Seventy years old, Bob Turner was retired with 13 grandchildren, sitting comfortably in the Breezy Point section of Queens, N.Y. to enjoy life and be generous to his church and family. But now he's one of 435 legislators trying to get something constructive done in a town that often seems poised for something very different.
He spoke at his congressional campaign's victory party in Howard Beach early in the morning on Sept. 14, armed with a message that was as humble and confident as the messenger delivering it. He has been elected to the seat vacated by the now-infamous Anthony Weiner, a seat that may very well be redistricted out of existence next year. Which is actually just fine with him.
As he told me in 2010 about the prospect of being Rep. Turner: "I will have a job to do. I want to do it and get the hell out."
This wasn't his dream, you see, it was his calling.
He was furious about the health-care monstrosity and his own congressman's dodgy answers. He wanted to send a check to someone. But no suitable name suggested itself.
The rest is history, as they say. And now folks agitated about the economy, marriage, the future, sent him to Washington.
"So I understand I start on Thursday," he said to the crowd cheering him on.
Hours after Turner was sworn in, Speaker of the House John Boehner reflected on his own position: "Hell no, I'm not having any fun! But I'm glad I'm there ... I came here to do something on behalf of my country."
Welcome to the no-frills, no whining campaign season. President Obama, prone to both frippery and complaint, should pay attention.
It was telling to see that in the other special-election win for Republicans in the House this month, the commercial that helped seal the deal featured a telling parallel: President Obama speaking followed by Nevada Democratic candidate Kate Marshall doing the same.
"This election is about you." First it was the president, followed by Marshall, saying the same thing.
Increasingly, people don't want to hear that.
"Change the direction of America." This time it was Vice President Joe Biden. Then Marshall.
You get the picture. All the way back to that perhaps soon-to-be-infamous "Yes we can."
Kate Marshall lost.
Americans won't actually be played for fools -- well, not for too long.
And now, as the frenzied arguments of the campaigns dissipate, there's work to do. Who is going to get to it? Who has some experience? Some motivation?
The guy who still has money in the bank and all those grandkids might be a good bet. The one who doesn't seem to get a thrill from it, but is grateful for the opportunity.
You may not have "the coin," as Turner has put it, to run for office -- or the schedule or the freedom of retirement. But there are things you can do.
Help curtail the endless repetition of poverty cycles in the United States by supporting a solid Catholic school in an inner city. Speaker Boehner and Sen. Joseph Lieberman are doing just that in Washington, D.C., holding an annual fundraising dinner -- a bipartisan event founded by Boehner and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy -- for the Consortium of Catholic Academies, a grouping of the most needy schools in the archdiocese. Talk about game-changers.
And while you might not agree with some of your more religious friends about the moral or health dangers of contraceptive use, how do you feel about contraception by fiat? Do you even know that the Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule this summer mandating that all private health plans cover contraception and sterilization as "preventive services" for women? Got a religious objection? Too bad, you're mandated to purchase the coverage. This is a violation of religious freedom, individual conscience. HHS is actually taking comments until the end of the month on the mandate. Let them know you're outraged.
And like Turner, taking a seat held by Democrats for nearly 90 years, be a bridge to those who may have stopped reading at the mere mention of such an issue, thinking it was another rant about abstinence. While you are in the note-writing mode: Thank a Bob Turner today. You could be one.
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