If you got in late and want to start from the beginning, go here. In that part I covered the opening statements and foreign affairs. Today I do the candidates’ thoughts on domestic issues.
By reintroduction, the three candidates who were at Thursday night’s forum are Steve Harper, Frank Kratovil, and Christopher Robinson. Of the three, only Kratovil currently holds elective office as the State’s Attorney in Queen Anne’s County. Robinson was also a candidate in 2006, finishing second in the primary to Dr. Jim Corwin, who chose not to make a run this time.
With a large number of questions asked, the field touched on a number of issues. Probably the most important one was immigration. Harper thought that there really wasn’t an immigration policy at the moment because the laws weren’t being enforced. Steve saw the issue as needing a “national discussion” of wants and desires. Kratovil also called for better enforcement of existing laws and sought to reward those entering legally, not unlawfully. But Frank placed a lot of blame on the business community too, as much of the problem was “about business undercutting wages.” Robinson also noted that employers had to “play by the rules” as he does being a small businessman himself.
Another hot-button issue to those in attendance was health care. Frank Kratovil noted that there was a philosophical difference between he and the Administration, particularly with Bush’s SCHIP veto. He felt that the government “(has the) responsibility that families have health care,” and we should pool our resources to insure everyone. Christopher Robinson also climbed aboard that train, claiming that if we do nothing, the number and cost of the uninsured will increase. Moreover, he noted that “companies…support government involvement,” and that a government approach could inspire preventative health care. Steve Harper felt that the Romney Massachusetts model was viable, “with more regulations”. According to Steve, “government is not the problem, but how we manage it.”
Was the republic in danger? One questioner had that on his mind and all three agreed that our system was still strong. Whether it was Christopher Robinson talking about the checks and balances instilled by the Founders or Frank Kratovil saying that the system was as good as the people in it, only Steve Harper wryly noted that the lone danger was getting Karl Rove back in the White House.
Of course, I think the republic is in danger if the size of government continues to grow. One questioner wanted to ask about reducing it, and he spoke to me afterward about me not being the only Republican in the house. But the question was asked and two of the candidates thought the best place to trim the budget was getting out of Iraq. Frank Kratovil wanted to use that cash for more health insurance though, while Christopher Robinson sought to place spending under “strict control” and billed himself as a “fiscal conservative.” Only Steve Harper distanced himself from the group slightly with his presumption that “government was not the problem” and proposing a BRAC-style committee to deal with wasteful programs. But Steve also thought we needed to raise taxes to balance the budget.
Indeed, taxes were an issue for a few questions. Some other conservative type snuck a question in, and it was a slightly reworded version of Question #8 of my “Ten Questions,” the one dealing with gasoline taxes vs. reallocating money away from bikeways and mass transit to infrastructure. (Someone has to make sure tough questions are asked.) Christopher Robinson drew the first answer, noting that gasoline taxes conserve energy and can help infrastructure, but he’d only increase the tax for that purpose. Otherwise, the spending should be reallocated for infrastructure – so he chose both options. Steve Harper saw this issue as becoming another “third rail” of American politics, but said he’d have “no problem” raising the gas tax and wouldn’t stop with just using the revenue for fixing bridges and such. For his part, Frank Kratovil said that gasoline and sales tax increases both hurt the middle class and that the price was becoming “overwhelming,” but also argued that people couldn’t expect the same government services without an increase in revenue coming their way. Okay, Frank, I’ll take fewer services.
We also heard a question dealing on the related subject of alternative energy, such as ethanol or wind power. Steve Harper did correctly say that the use of foodstuffs as fuel was leading to rioting in Mexico as the global corn prices increase, so we should get away from that particular source. Steve thought offshore windmills were a good idea, though.
On the other hand, Frank Kratovil talked about a need to “promote” alternative sources of energy to both citizens and business, but he slammed both the switch to ethanol (correctly pointing out that ethanol takes more energy to produce than it creates) and Americans in general because they “waste a lot” of energy. He called for conservation as another approach. Christopher Robinson also disdained ethanol, but thought that a major focus should be on increasing CAFE standards.
And it wouldn’t be a Democrat forum without the discussion of global warming. All three candidates thought it was “fact” and that the government had some role in fixing it; whether it needed the “same effort as going to the moon” (Kratovil), a “Manhattan Project” type of operation (Robinson), or getting into Kyoto and working to include China and India as well (Harper).
Is “No Child Left Behind” working? That was another domestic policy question handled by the trio. All three had similar answers, stating that the program was underfunded. Steve Harper really didn’t want teachers to “teach to a test” as it ignores those at the top and bottom, while Robinson and Kratovil (who did state that “education is the great equalizer”) both brought up the issue of class size as a factor. Personally, having gone through public school with a class size generally between 25 and 30, I think that the push for smaller class sizes is hogwash designed to get more teachers in the union. But I digress.
Interestingly enough, that question came up immediately after a question on crime, which some participants thought had its root in poor upbringing (including a lack of education.) Only Steve Harper brought up possibly the most obvious solution, more police on the street. (I was never sold on Clinton’s “100,000 cops” plan though.) He also asked “what about those behind bars?” in a push for more in the way of rehabilitation. Frank Kratovil and Christopher Robinson both wanted to shift more resources to combat issues they felt led to crime in the first place, with Kratovil adding that violent offenders do need to do their time while Robinson openly questioned whether some aspects of the Great Society led to this problem.
Maybe the money question of the whole proceedings came fairly near the end, when moderator Mike Farlow asked a question about what they can say to appeal to Republican voters.
Christopher Robinson asserted that people are “prepared to vote Democrat” because they were fed up with President Bush and that the GOP “drove the country into the ditch.” (No, yes on certain issues like immigration, and uh-uh.)
Steve Harper told those present that Democrats care about the environment and were the true fiscal conservatives. It was time for a “real Democrat,” he said, and not Wayne Gilchrest. (At 52% party loyalty, he’s not that far off regarding Gilchrest.)
Frank Kratovil thought that most of us, regardless of party, believe in the same things: family, good jobs, and combatting illegal immigration. It was a failure of Democrats to show that they do stand for these things and that the Democrats were what’s in America’s best interest. (So why is the approval rating of Congress lower than the President’s?)
At last it came down to the closing statements. According to Christopher Robinson, America’s greatness was based on individual dignity, and that we don’t have to look to government for everything. He again billed himself as a “fiscal conservative” who wanted to reduce our obligations to future generations and had the “guts to make tough decisions.”
Steve Harper called America an “amazing place,” but wistfully added, “sad things” had occurred the last six years. He felt Congress needs his global view as a former foreign service officer stationed overseas and that government needed a method to measure accomplishments. There were too many “yes” men in government and as one who had to decide whether applicants would get visas to come to our country, sometimes a “no” was in order. In short, he wanted to help bring America, “back to what it can be.”
The last word went to Frank Kratovil. The impression I got of his closing statement (at least what I wrote down) was an America of victims, with a responsibility to take care of its citizens. We needed strong leaders who are advocates, he said, and flat out promised, “I can win.” Part of this was because of those who endorsed him (including Governor O’Malley and the other statewide officeholders) and part of why he could win (and has won) in a Republican area was because he was “fair.”
As I alluded to yesterday, Jim Ireton of the Democrat Central Committee sat next to me much of the time. One thing he asked me was why there was such a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth sort of passion about Andy Harris from the Republicans. I’m not sure I answered the question as I would have liked (since the debate was ongoing at the time) but here’s why I do, anyway.
In Wayne Gilchrest we have a Congressman who is nominally Republican but votes against what is perceived as their interests almost half the time. Obviously not everyone in the GOP has the exact same views on everything but chances are Wayne has gone against their core beliefs on a frequent basis over the last couple years – for me, it’s been his votes on the Long War and energy independence that have caused me the most grief.
However, let’s say one of these three Democrat challengers wins. In that case, a district that leans toward the conservative side of many issues now has a Congressman who does two things: one, he votes to maintain Nancy Pelosi for House leadership; and two, the 50/50 Republican/Democrat voting split we have with Gilchrest now tilts at least 70% to the Democrat side. Instead of the 80-90% agreement on core issues we may get with someone like Andy Harris or John Leo Walter, we get 30% or less. Democrats may think they can beat Andy Harris because they perceive him as extremely right-wing but when you factor in how the electorate in the area has played out over the last 20 years or so, it has become quite a solidly Republican bloc and there’s many out there who think it’s time for a Congressman who reflects more the values we do.
Democrats may see someone like Harris as too far to the right, but methinks the district will see any of these three as too far to the left on most issues once the primaries are complete and the issues become debated by all the voters. And I’m sure I’ll be there to fill them in!