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Former senator Hart calls for ‘moral authority’ in political leadership

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By Sandy Barnes

Although his current focus is on homeland security, former Colorado U.S. senator Gary Hart said he would not talk about that issue while speaking at the United Methodist Church of Evergreen on Saturday morning.

Instead, Hart paid tribute to Nelson Mandela, the South African leader who died last week; Martin Luther King Jr.; and others who championed the cause of human rights in their countries.

“When you think back on those people, you realize two things,” Hart said. “The one thing they had in common was that they all spent time in prison.”

Because of that experience, Hart said, they had “moral authority” — even though they might not have led pure lives.

“They simply couldn’t be quiet when living in a society where there is injustice,” Hart remarked.

“Is it possible to have the stature that all these individuals did?” he asked. “We don’t have many political or social leaders who force us to challenge our conscience, to do something about injustice.”

While saying he isn’t in favor of term limits for elected officials, Hart said that, more often than not, longtime politicians have constituencies that are supportive and whose interests they represent.

“Careerism is not a good thing in politics,” Hart said. “Sacrificing a political career to do the right thing doesn’t happen often.”

Hart, who served as a Democratic senator from 1975 to 1987, said he entered public office to ensure a better world for his children, and to enact laws that would make things better for them.

An ongoing challenge is protecting the environment, Hart remarked while discussing current issues. Global warming is a serious problem with the potential to destroy communities as ocean levels rise, he said.

“We have a moral obligation not to damage the environment for future generations,” Hart said. “We may see people who are willing to be a Mandela or Martin Luther King Jr. of the environment.”

Hart also decried the degree of childhood poverty in this country.

“That 47 million children are in poverty is a moral issue,” he said.

During a question-and-answer period, Hart spoke on health care, education and homeland security issues.

“Health care is something all of us are involved in. It’s a universal reality,” he said.

While a simple solution is the ideal, in a society of 300 million people, the issue is a complex one, Hart remarked. President Obama did the best he could to find a compromise that was workable, he added.

“There’s no easy answer,” Hart said about health care. “I don’t know how we take this issue out of politics.”

One way of addressing issues is to form a commission, Hart remarked.

“At the end of the Cold War, we discovered we had a lot more military bases than are needed,” he said. “A commission was created and came up with a base-closing plan.”

While responding to a question about homeland security, Hart said the impact of globalization is a real concern. Global trade increases the risk of bringing dangerous elements such as disease into this country, he said.

“In terms of priorities of threats, the one that worries me the most is biological,” he said.

While commenting on media hype regarding terrorist treats, Hart said newspapers are profit-making organizations, and that sensationalism sells.

Hart also spoke about the effects of war on soldiers, and the lack of care for them.

“We’ve got a generation of troops coming back that are deeply troubled,” he said. “We’ve got a social crisis with troops coming back who are not taken care of — and some are killing themselves.”

And he commented on the privatization of education in the country and its negative economic effect on public schools.

“We live in a complex racial society,” Hart said. “The privatization of education for the upper middle class is dangerous socially.”

Hart is a native of Kansas who has lived in Kittredge with his wife, Lee, for more than 30 years. Before entering politics, he practiced law in Denver.

Hart sought a nomination for the presidency in 1984 and 1987, and subsequently left the political arena as an elected official. He currently serves on the Threat Reduction Advisory Council of the Department of Defense.

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com.