LORAIN — Clad in a cowboy hat and boots, Willie Nelson sat beside U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Cleveland, who was wearing a suit and tie Sunday at the Palace Theatre.
The legendary country singer and the longtime politician looked the part of the odd couple, but they think a lot alike. Both are outspokenly anti-war, pro-civil liberties and pro-worker.
“Dennis and I go a long way back,” Nelson said before performing in a fundraising concert for Kucinich. “Anything I’ve been interested in seeing done, he said, ‘What can I do to help?’ ”
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Forced by congressional redistricting to run against U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, in the redrawn 9th Congressional District, Kucinich is waging an uphill battle on unfamiliar turf.
While neither has had Lorain in their district before, Kaptur has had portions of Lorain County in her district, and in their latest campaign financial disclosures Kaptur had $604,917 to spend compared with $90,253 for Kucinich. Newcomer Graham Veysey is also running in the March 6 Democratic primary.
Nelson and Kucinich first met in 2002 after Nelson contacted Kucinich after being moved by Kucinich’s Prayer for America speech.
In the speech, Kucinich condemned the Patriot Act as unconstitutional, warned that unchecked military spending was creating a “permanent war economy” and called for the replacement of the Department of Defense with a “Department of Peace.”
Kucinich — who said he greatly admired Nelson’s work for Farm Aid — said the two quickly hit it off after meeting.
“He’s a man of the people. Very plain spoken, very sincere, big heart, great sense of humor (and) a pretty good golfer,” Kucinich said. “He’s an amazing guy, and he’s a good friend.”
Nelson, a Korean War-era veteran — he joked Sunday that his military occupational specialty in the U.S. Air Force was playing dominoes stateside — wrote his first antiwar song, “Jimmy’s Road,” back in the 1950s. He said he called Kucinich in 2007 while writing “Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth?”
Nelson, who was charged with marijuana possession in Texas in 2010, also said he backs Kucinich because of Kucinich’s support for decriminalizing marijuana use and de-escalating “The War on Drugs.” Nelson said he’d prefer U.S. soldiers guarding the Mexican border to fighting overseas.
“Whatever Dennis wants to do, I’m here to help,” said Nelson, who previously did fundraisers for the late Texas Democratic Gov. Ann Richards and the late Texas Democratic U.S. Sen. Ralph Yarborough.
Besides Nelson, musicians Ani DiFranco, Melissa Etheridge, Bonnie Raitt and Stephen Stills have done fundraisers for Kucinich in past years, prompting Kaptur campaign spokesman Steve Fought to say by phone that Kucinich can bring singers to Lorain, but Kaptur will bring jobs.
Kucinich responded that he has created or saved 1,700 jobs at the ArcelorMittal steel mill in Cleveland by filing a court order keeping it from being shut down until a buyer was found. He said he saved 1,000 jobs at the Alcoa plant in Cleveland and helped preserve thousands of jobs in the auto industry.
Kucinich said Kaptur might be “rattled by the closeness of the election” and invited her to a sing-off with Nelson and him. Fought declined.
“They’ve got all this Hollywood star power,” he joked. “It probably wouldn’t be a fair fight.”
Tickets for the sold-out Nelson concert were just $15, far less than is usually charged, according to Palace spokesman John Handyside, who called the price “phenomenal.” Before the concert, people who paid $100 got a chance to meet Kucinich and Nelson.
Among them were Don and Pat Ward, of Elyria. They said they were frustrated that redistricting was forcing Kaptur and Kucinich to run against one another and questioned the composition of the new district.
“It’s so snake-like and so many miles,” said Pat Ward, who doesn’t live in the new 9th District. “You wonder, how can they represent that much distance, and do those people have enough in common that they can represent them?”
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