In the second foreign trip of his 5-month congressional career, Rep. C. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) is leaving Thursday for Poland for a first-hand look at the landmark legislative elections that will pit the newly legalized Solidarity trade union movement against the Communist Party.
Like Cox’s trip to El Salvador in March to observe the presidential election there, the Polish visit is being paid for by a private conservative group.
“As a practical matter, I think the job of a congressman is roughly divided up, 50% of issues of war and peace, and 50% of issues of the economy,” Cox said in an interview Tuesday. “I want to make sure that I remain educated in foreign affairs, because it is such a significant part of what we are expected to vote on.”
By Car to Krakow
Along with California Rep. David Dreier (R-La Verne) and Rep. Donald L. Ritter (R-Pa.), Cox will fly to Warsaw, then travel by car to Krakow in southern Poland. In that stronghold for the labor federation, the congressmen will tour Solidarity campaign offices and meet with opposition candidates for the new Polish Senate and the lower house, the Sejm. The lawmakers will return to Washington on Monday.
The national elections on Sunday will fill all 100 seats in the Senate but just 35% of the spots in the more powerful Sejm, where the bulk of the membership has been reserved for the Communist Party.
“The election campaign itself has already produced some important changes in the political culture of Poland,” Cox said, “perhaps the most significant of which is the wholesale entrance of the non-Communist forces into the mainstream of public life. . . .
“Poland is a rarity among Communist nations. It is a Communist nation to which we give foreign aid, and whether we ought to continue to do so--and if so, at what level, increased or otherwise--very much depends on the progress of the democratic movement in that country.”
Cox’s trip is being organized by the National Forum Foundation, a conservative nonprofit group based in Washington that is concerned with foreign affairs and financed largely by other conservative groups.
Jim Denton, president of the foundation and son of its founder, former Sen. Jeremiah Denton (R-Ala.), said: “There is such an opportunity in Eastern Europe to promote democratic principles and free-market principles with the opening that’s occurred in the East Bloc. We are pursuing that opening.”
Denton said his group organized the trip at the request of Jan Rokita, who heads Solidarity’s Commission for Intervention and Lawfulness, which Denton described as the “human-rights arm” of the trade union movement.
“He asked me if we could be of some assistance . . . (by) providing prominent citizens who could participate as international observers,” Denton said.
The Bush Administration is not sending official government observers to Poland to monitor Sunday’s election, said Michael Hornblow, the State Department’s deputy office director for Eastern Europe.
“Certainly, congressmen are free to travel where they want and when they want, and it’s probably a good idea for them to go and take a look,” he added.
$6,000 Tab for Five
The National Forum Foundation is picking up an estimated tab of $6,000 for Cox, Ritter and three others making the trip under its auspices.
Dreier’s trip is being paid for by the National Jewish Coalition, Denton said.
Private interest groups throughout the political spectrum often arrange travel and pay the expenses of lawmakers who share their political perspective or have an influential congressional role on an issue.
For example, Cox and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Lomita) put on bulletproof vests as they monitored El Salvador’s presidential election during a trip paid for by the Committee on Inter-American Security, a private conservative lobby.
Cox said he believes his trip to Poland will benefit the U.S. government.
‘Bears Some Watching’
“What is going on in the Soviet Union and (the) East Bloc right now is . . . probably the most significant event in world politics in the late ‘80s, so the prospect of elections in Poland bears some watching,” Cox said.
“It is such a compact trip, a very economical use of time. It is of no expense to the taxpayers. We’re going to be flying coach class.
“All in all, I think this is going to be real work. . . . In other words, it’s not the Paris Air Show.”