Dear Congressman By Burt Prelutsky

by John Hawkins | June 14, 2004 6:51 pm

If nobody has ever suggested that when you have a politician for a friend, you don’t need any enemies, let me be the first.

The politician I have in mind has been a chum ever since college days.

Although he has held elected office for the past fourteen years, I have always told people that George (not his real name) was the most unassuming guy you’d ever want to meet. If you didn’t know he was a U.S. congressman, the chances are he’d never get around to telling you.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I discovered that our neighbors here in the San Fernando Valley had put their home up for sale. When I asked them why, they explained that they had been lying to their daughter’s school, Coolidge High, about where they lived.

Some of the girl’s friends had already been expelled when their parents had been unable to prove that they actually lived in the Encino school district. Rather than wait for the ax to drop, they were looking to move.

The reality, however, was that because of the differential in real estate values, even if my neighbors got their asking price, they didn’t see how they could afford to buy in Encino. It was Catch-22 for civilians.

If they did nothing, their daughter would have to transfer to Cabrillo High, which is ninety percent Hispanic and is far inferior, academically speaking.

The only thing I could think to do was write to my favorite congressman. I was pretty certain it was a waste of time, but I figured there was always an outside chance that George would know somebody who knew somebody who could make a phone call. So I dropped him a line, spelling out the problem that these “poor, decent, hard-working people” were having because they were trying to provide a better education for their daughter.

He promptly wrote back to say that I was right, that there wasn’t anything he could do. But then he went on: “When you have time, Burt, maybe you can explain the difference between your poor, decent, hard-working family that only wants a better education for their daughter, but has lied about where they actually live; and the poor, decent, hard-working family that sneaks across the border because they want a better education for their daughter.”

Frankly, my friends, I was astonished. More than that, I was shocked and appalled. It was just such an unlikely response from my old pal, a fellow who, in spite of our political differences, has always struck me as being smart, sensible and amusing. When I realized that, on this occasion, he wasn’t being any of those three things, and had actually taken the opportunity to climb aboard his moral high horse, I felt I had no option but to set him straight.

“Dear George,” I wrote, “I am always ready to answer any of your questions. This happens to be a particularly easy one. For one thing, ‘my family’ are American citizens. Their taxes not only go to support both high schools, but help pay your salary.

“Next, their offense consisted of lying about where they lived because they saw no compelling reason why their child should suffer scholastically just because they happened to live a few blocks northeast of some arbitrarily-drawn boundary. ‘Your family,’ on the other hand, were sneaks whose first act upon entering this country was to break a federal law. How on earth do you find these two acts morally or legally comparable?

“Furthermore, as ‘my family’ is relatively poor, they are unable to send their child to a private school as you, a leading proponent of public education, have sent all three of yours. And as you are joined at the hip with the likes of Boxer, Feinstein and Pelosi, you are naturally opposed to vouchers — vouchers which would have enabled these people to send the girl to a nearby, but pricey, religious school.”

In conclusion, I wrote: “The most shameful aspect of all this is my realization that Coolidge High clearly protects its sovereignty with far greater diligence than you and your colleagues protect America’s.”

It’s been over a month now. George hasn’t gotten back to me.

If you enjoyed this column by Burt Prelutsky, you can read more of his work here[1].

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