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How bad is Bush? Enough to make some local Republicans turn colors.
By Tara Treasurefield
Sebastopol resident Edith Nervo knows there's always room for change in life. After her first husband died, she cared for her parents until they also passed away; she continued on, driving a school bus for a living, eventually retiring after 25 years. Change also arrived two years ago when she married her second husband at age 78. And it came again last month when Nervo, a lifelong Republican, re-registered as a Democrat.
It was a bold move for an elderly Republican, and it reflects the disenchantment of a growing number of Republicans, both locally and across the country, with the administration of Republican president George W. Bush. Though Nervo's reasons for abandoning the party are deeply personal--she disliked Bush from the start and didn't vote in 2000--many disenchanted Republicans cite Bush's dismal record in both foreign and domestic policy as reason to bolt the party.
Since Bush took office, his administration has put the radical policy of preemptive war in place. U.S. casualties in Iraq have now topped 1,000, and weapons of mass destruction, the pretext for going to war, have yet to be found. Five million Americans have lost health coverage. Four million have fallen into poverty. A million have lost their jobs. Health insurance, college tuition and fuel costs have soared. The budget deficit has skyrocketed to nearly half a trillion dollars.
"I'm just thoroughly disgusted with what the Republicans are doing," says Nervo. "I don't care for Bush's attitude; he's arrogant." Her heart goes out to mothers and grandmothers of soldiers in Iraq, and she thanks her lucky stars that her grandson, a Marine, is stationed at a recruiting station in Minneapolis. "I think that somebody was not really up on their school work, as far as going after the weapons of mass destruction are concerned," she says. With education very much on her mind, Nervo adds, "They're closing schools! Good grief, what are our young people going to do?"
Joe Bowman of Santa Rosa, a Republican for 50 years, explains why Kerry will get his vote this year. "I'm not happy with the way things are going, and I point the finger at Mr. Bush. My greatest fear for America is the worldwide feeling against us. How many friends do we have? We're unquestionably aggressors. This is the first time I can remember that."
Liz Basile, membership committee chair of the Sonoma County Democratic Club, is doing her part to meet the needs of local disenchanted Republicans. Basile's committee helped 13 Republicans re-register as Democrats in August, the average number of Republican-to-Democrat registrations the committee has handled every month since January.
Recalling some of her encounters with Republicans for Kerry, Basile says, "As I was registering voters at G&G Market in Santa Rosa one day, a man who looked to be in his late 80s came up to me and said, 'I'm a Republican. I've been a Republican all my life. And I'll die a Republican. But I'm voting for Kerry.'" On another occasion, a Republican woman who stopped to chat told Basile that she is pro-choice and supports stem-cell research. "I asked her, 'Are you sure you're a Republican? You sound like a Democrat.' She gave me $5 and took three Kerry buttons."
The current state of the economy is another reason that many Republicans will vote against Bush this year.
"I've always done fine economically, but there are a lot of middle-income jobs going overseas now," says Matt Gogl, a property manager in Sebastopol. "I don't know that that's the president's fault, but he doesn't seem to be doing anything to prevent that from happening, and it's affecting a lot of people negatively."
Gogl also worries about acquaintances in the National Guard who are over 40 years old and may soon be sent to Iraq. "I'd hate to see Bush in the next four years [invade] another country," he says. "He's looking at Iran, eyeballing Korea. It's just not our place."
Ken Stremme of El Dorado County says he's embarrassed to be a Republican. On his long list of complaints is the fact that the Bush administration is filled with former executives of corporations who contribute what he terms "megabucks" to Bush's campaign. "It appears to me that [Bush] thinks that being president raises him above the Constitution," says Stremme. "Haliburton getting contracts to rebuild Iraq without having to go through the bidding process like the rest of us is a criminal act."
Disgust with the Bush administration has led to unlikely alliances between moderates and conservatives seeking the president's ouster. Bipartisans for Kerry (BFK), based in Tiburon, is a group of moderate Republicans and Democrats who view Kerry as a moderate candidate and Bush as an extreme candidate. Putting their money where their mouth is, they staged a rally in May and raised $100,000 for Kerry. Their purpose is "to elect John Kerry president of the United States by urging more of our fellow Americans to vote and encouraging informed debate on the major issues."
To encourage debate, the BFK steering committee releases weekly articles on issues of critical importance, posts them to www.bipartisansforkerry.com and distributes them via e-mail. The latest paper to come out of BFK explores the Bush administration's support for nuclear weapons, such as bunker busters and mini-nuclear weapons for the battlefield. Greg Price, a lifelong Republican who belongs to BFK and serves on the steering committee and who helped author the report, says, "The U.S. is trying to eliminate nuclear weapons development in Iraq, Iran and other countries. If we develop [nuclear weapons], so will they."
Price decided to vote for a Democrat this November when it became clear that Bush was determined to invade Iraq. After listening to each Democratic contender speak, he put his weight behind John Kerry. Though he never before donated a dime to a political candidate, he has been raising money for Kerry ever since.
Republicans for Kerry, which consists of moderate, conservative and progressive Republicans, raise another issue: the sanctity of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Their website explains that the group supports Kerry over Bush "because we believe he more honestly represents these values so vital to the health and well-being of our democracy."
The long-term goal of the group is to replace what they see as the right-wing radicals that now control their party with true conservatives. They write letters to the editor, display bumper stickers and buttons, speak in public, register voters and send essays urging their fellow GOP members to do the same via e-mail to Republicans all over the world.
Republicans for Environmental Protection, or REP America, is another national organization that is fighting hard to remove Bush from office. REP America president Martha Marks reminds anyone who will listen that president Theodore Roosevelt's environmentalism represented the Republican Party at its greatest, and that REP America reflects mainstream Republican thought. "If conservatives don't conserve, who will?" asks Marks.
Content in her appreciation for change and in her decision to leave Mr. Bush behind, Edith Nervo has never been happier in her life. She says, "Maybe the Democrats won't do any better. But I think it's time to give them a chance."
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From the September 22-28, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.