Goodbye, George Watts; Challenging Congress to Do the Right Thing
I met him in 1978, and during his tenure as executive secretary of WEDA, I was in regular communication with him for information about the organization. At meetings and other events, I was often with him and his wife Suzanne, and many memories of those days have to do with things that happened while I was with them.
He was a big person, never needing to push himself forward or grasp for acclaim. He made things happen, and watched serenely over the proceedings of the meetings with quiet dignity. And was always ready to go out and have fun after the day's work was over.
In writing his memorial, I talked to a number of people who knew him as well as or better than I did, and they all talked about his quiet way, his avoiding the limelight, giving more of his time and talent than anyone ever thanked him for. The best testimonial came from his wife Suzanne, who spoke highly of him and of their 58 wonderful years together - a valuable comment from the one who knew him best.
Goodbye, good friend.
As a child learning the history of our country and of the world, I wondered where I would have stood in troubled times when there was danger in taking a stand. In 1966 there came an opportunity to put this to the test when I demonstrated for open housing in Chicago with Dr. Martin Luther King. Turning onto the street where we were to demonstrate, we were greeted by thousands of hostile residents, who began yelling when they saw the cars crammed with people holding signs.
Getting out of that car was the most terrifying thing I ever did, but everyone else got out and started marching with their signs - young teenagers, old people, families who were just trying to get a decent place to live.
I realized that day that professing to believe something has little authenticity until the opportunity comes to stand up in front of others and own that belief, especially when they may not agree, and might even be hostile.
Politics has a reputation as a self-serving profession, but politicians have many opportunities to affirm their courage and dedication to the good of the country. Certainly there are pressures on the people on Capitol Hill that are not apparent to us out here in the hinterlands; that make it hard to be an elected person. When someone in Washington does something that is unpopular but right, I remember how it felt to get out of that car and face that shouting crowd, and I cheer them from my living room.
The Water Resources Development Act of 2006 (WRDA 06) is presenting an opportunity for our senators and representatives to do the right thing. This legislation is nothing more than housekeeping - authorizing projects to keep our waterways infrastructure in good repair, albeit at a great cost in dollars.
However, bringing it to the floor at this time could elicit accusations from portions of the electorate that don't understand the issue; who could perceive this as just more useless spending. It's a sensitive situation, especially in an election year. But our water transportation network and flood control network are aging, crumbling and in need of maintenance and improvement. WRDA 06 will authorize long-overdue projects to maintain our water-related infrastructure, and it needs to be passed this session.
Eighty senators have signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Minority Leader Harry Reid stating their desire to bring WRDA 06 to the Senate floor. (See page 21 of this issue.) There will be few opportunities to schedule it in, and there could be some objections. It could be a political negative for some Senators, but it is the right thing to do.
I challenge the Senate leaders get out of the car and start walking. If they do, I will not be the only one cheering.