The cost is hitting home, and legislatures are speaking up

The Iraq war’s devastating toll is leading a growing number of state legislatures to join the debate. They are discussing and passing resolutions that pay tribute to the troops and veterans and call for steps such as pursuing peace, ending the escalation and starting withdrawal of U.S. troops.

A campaign initiated by California Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata aims to put advisory measures on the Feb. 5, 2008, presidential primary ballots in 22 states.

On April 9, Perata introduced a resolution into the state Senate, calling on the president to support those serving in our armed forces by ending the occupation “and immediately begin the safe and orderly withdrawal of all United States forces.”

The measure calls for “necessary diplomatic and non-military assistance to promote peace and stability in Iraq and the Middle East.” It needs to be approved in the majority-Democratic Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Perata is urging governors and legislative leaders of the other 21 “early primary” states to take similar actions.

“We’ve had nearly 3,300 Americans killed and spent more than $350 billion,” Perata told an April 5 press conference. “With the possible exception of George Bush, we all know it’s time to go.” He added, “We wanted our voters to be heard, to set the tone” for the presidential election.

A resolution opposing the escalation, introduced by state Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco), passed the California Senate in February.

In North Dakota, both houses of the Legislature passed a resolution earlier this month expressing support for “our brave men and women of the armed forces” and urging Congress and the president “to continue to pursue peace in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

A key to the resolution’s success was its introduction by a Democrat and a Republican, Karen Van Fossan, project director for the North Dakota Peace Coalition, said in a telephone interview.

Developing the resolution meant “putting the peace process into practice where we live,” she said. “We treated no one as an enemy, and emphasized the resolution being about peace and about supporting the troops who are serving.

“Everyone I know has lost someone they love in the war,” Van Fossan said. “We see what an unimaginable amount of money is being spent for the war,” she added. “We have the right to say we need those funds for education and other social needs at home, or for constructive activities abroad, but not for invading another country.”

In New Hampshire, “the most important thing that happened to spark the movement for a resolution was the Nov. 7 election,” said Anne Miller, director of New Hampshire Peace Action. For the first time in over a century, she said, all branches of the state government are led by Democrats.

New Hampshire’s measure, which supports the troops serving in Iraq and elsewhere and calls on the administration to fully fund veterans’ services, “disapproves” of the escalation of the Iraq war and urges Congress and the administration to start talks with Iraq’s neighbors and to begin the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The resolution passed the House overwhelmingly, 214-151, after defeat of a Republican amendment calling for withdrawal “upon task completion.” It is now before the Senate.

The war’s effect on the environment, education, housing and health care are the issues people are raising in New Hampshire, Miller said.

In Colorado, the House has passed and the Senate is now considering a resolution supporting troops and veterans, and urging the president to “secure the interests of both the American and the Iraqi people by bringing an end to the escalation” in Iraq.

The resolution, which actually originated in the Senate, was cosponsored in the House by a legislator whose son is serving in Iraq, said David Oppenheim, an aide to House Majority Leader Alice Madden.

“In Colorado,” Oppenheim said in a telephone interview, “federal grants are drying up. We believe this is because of the war, and military spending in general.” Higher education, health and human services, areas that depend on federal funds, are specially affected, he said.

Colorado residents “live in fear of forest fires,” Oppenheim added. If many National Guard units are serving out of state, he said, “it is particularly hard to use those resources. Katrina taught us some very important lessons about homeland security.”

Spurring the state-level involvement is a grassroots campaign begun by the Progressive States Network and other organizations soon after President Bush’s January announcement escalating U.S. troops deployments to Iraq.

The Progressive States Network says that to date, 29 state legislatures have considered or are considering issuing a resolution or letter opposing the escalation. At least two – North Dakota and Vermont — have passed both legislative houses, while another six have passed one house. Several other state legislatures have sent letters to the White House.

mbechtel @ pww.org

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