We mourn the recent death even as we celebrate the legacy of New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg. While too many in Congress support corporate interests over the public good and engage in petty in-fighting, Lautenberg took a different course– the one for which he was elected.
He served US citizens.
I can only imagine how our society might change for the better if all current Congresspersons followed his model.
Early on in his career he stood down pressure from the alcohol and tobacco industries to spearhead anti-smoking legislation and legislation that raised the legal age of drinking to 21–and specified legal blood alcohol levels for drivers.
Moving against big oil, he inserted legislation into the Coast Guard law to triple federal liability limits for oil spills, authored legislation supporting public transportation (especially Amtrak), and fostered a program to cut back energy use in federal buildings.
He also initiated legislation that protected open spaces (especially in coastal lands), legislation to monitor and respond to ocean acidification, and legislation to protect water quality and prohibit ocean dumping.
He helped shift financial responsibility for brownfield clean up from the public coffers to the corporate polluters who created these disasters.
In the face of unrelenting pressure from chemical industry lobbyists, he re-introduced the much-needed update of the Toxics Substances Control Act year after year. One final legacy he has left us is a bipartisan breakthrough in support of this bill this year.
And while the updated TOSCA was stalled, he created the Toxics Release Inventory as well as other right to know legislation that allows local communities to assess and respond to pollution to which they are subject.
He was a primary author of the “21st Century GI Bill” and he worked to maintain affordable housing and health care access in the US–as well as human rights standards in the global arena.
Moving against the tide of gun manufacturer lobbyists and in line with the tide of US public opinion, he authored a bill to prohibit gun possession by those convicted of domestic violence offenses. He continued to work for over a decade to try to close the “gun show loophole” allowing guns to be sold without background checks at gun shows.
After a spate of school fires, he drew up fire safety standards for schools that were included in the congressional higher education legislation in 2008.
Frank Lautenberg’s record not only models the standards to which we might hold our politicians– but with which each of us might act on our values.
There is a good deal we can learn from him.
–When one avenue was blocked, he found another.
–He never stopped at a single roadbloack but persisted, gathering allies as he went.
–He took many small steps to reach larger goals.
–He did not let his ego get in the way.
Thus this “quiet man”, as so many of his colleagues characterized him, amassed such a solid record of success in his five terms in Congress.
Frank Lautenberg has left us not only a more vibrant environment and a more just and safer society– but something to live up to.
Here is an appreciation with some personal touches written by Andy Igrejas of the Safer Chemicals/Healthy families campaign.