Let me "show my hand" at the outset...yes, I am a fan and supporter of Diane Benson. However, it's always been mostly from afar. Until Sunday, I had never introduced myself, asked her a direct question or spoken to her much other than in a stage manager capacity...and in an apologetic way...at the Gathering. But that's another story...
Friends of mine, Veteran Mike Stanton and his wife Betty had a private get-together Sunday so that some of their Veteran friends could meet Diane and get to talk to her. Luckily, I was invited too and brought along Writing Raven (Alaska Real) so she could meet Diane as well. I was also excited to see Phil Munger (Progressive Alaska) there, which explains the title Veterans, bloggers...and a bird. (I'm getting to the bird part.)
This is the first time I've heard Diane speak in an intimate setting. She's even better than she is in front of a large crowd, and that's saying something. She always grabs me when she speaks because she exudes a level of sincerity that's just not common among most politicians. The story she told is familiar to her supporters; she spoke of growing up in Alaska as a Native woman, driving trucks for the Union along the pipeline to raise her son and put herself through school, the tragedy of the near-fatal, life-altering injuries suffered by her son in Iraq and how that made her decision to run against Don Young in 2006. However, her telling is captivating and packed with raw emotion every time. I always get misty when she talks about her time at Walter Reed; I get angry when she recounts the fact that Don Young "couldn't drive 30 minutes" to visit her son and the other injured Alaskans there even though she asked him.
After her speech, she was even more impressive when dealing with questions from the guests. I'm going to save a discussion of the actual issues for a later post (we arranged an interview). However, it can be sait that this was not an "overly-friendly" crowd...meaning that a number of the Veterans were not identified as Benson supporters. They literally came so they could make up their minds and while polite, they asked some pretty tough, sometimes very loaded questions. There were several times I was boiling over but Diane answered everything calmly and respectfully. There was one time, when discussing Rural issues that I did see her eyes flash. One of the "undecideds" said later that she was easily tough enough to stand toe-to-toe with anyone in Congress.
So after we ate and when the conversation was lighter, Betty brought out "the bird"...their rescued Cockatoo. The bird instantly liked Diane, who clearly liked her back. She also ran to Mo who was NOT a bird fan and ran the other way. I wanted to see what her talons felt like (she was gentle) so I got her to get on my finger. She promptly climbed all the way up my arm and sat on my shoulder, making noises that activated my "the bird is gonna peck out my eye" phobia. (Damn you, Alfred Hitchcock!) I lived through it, but realized I've been burned too many times by dogs to ever trust any pet owner when they say "Oh, she'll NEVER bite!" I was on high-alert the whole time she was on me.
Anyway, I walked away from there a bigger fan of Diane than I was before. Later in the week, I'll talk more about the issues behind it.