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YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS | Why did I become a party chairman? My family inspired me

Like most kids who grew up here, I was introduced to politics and became a Democrat at the kitchen table. My Dad, Joe, and mother, Josephine, whose families emigrated to America from Lebanon, were Roosevelt Democrats. 
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Attorney David Betras

As many of you know, I served as chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party from 2009 to 2019. Last week, I joined the long list of outstanding leaders who have been inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame. 

I was truly pleased and humbled by the honor.

It will come as no surprise that during my time as chair, many people, my wife and kids, my law partners, and myself included, questioned my sanity for seeking and keeping the post. But as aggravating, infuriating and depressing as the job could be, I loved every minute of it because politics — and particularly the rough and tumble way it is practiced in the Mahoning Valley — has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. 

Like most kids who grew up here, I was introduced to politics and became a Democrat at the kitchen table. My Dad, Joe, and mother, Josephine, whose families emigrated to America from Lebanon, were Roosevelt Democrats. 

They often told my brother Daryl and me that the Betrases and Zidians came to America because this is the land of opportunity. My mother said they were Democrats because FDR made sure the opportunity to succeed was available to all. 

She recounted, though, through tears, the many taunts her family endured when they first arrived in the U.S. Many of the same slurs you hear used against those crossing at the southern border today were used back then against my family.

My Dad, a member of the Greatest Generation that fought and won World War II, drove home the point by reminding us that he was one of the nearly 8 million veterans who used the GI Bill to get an education. He made it clear: Without the GI Bill he would not have been able to attend college and go on to law school. But thanks to the Democratic Party, he became an attorney, I followed in his footsteps and our families lived and are living the American Dream. 

I ran for and served as MCDP chair and remain actively involved in politics today to preserve that Dream and the hope of achieving it alive for future generations. But keeping hope alive will not be easy at a time when our nation is more poisonously polarized than at any time since the Civil War. 

Indeed, I believe we still face a lifelong struggle for freedom, equality and opportunity for all.

For example, today people who, like my parents and grandparents, long to come to America to escape oppression and poverty, are demonized and detained. They are being denied the opportunity to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

The pictures, videos, and stories from our Southern border remind me of the discrimination my mother described and it all breaks my heart.

Along with the battle to ensure that the welcome etched on the Statue of Liberty — "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” — is not drowned out by xenophobia, I will continue to fight for the principles and policies on which the Democratic Party is built because Joe and Josephine would expect me to do so and my children deserve no less.

—  Attorney David Betras, a senior partner at Betras, Kopp & Harshman LLC., directs the firm’s non-litigation activities and practices criminal defense law in both the state and federal courts. He has practiced law for 35 years. Have a legal question you'd like answered here? Send it to news@mahoningmatters.com.

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