Thinking nationally

Wednesday, May 02
The Stockbridge town meeting will be held on May 21. The incorrect date was given yesterday in a box that accompanied an article on town meetings considering whether President Bush should be impeached.

Voters at five Berkshire County town meetings will consider whether President Bush should be impeached, joining a number of communities in Massachusetts to take up the issue.

Town meetings in Lanesborough, Lee, Great Barrington, Stockbridge and Cheshire will all consider whether Bush and Vice President Cheney should be impeached for a range of infractions, from leading the country into the Iraq war to eavesdropping on citizens' phone calls.

"What is happening on the national level is affecting us all at the local level," said Russell Freedman, who sponsored the Lanesborough impeachment article. "An illegal war, wiretapping without a court order, getting rid of habeas corpus — these affect everybody."

Calling town meeting the nation's "most democratic institution," Lippman said it was a fitting forum to debate the performance of the president.

Matthew Kinnaman of Lee, a former Republican candidate for Congress and the state Senate, disagreed, saying an impeachment debate will detract from the real business of town meetings.

Lee has 58 articles on its town warrant, he said, dealing with everything from school textbooks to retirees' health insurance.

"The town's focus should be on the immediate needs of its citizens, in areas where the town can take effective action," he said. "The sponsors of this want us to think that a town meeting voting to impeach Bush is a lofty exercise in democracy, but it looks more to me like poorly packaged political partisanship."

If an impeachment article passes, the town will send a letter to Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the speaker of the House of Representatives, urging that impeachment be investigated.

Like the rest of the state, Berkshire County has never been supportive of Bush. In 2004, county voters selected Kerry over Bush by a near 3-to-1 margin, with a final tally of 47,560 for Kerry to 16,758 for Bush. Nationally, the president has suffered from a low approval rating for months as the war has droned on.

Against that background, it is likely the town meetings will support impeachment, and Lippmann said he is realistic that the vote is more symbol than reality.

'Pandora's box stays open'

"In the real world, it is unlikely the president will be impeached," he said. "But there is another issue: Unless people and the Congress say that what he has done is inappropriate, what is to stop the next president from doing the same thing? The Pandora's box stays open. So this will point out to our representatives that we are concerned."

Peter Giftos, executive director of the Berkshire County Republican Association, said he supports debating impeachment at town meetings, though he is strongly opposed to impeaching Bush.

"Debate is a good way for people to get to know both sides of the story. I think the biggest problem we have in this country is ignorance of issues, so debate at any level is good," Giftos said.

But as to whether Bush and Cheney deserve impeachment, Giftos said, "it's ridiculous. People have been so misled by political opposition that they don't realize how much is not being told to them by the administration, because the administration cannot tell them."

In Great Barrington, impeachment sponsor John Lippman argued that the war in Iraq has diverted as much as $12 million in tax dollars paid by town residents, money he said would be better spent on local projects.

Asked whether debating impeachment might steal voters attention from the local issues like the annual budget, Lippman said, "it could, in that I expect there to be a lively debate."

But the impeachment debate might also bring residents to town meeting who don't normally attend, he said. "If they come and see how town meeting works, I think that's a good thing."

When to vote ...

Five Berkshire County Town Meetings are scheduled to consider whether to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney:

  • Lanesborough, May 8

  • Lee, May 10

  • Cheshire, May 16

  • Great Barrington, May 21

  • Stockbridge, May 22

    Published May 2, 2007


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