You might excuse former Texas Congressman Charlie Stenholm for being a little bitter—or, as he says, "telling it like it is.”
Stenholm gave the opening speech at the Dairy Forum 2009 here in Orlando Sunday evening. The Forum is sponsored by the International Dairy Foods Association, which is comprised of the Milk Industry Foundation, the National Cheese Institute and the International Ice Cream Association. Many of these associations' corporate members are steadfast Republicans.
Stenholm is a founding member of the "blue dog Democrats,” the conservative wing of the Democratic party that is now more than 50 members strong. The "blue dogs” are fiscally conservative, yet try to reach across the aisle to find compromise to move legislation forward.
Nevertheless, Stenholm says he was gerrymandered out of his Texas Congressional seat in 2004 after serving 26 years as a Democrat in a district that voted 70% Republican for all other offices. But the harsh rhetoric of the Republican right, Carl Rove and Tom Delay finally caught up with him in redistricting to an even more Republican electorate in 2004.
"They went too far with their agenda of gays, guns, God and taxes for [the country's] own good,” he says. "I had people coming up to me and asking how I could profess to be a Christian and a Democrat.”
Now the Democrats have strong majorities in both Houses of Congress and will take control of the White House on January 20th. But Stenholm urged those in attendance to dialogue with members of all political stripe.
"The Obama Administration is reaching out to the other side of the aisle, and you need to reach out as well to get to center ground,” he says.
"Dialogue is important,” he says. "It doesn't mean we will agree on everything. But we need to sit down, talk to each other, reason with each other and find solutions.”
"The American people are tired of fighting all the time,” Stenholm concluded. "We each have to give up something, build coalitions, educate and lobby our members of Congress. We need to do what America has always done--to think big to solve our problems.”