competitors,” he said.
Several speakers decried what they see as the Bush administration’s erosion of civil liberties in the name of executive power and the war against terrorism.
“Your privacy is being intruded upon more than ever,” Feingold said, citing recent legislation that allows surveillance of Americans’ phone calls and e-mails if messages go abroad.
And Feingold said he regrets voting against Michael Mukasey’s appointment as attorney general “because he’s not an evil guy.” But his opposition was necessary, Feingold said, because “at the end of the (confirmation) process, he was talking like the president could do whatever he wanted.”
Several speakers expressed concern about illegal immigration.
“I think the criticism of the Democratic Party’s ignoring the immigration problem is valid,” Feingold said. “This is a real problem. There are extreme views on both sides that clearly are unworkable.”
What is needed, he said, is a system that gives some kind of legal status to undocumented immigrants so that they not only receive benefits from various levels of government but also “pay their fair share of the costs.”
One man said that he admired Feingold for being a maverick and standing alone on some controversial issues because of his principles.
“You know where that comes from?” Feingold replied. “Being a (Chicago) White Sox fan in Janesville, Wisconsin.”