We are going to miss Bart Stupak.
Without Bart Stupak, the former Michigan State Patrol trooper who chairs the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, it is very doubtful that Congress would be on the verge of reforming food safety laws.
In announcing his retirement, Stupak called the Oversight and Investigations Committee “the most fascinating committee in all of Congress.”
Time and time again when victims of foodborne illnesses and their families have been invited to testify before Congress, Stupak was the man running the gavel, always taking time to make the citizen witnesses feel welcomed and comfortable.
Oversights and Investigations is an arm of the powerful House Commerce and Energy Committee. When the subcommittee subpoenaed peanut processor Stewart Parnell, it already had his company emails showing product was shipped after it was known that peanuts were contaminated with Salmonella.
To every question Bart Stupak asked, Stewart Parnell gave the same nervous answer, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights under the U.S Constitution. Ex-state trooper Bart Stupak did nothing to make Parnell feel welcomed or comfortable.
Yes, in the short version, Stupak is going to go down in history for his role in providing final votes needed to pass President Obama’s health care reform bill. His “side agreement” with the President for an Executive Order against using federal funds for abortion drew all sorts of fire.
But in any longer treatment of his career in Congress, Stupak is going to do well. Not only with food safety reform, but Stupak led a long list of other Oversight and Investigations Committee probes that led to change. Online child pornography, security breaches at U.S. nuclear labs, the 2006 Hewlett-Packard scandal, and the BP pipeline rupture at Prudhoe Bay are all part of the Stupak legacy.
But in the end it may be food safety that benefits the most from Stupak’s service. During the 110th Congress, Stupak held sixteen public hearings on the problems the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is having in keeping food safe.
Stupak’s exit is a sign of our times that should also give us pause. In a Republic, we elect people to represent us. For most of our history, it’s meant that we decide to re-elect or not re-elect someone based on the sum total of the job they did representing us.
By that measure, Bart Stupak did pretty well. Voters in Michigan’s First Congressional District elected and re-elected him ten times–the last time by a 65 percent vote.
Michigan’s First Congressional District includes the entire Upper Peninsula and the northern part of the Lower Peninsula. It is the second largest Congressional District located east of the Mississippi. George W. Bush carried it twice, and John McCain fell just short.
We are experiencing something that is not good for the Republic. Populist waves are washing over the body politic. These waves have come at us from the left and right. The one thing they usually have in common is that they only care about their one thing.
So, we lose the man from Menominee, Michigan who saw people getting sick from the food they ate, and tried to stop it.