Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Barack Obama I know

By Jennifer Bishop Jenkins from Northfield, Illinois

"I did not know Senator Barack Obama at all, but like many others here in Illinois became completely convinced about his leadership abilities after I had the opportunity to watch him deftly help guide our state through a crisis in our criminal justice system. I can say from personal experience that Barack Obama definitely has what we need to lead this nation and is the man that can help us solve our most complex problems.

"It was the spring of 2003 when I made the long drive down to our our capitol city of Springfield, Illinois to give testimony regarding a complex series of criminal justice reform bills being considered in the Illinois General Assembly.

"Three members of my family had been brutally murdered, and I went representing a victim organization concerned with some of the legislation. The hearings were tedious and very contentious and went on before the state's Senate Judiciary Committee for over 5 hours that day.

"Illinois had been through a very traumatic couple of years. The Chicago Tribune and other major media outlets had done lengthy and high-profile exposés about the many problems in the state's criminal justice system, including the release of several wrongfully convicted men, some on death row, some within hours of execution, and millions of dollars of taxpayer money wasted through incompetence. A study commission had recommended a lengthy list of reforms. Victims' families and prosecutors had been through months of agonizing public hearings.

"After the state legislature refused to implement even a single one of the needed reforms, Illinois' previous Governor made national history by commuting the entire death row population to natural life sentences. The political climate in the state was highly charged and everyone knew the problems were systemic and a lot was at stake. When the new legislature and Governor came to office, all these pieces of reform legislation were brought forward again, and all had to pass through the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"The lead co-sponsors of the reform bills were State Senators John Cullerton and Barack Obama. I had heard of the very prominent attorney Senator Cullerton, but did not have a clue who the other guy was. The bills were highly complex, legally often very technical, and feelings were running very deep. Law Enforcement, States Attorneys, victims families, civil rights groups, science experts, human rights organizations, defense attorneys, media and religious figures, politicians and public officials from all over the state were very concerned with the details of the various bills. There was little agreement, it was all incredibly complex, and yet the need was clear that we had to make some big changes.

"While waiting for my turn to speak, I listened to the other witnesses give the most complicated and technical testimony imaginable. I watched more than a dozen state senators for hours and they were, expectedly, all over the place: in and out of the room, often on the phone, or eating, or reading, or talking to someone else, sometimes even seemingly just inattentive to the testimony that droned on and on. But not Barack Obama.

"He was really, really listening. And fully engaged. And incredibly insightful. And helpful. I remember several hours into the hearing leaning over to the woman from the League of Women Voters seated next to me and saying, 'Who is this Barack Obama guy? He is really good . . .'

"Because what I had been seeing that day, and what I saw several other times I had to return to Springfield for similarly lengthy hearings and debates, was a man so competent, so intelligent, so articulate, so patient, so 'on-task', so able to cut to the very heart of the issue and craft so well the solution to such complex problems, that he stood out unmistakably. He never broke focus, hour after hour, from the important testimony being given. He listened intently without distraction. He asked incisive and important questions. And when he would finally speak after difficult debate, the discussion would be over. Because invariably what he would say was so clearly the common sense solution that it was evident to everyone in the room. He spoke with such charismatic authority, he showed such leadership, conscience, and clarity of thought and word, that opposition simply melted away. His solutions received strong bi-partisan support and dozens of complex reforms were passed into law. In the final package of bills that passed there were many 'winners' and no 'losers'. Everyone was engaged, heard, and reasonable, acceptable solutions were found for all concerned. I am fortunate to now serve on a committee for the Illinois General Assembly that is monitoring the progress of those reforms.

"What I can say without equivocation is that knowing now the state of our nation, this is exactly the kind of man we need running everything from Cabinet meetings in the White House, to international negotiations on the global stage."


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Andrew said...

He's for the death penalty. Unless he pardons every pending execution, i won't vote.