Yesterday I read in the Daily Times that a forum was being held at SU for the Democrats who hope to unseat Wayne Gilchrest in the 2008 general election. I debated whether I should cover it – for about 1/2 second. Obviously I feel that people should make an informed decision at the polls and it’s most likely one of these three men will be facing the Republican who survives the February 12 primary.
So the three contenders present were Steve Harper, Frank Kratovil, and Christopher Robinson. They were joined by a close-to-capacity crowd in the small room, my best guess is about 40 people (by the looks of them, predominantly students) came out.
I liked the format, which worked well with three contenders. Each got a five minute opening statement, a series of questions with one minute answers, and three minutes for closing remarks. Moderator Mike Farlow kept the proceedings moving briskly which meant that there were a total of 17 (!) questions that were answered. Not only that, the questions were a pretty good mix of foreign and domestic issues. Of course, with so many questions I had several pages of notes on my small (about 4″ x 6″) pad, so I think I’m going to end up splitting this post into two parts, one today and one tomorrow. Today I’ll cover the opening statements and questions dealing with the Long War and international affairs. Then tomorrow I’ll do the other domestic issues and closing statements, along with a wrap-up.
To begin, each candidate had their five minutes to introduce themselves to those gathered.
Steve Harper took that time to expound on his “what am I thinking by getting into this race” moment by saying that this was “not the America I grew up with” and that we were heading down a “scary” path. As a foreign service officer for 15 years, he stressed his view of America from without, having served in countries around the globe. He also noted that the actions of the current Democrat-controlled Congress were “disconcerting” and was particularly displeased that they weren’t fulfilling their oversight duties – for one thing, he said, they “shall”, not “may”, impeach for high crimes and misdemeanors. He told us that he’d bring his energy, passion, and world view with him to Congress.
Calling this a “significant” election, Frank Kratovil talked about the balance he has to keep between his work and home life, along with running for Congress. But he felt that our country needed people to sacrifice to run for public office as he comes from a family devoted to public service. However, in being a State’s Attorney he felt he couldn’t make an impact on issues as he could in Congress. Kratovil did get into the Iraqi portion of the Long War during his opener, saying it was an “absolute, colossal mistake” and that we need to “get out of Iraq as soon as we can.” He used this interview (from 1994) as an argument that even Dick Cheney wasn’t on board all along with invading Iraq.
Right up front Christopher Robinson said that it was “time to bring the troops home” since they were now in an Iraqi “civil war.” Robinson also hammered on the 47 million that are supposedly uninsured, planning to achieve more energy independence in 10 years, and not leaving a “mountain of debt” for our children. Christopher also spoke about his prior experience in Washington on the staff of former Rep. Roy Dyson, where he helped draft legislation to clean up Chesapeake Bay and work on Ocean City beach erosion. In his terms, the country has a “need to change direction” and that “one person can make a difference.”
As one would expect from a gathering of Democrats, all three candidates were united that we need to get out of Iraq and that in the meantime we need to resort to diplomacy in order to stabilize the situation. Frank Kratovil added his concerns about the civilians left in our wake, while Christopher Robinson stated that “we need to stop thinking we can build nations.” Steve Harper chimed in that Sen. Joe Biden was correct on his assertion that a sort of “ethnic clensing” was going on as neighborhoods slowly became more segregated by religious beliefs.
Nor was the practice of “waterboarding” spared in the questioning as Harper began the round by complaining that the Democrats in Congress could not stop the Mukasey AG nomination despite his position on the practice. Kratovil thought the discussion was “outrageous” because the practice was “clearly torture.” Robinson decried that prior to now our country had always had “clean hands” and that President Bush has “tarnished” our reputation abroad.
Even when veterans return, the complaints from the contenders did not cease. Given a recent CBS News story about the suicide rate of veterans, the contenders turned it into a discussion on veterans’ health issues. Christopher Robinson came out and said that it was the “most important” veterans’ issue and that we owe these benefits to the troops. Meanwhile, Steve Harper talked about veterans being “kicked out” and not getting their due benefits and Frank Kratovil thought the question “ironic” since much of the blame for the headlines of late concerning veterans affairs (such as the Walter Reed fiasco) were due to a lack of oversight by Congress.
So, the question came later, why did no one have a “take charge” stance and say no to the War on Terror? Kratovil stated that terrorism is a “reality” and has been for some time, and that we were now less secure than prior to our invasion of Iraq. He equated terrorism such as 9/11 to criminal activity in general. (Of course, I sat there and thought that it’s pretty tough to try 19 hijackers since they’re all dead.) But Robinson thought resolve was the “most important” weapon in the Long War – however, he did admit that his views had changed substantially since the fighting began and the initial “benefit of the doubt” he gave President Bush turned into disappointment that he “let us down.” And Steve Harper simply noted that Iraq was never a threat to us, nor is Iran now. They’re all bluster, he noted, since we’re the biggest man on the block.
Speaking of Iran, one questioner asked if we could live with a nuclear Iran. They all thought we could or would at least have to. Frank Kratovil cautioned that we should keep a close eye on proliferation and that our foray into Iraq has served as a diversion for the Iranians. But Christopher Robinson couched the issue in a different direction, reintroducing a theme he’d began earlier in talking about domestic issues of no nuclear plants, since that sort of technology could be applied to weapons as well. Steve Harper thought that we could live with a nuclear power in Iran “and so could Israel” since they also had nukes and likely theirs were aimed at Tehran. The Iranian leaders were “not insane” although many like to think they are. However, if we could avoid a nuclear Iran, we should.
Israel was actually the subject of the prior question, and all three closely resembled each other with the view that we should maintain our friendship with Israel, but that the Israelis would not always be right in their decisions or act in our best interest. Harper probably had the most memorable statement when he noted that good friends tell their friends when they have bad ideas.
The final international affairs question dealt with the situation in Pakistan. Christopher Robinson thought that we had a “limited ability” to deal with their problems, but sanctions were one possible solution for keeping them in line while Steve Harper favored a more measured approach utilitizing multi-party diplomacy.
But the answer that most hammered on the current Administration came from Frank Kratovil. Saying that President Bush has had a number of diplomatic failures, he claimed that Iran had been reforming itself until Bush made his “axis of evil” speech. One theme Frank often came back to when talking about international affairs was the concept of “carrots and sticks.” I guess what I wonder is what are the carrots we have? I can figure out what our biggest stick is.
At this point I’m going to wrap up for this evening having gone through the international side of the debate. There were a number of great topics that were covered on the domestic side, including a question that should be familiar to my readers since I’d already asked it.
I have one incident to relate as a closing. At the end of the event, moderator Mike Farlow thanked the participants and audience and noted that there were two elected officials in the room. One was Jim Ireton, who is among my opposite number as he sits on the Democrats’ Central Committee, and the other was me. Obviously a few heads turned when my office was announced but Farlow continued, noting that “he writes probably one of the best political blogs in the area, monoblogue.” I did note that someone had to be the loyal opposition. But I appreciate the kind remarks and thought that this was a worthwhile event to cover because there’s been a lot of attention placed on the GOP side with its mudslinging and the Democrats have sort of flown under the radar. By the way, Ireton sat next to me and we had an interesting little chat going as they went along. Nothing untoward, mind you, but he did have some interesting observations I may share tomorrow.