Once again this month we had a Congressional candidate in our midst, this time it was John Leo Walter. He was the featured speaker and after we took care of the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, August meeting minutes and our treasurer’s report it was time to hear from the Centreville attorney.
John began with a brief comment on Wayne Gilchrest’s remarks at the August meeting where Walter alleged Gilchrest “misspoke” about pulling troops out of Iraq. It was Walter’s reaction to the summary delivered in our minutes. In my summary of the August meeting I reported it this way:
First of all, (Gilchrest) stressed that no bill he’d voted for mandated a pullout date for our troops in Iraq. The bills only were to express the “sense of the Congress” and carried no weight as far as the number of troops was concerned.
After that short detour, Walter settled into a little bit of biography, pointing out the relevance of two events in his life. One was learning about commitment through being a member of a crew team at the University of Baltimore, a craft which he learned from the ground up – eventually moving up to team captain and then coach. And at a point where finances threatened the survival of his team he found another school to partner with and the combined team thrives today due in part to his efforts.
The second was his law school education at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, where he finished atop his class and was an associate editor of their Law Review. He spoke of his case notes being used at the Rutgers Law School as a teaching tool for first-year students. Walter also saw his law background as an advantage because it molded him into becoming a quick thinker, a trait that enabled him, as he claimed, to win his cases “often.” Additionally, having practiced in federal law for four years, it made him a firm believer in state’s rights. This statement would come into importance later in the presentation.
Moving into the issues, John stated his firm opposition to universal health care, terming is a “disaster.” With the Medicare program on one end of life and SCHIP coming closer on the other, the trend seemed to be of government health care that will “grow together”; in other words, farther out of the cradle and more distant from the grave. Walter espoused the idea of health savings accounts combined with catastrophic private insurance coverage, feeling that paying for medical expenses out-of-pocket would drive prices down along with driving HMO’s and PPO’s, with their bloated overhead costs, out of the marketplace entirely. John put it thusly – “competition works every single time” – using GM as an example of a company that improved its product when faced with Japanese competitors. However, he did caution that change would have to be “incremental.”
Competition was also the theme of how Walter felt about education. The hopeful noted that No Child Left Behind had “good intentions” but “federalized the school system.” Instead, John thought local decisions were best made locally and, keeping with the theme, “competition would raise the standards.” That would best be done, he added, with a voucher program.
(Personally, I’d state it as “money follows the child”, but it’s the same effect. One thing he left unanswered was the question of what strings would be attached – possibly he’ll elaborate further in future comments.)
The candidate also felt that the Long War was “absolutely necessary…take the war to the enemy.” Possibly his biggest slam at the incumbent was saying flat out that Wayne Gilchrest was “not committed to winning” the Long War. John brought up a conversation he had with a returning soldier who complained about the rules of engagement, with Walter saying that after his discussion with the veteran he felt we needed to “untie soldiers’ hands.”
Related to that, Walter stated that illegal immigrants are our biggest national security problem and there was “no reason” we couldn’t have a wall on the border, whether physical or virtual. (Memo to John – you’ll like Rep. Duncan Hunter, who vows to have a wall built in six months if elected President.) John also expressed his support of the PATRIOT Act, expressing a need to allow intelligence agencies to continue their good work.
Turning to the Second Amendment, while saying that Wayne Gilchrest was for gun control John called himself a “firm believer” in the Second Amendment and the intent of the Founding Fathers was for an armed public. All this came with the caveat of some limitation on places where guns could be taken, such as a courthouse, but few on ownership. (I’ll say few because he expressed no opinion on felons having weapons.) During a later question John expanded his point somewhat, stating he thought America was “hypersensitive” on guns due to recent events.
While it hasn’t really been much of an issue in this race, John took a few minutes to talk about local economics. Saying that the Eastern Shore “can be the economic engine of Maryland”, he thought that our innate abilities could be better tapped because there were some depressed areas where that wasn’t being done. But rather than “smokestack” industries, Walter saw a potential for what he termed “soft” industrial and commercial enterprises, using a call center as an example. He also saw farming as more viable if only there were fewer regulations on farmers, with some of the regulatory burden either dropped or shifted from them. Finally, John expressed the idea that a Congressman “should be an ambassador for the First District” and saw Gilchrest as lacking in that department.
At that point, he opened up the discussion for a few questions:
- He has “total, 100% support for Israel” and supported the strike they made against Syria.
- Going back to illegal immigration, he chided a “do-nothing” Congress and expressed that they should enforce existing laws and cut off federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities.”
- On a question regarding the recent decision by Massachusetts to allow birth control distribution to minors, he stated that it truly was a state’s rights issue but personally he wasn’t in favor of it. It didn’t sit well with some but he stayed true to his earlier statement about the rights of states to enact their own regulations.
- Asked about Gilchrest’s recent trip to Iraq, Walter dismissed it as a “PR campaign”.
- I asked about term limits, and Walter said he “absolutely would” sign for term limits. He used eight years as his benchmark as far as the House went, but sounded to me like he’d leave open the possibility of time in the Senate as well.
- While we need “some” earmarks, he noted that “everything should be in the sunlight” as far as spending was concerned.
The one question that probably caused him the most grief and long discussion was on tort reform. Now I can understand his argument about not capping damages because that in his opinion acts as a cap on companies from overtly selling products known to be hazardous; however, in my personal view John didn’t necessarily account for the frivolous nature of many cases. And while Walter termed juries as the “last bastion” of democracy, many in attendance seemed to dislike John’s stand on the tort reform issue. We’re sure to hear the other side of it next month when Andy Harris comes to speak to our group.
With that subject being one of the last addressed it may have left a bit of a bad taste in the mouths of our 30 or so attendees but overall the response to the Congressional hopeful seemed positive. We did have a little more business to take care of though.
I took it upon myself to deliver the Central Committee report in John Bartkovich’s absence since much of it had to do with the reaction to our Autumn Wine Festival booth. It gave me an opportunity to thank those who helped me with that and RiverFest back in September. And we finally hammered out the revisions to the WCRC by-laws, which will soon be placed on our website. The only controversial provision was a prohibition on endorsing candidates in non-partisan elections, which passed on an 11-7 vote. (Some attendees hightailed it out once Walter finished.)
We also heard from Bonnie Luna, who’s the local Fred Thompson campaign coordinator. She had Thompson stickers and buttons for sale at a nominal fee – so if anyone’s interested let me know and I’ll hook you up.
It was a long but interesting meeting and will likely be representative of our next two regular meetings, both with First District aspirants – November 27 with Andy Harris and January 28, 2008 with Joe Arminio.