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Sen. Byrd gives speech to youthful Democrats

April 17, 2005|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA. - "Liberal means holding views that generally support greater freedom," Sen. Robert Byrd said Saturday during a speech at the West Virginia Young Democrats 2005 Convention at Shepherd University.

"And what's wrong with that? Don't we all support freedom?" Byrd, D-W.Va., asked an audience of about 260 people at the campus' student center.

The convention's keynote speaker, Byrd criticized those opposing Democrats of "demonizing" the word "liberal" and inappropriately attaching it to all issues supported by Democrats, which he said amounts to nothing more than political spin.

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Byrd joked that in his more than 58 years in public office, he has been labeled conservative and liberal. He told the crowd that he supports public policy on a case-by-case basis.

"I take each issue as it comes, I talk to you," he said, pointing to members of the audience. "I talk to members of my staff and I read to determine how I should handle a bill."

Byrd encouraged young Democrats to arm themselves with information that will allow them to make informed decisions and separate truth from spin.

Byrd received a standing ovation and cheers from the audience as he entered the student center amid flashing bulbs as many took pictures of West Virginia's longest serving member of the U.S. Senate.

"It's such an honor to see a person of his stature," said young Democrat Tiffany Lawrence, 22, a recent Shepherd University political science graduate.

This year's convention drew a much larger crowd than last year's state convention, said Karl Johnson, West Virginia Young Democrats vice president.

"We want to get younger people interested in the political process," said 17-year-old Kendra Zara, president of the University High Young Democrat Club in Morgantown, W.Va.

Byrd's speech touched on several hot political topics. At 87, Byrd has earned a reputation for not holding his tongue regarding his opposition to the war in Iraq.

"The unwise war in Iraq has blemished our reputation abroad, cost lives and stretched our military thin as well as plunged us deep into debt," he said. "But I do support our troops who are there."

Byrd's speech also was filled with colorful stories of his West Virginia upbringing, testimonies to his deep faith in God and his devotion to his wife, Erma.

Following his speech, the young Democrats presented him with a resolution commending his service to the state of West Virginia and supporting his re-election to a ninth term in the Senate.

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