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January 18, 2006

To my readers

To run or not to run. That is the question.

As you may have heard, I am considering a challenge to Anne Northup for the 3rd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. It is not a tough decision, not the least ramification of which would be leaving this space.

Suffice to say that a seat in Congress is not a lifelong ambition. Nothing in my professional career has been as satisfying as addressing the issues of the day (and some eternal issues as well) with an audience of intellectually curious readers.

Over the past few months, however, I realized that I have, in a sense, been in an ivory tower. I have written these columns and pontificated on television, but I have never tested my ideas “on the street.” The prospect of doing so began to appeal to me.

More important, I continue to be concerned that the current occupant of the seat has never been held to account for the votes she cast, the special interests that support her, and the national agenda that she has religiously pushed. Clearly, I strongly disagree with that agenda, which favors corporations over people, money over the environment and the wealthiest over the most needy. When it looked as though there would be no legitimate challenger to Rep. Northup, I started to give the race some serious attention.

Although an announced challenger has since appeared — Andrew Horne, an Iraq War veteran — I decided to talk to people around the community to assess the most viable prospects for challenging Ms. Northup.

Over the past four weeks I have been talking to people across the social, economic and political spectrum in Louisville. I have been gratified and even humbled by the response. For example, I have met with labor union leaders who have told me that they would be proud for me to carry their banner in the campaign. For an East End ivy-leaguer, their confidence in me means more than I can say.

Indeed, I have thought of nothing else over the past month, and I have ridden a roller coaster of emotions over the decision. Right now, less than two weeks from the filing deadline, here’s what I am thinking:

My biggest concern about the campaign is whether it can be anything other than a battle of TV commercials. The local media have shown a puzzling unwillingness to question Northup on just about anything. Last week, for example, she was here to greet President Bush when he came to Louisville. To the best of my knowledge, no reporters questioned her about the breaking scandal over influence peddling in Congress, including her relationship with Tom DeLay (160,000 hits if you Google the two together). No one asked her about the controversy over domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, the Iraq War, living wage proposals or anything else, for that matter.

Just this weekend, Northup’s office issued a press release calling for new leadership in the U.S. House. No news outlet asked her to reconcile that statement with her long-standing support of DeLay, the fact that she had voted to allow him to keep his leadership position even after his indictment, or her acceptance of more than $40,000 from DeLay’s political action committee.

Obviously, it is the job of a candidate to raise these issues, but unless the news media — this paper included — makes politics and government a high priority, the public will continue to depend mostly on the paid appeals of the candidates. That is not the type of campaign I would want to wage.

It is no secret that my columns over 15 years would be fodder for attack ads by my opponent in a potential race, and I have said that I would stand by every column I have written (well, with one or two exceptions) if Northup will stand by every vote she has cast. I am confident that my positions are more in tune with the citizens’ attitudes than her voting record.

The bottom line is that unless I believe the campaign can be an open, vigorous debate on the issues, I will leave it to others. That is the internal debate I am having right now. It is a decision I will make in the next few days.

This process has been a difficult one, not only for me but also for the leadership of LEO. Ultimately, they concluded that I should address the question of my candidacy, even though we realize that it will be perceived by some as favoritism should I proceed with the race. (I am sure any other candidate’s response will be welcome.) They also have decided — and I agree with their decision — that this is the last column I should write until the filing deadline has passed. So until then, or maybe for longer, I will say goodbye.

Contact the writer at jyarmuth@aol.com