Tonight our part of the district was able to listen to a “dialogue about the pressing issues of our time” courtesy of Salisbury University and their PACE (Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement) group. Three of the contestants on the ballot were there:
The debate, which was moderated by Don Rush of Delmarva Public Radio, consisted of four parts: an opening statement, questions which were presumably written by the moderator, questions selected from student submissions, and a closing statement. In all there were nine questions, with each candidate getting time for both a response and a rebuttal to each question. The event was also taped for later broadcast on PAC14, the local community affairs cable channel.
What I’ve decided to do is devote a paragraph or two to each question, along with the opening and closing statements. At the end I’ll add my thoughts on how the debate went overall.
Rather than a true opening statement to introduce himself, Richard Davis instead went over some of the basics of what his Libertarian Party stands for – less government and more personal freedom, along with stressing a non-interventionist foreign policy. Andy Harris decided on a more traditional opening, bringing up a quick bio before terming himself the only candidate with a record of change, who “took on the Republican establishment” not just in this year’s primary but in winning his State Senate seat back in 1998 as well. Frank Kratovil also brought up his family and avocation before announcing that he was “tired of politics as usual” and that to him, principle was more important than party.
After that few minutes of introduction, it was time for questioning. The first question was whether the candidates would have voted for yesterday’s failed bailout.
Davis led off by pleading a slight bit of ignorance, having not seen the bill in question, but based on the reports he’s seen he would have voted no. He wasn’t sure the bailout would help but expressed confidence in the American economy to get through this crisis.
Asking “how do we move forward”, Kratovil also would have voted no and noted that even this was an issue where both sides couldn’t come together, blaming “corporate greed” and a “lack of oversight” for the troubled financial situation. What he did want in a bailout package was one where taxpayers would accrue benefits in the long run, but “hold companies accountable” as well.
Harris also chastised the “fat cats of Wall Street” who didn’t play by the rules, but drew derisive laughter from some in the auditorium when he blamed the “failed liberal policies of the past.” The “inconvenient truth” was that the problem was the result of “liberal Democrats” and their policies.
On rebuttal, Davis argued that the system couldn’t be supported and that it was time to rein in government. Meanwhile, Kratovil opined that the audience should “count how many times Andy Harris says liberal” during the evening and hammered on the familiar mantra of Harris being supported by the Club For Growth with $1 million of bundled contributions while also stating again about not wanting “tax breaks for CEO’s.” Harris shot back that Kratovil had not signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge against raising taxes and had ironically taken thousands in contributions from defense attorneys. He also spoke about not being a blanket deregulator, pointing to an effort to reregulate utilities in Maryland.
Citing a poll that showed Americans felt the Iraqi invasion was “not worth it”, moderator Rush asked the trio if going into Iraq was the right thing and whether we should withdraw.
Kratovil said in no uncertain terms that going to Iraq as “occupiers” was a “mistake” and that we “went in alone” to boot. However, he did not favor a specific timetable after looking at “neutral” information. When we do withdraw it should be in a “responsible” way and we should not forget the care of the veterans returning, particularly in mental health issues. In the future he called for “aggressive diplomacy” in foreign affairs.
While Harris sort of sidestepped a bit about the going into Iraq part, he stressed that this was part of a greater War on Terror and that the “experts in the field” should decide when the time is right for withdrawal. He also was critical of Kratovil’s use of the term “occupiers” because to him we were liberators, freeing Iraq from a theocracy.
Davis stated that there was no declaration of war against Iraq so we were wrong to go in there. Perhaps we freed them from a dictator but other countries have dictators too. He thought that one possible solution was to figure out how quickly we could withdraw and then let the Iraqi people decide whether we should stay or leave.
To rebut, Kratovil asked if we were “moving in the right direction” with our policies and that we “failed in promoting foreign policy with aggressive diplomacy.” Harris replied that as a veteran he knew that the goal of a military commander was to stay no longer than necessary and that we should be proud of our Iraqi work, which was now “on the right course.” Davis chided our having troops in Iraq – but also being in Bosnia and other places on the globe in conflicts started under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
The next question dealt with balancing environmental concerns with agricultural and economic ones.
Harris told the audience that it was Federal action which was needed for Chesapeake Bay to “reverse its course” of being more polluted. It was one problem that couldn’t be attacked on a state level but needed regional cooperation. He talked about his help in ending the practice of dumping dredge spoils into the Bay early on in his first Senate term and that the federal government was a main source of the Chesapeake’s problems, asserting that the largest point source polluter is the sewage treatment plant for Washington, D.C.
Davis figuratively shrugged his shoulders and wistfully said, “I wish I had an answer for the Bay.” He did point out that Lake Erie could be an example to follow and one other tactic would be for individuals to take polluters to court.
Telling his supporters that Andy Harris “doesn’t get it”, Kratovil blasted a number of votes Harris had made in the State Senate, finishing with a claim that Harris has the “sixth worst” environmental record in the General Assembly. He also tied protecting the environment with economic viability for the region.
For his rebuttal, Harris directed Frank Kratovil to “stop listening to the lobbying groups” and claimed Frank was “misrepresenting” his record. Davis correctly noted that every year brought more bills intended to clean up the Bay, but there was little improvement to show for all that government. And while Kratovil tossed out the notion that “reasonable people could disagree”, Andy Harris was “not reasonable” in balancing business against the environment.
Next up was a question on gasoline prices and energy independence.
According to Davis, he was “not sure there’s a solution based on the price” in part because of inflated dollars and global competition. There were a lot of solutions that were out there for alternatives, but he decried how the government sometimes played favorites and we were losing out on possible options because of this.
Domestic drilling was “part of the answer” according to Kratovil, but we needed to have both short- and long-term goals and “stop depending on oil.” He compared the effort necessary to that of our moon launch, and ticked down a list of solutions which included ending “tax breaks” for the oil industry, closing the “loophole” of speculation, increasing automotive efficiency (CAFE standards), and investing in renewable energy.
Harris spoke about his support for biodiesel and ethanol, but said America had turned from “energy leader” to “energy follower” over the past few decades. Sure, conservation and alternative energy have their place but we “can’t take oil and gas off the table” either. He charged that Kratovil has “changed his tune” about drilling and that he “likes taxes” too.
In rebutting the other two speakers, Davis talked about changes already occurring in the market like windmills being allowed in more places, driving less, and solar panels. Kratovil charged that Andy Harris didn’t believe in a government role for the energy situation and that incentives were needed to change behavior and add supplies. Curiously, Harris went off the page here and criticized Kratovil’s record as a prosecutor, partially in response to Frank Kratovil’s attacks on Harris and his ideas for health care based on his experience as a physician.
As it turned out, the next question was on the very subject of health insurance and support for universal health care.
Kratovil told the group that “we need to make progress” on the 47 million he claimed were uninsured after reacting to Andy Harris’s claims, purporting that “I hit with facts” when attacked. He also stated we have a “right to health coverage” and that “everyone must be insured.” He also vowed to cut costs by increasing the pool of insured and cutting the bureaucracy.
As one in the field, Harris understood where health care is failing; however, his idea to cut a significant portion of their costs was embodied in tort reform. In short, health insurance needed to be “personal, portable, accessible, and affordable” – besides, there was “nothing that government runs better than the private sector.”
We all want to live forever, said Davis, but we don’t want to pay for it. His idea for insurance was to focus it on the areas needed. You don’t have auto insurance to pay for an oil change but in case of an accident; hence the idea of just having catastrophic medical insurance.
In his response, Kratovil cited a number of votes where he percieved Andy Harris was working against expanding health care and wanted to bring all the parties together to find a solution. Harris countered that you “don’t pass bills (simply) because they sound good” and stated that many of the programs he voted against would have duplicated other state services. “Bureaucracy never treated a patient,” he said. Davis decided to pass on a rebuttal.
At this point, we got a break as moderator Don Rush had finished his line of questions. It was noteworthy to me that Harris and Davis stayed on stage while Kratovil went offstage to talk with some of his staffers.
It was time for student questions, with the first asking about whether the federal government should have records of who owns guns, support for the Second Amendment and being allowed to carry guns on campus.
Harris put his answer relatively simply, as he understood the importance of the Bill of Rights allowing lawabiding citizens to keep and bear arms, period, end of sentence. He also stated support for an expanded concealed carry law in Maryland and sponsored legislation to that effect.
Davis also was an “absolute believer” in the Second Amendment, and that his right was “infringed by the state of Maryland.”
Not surprisingly, Kratovil joined the pro-Second Amendment chorus, but added we should focus on lawbreakers and enforce the laws on the books, some of which weren’t being enforced.
Harris began the rebuttal by restating his support from the NRA and inviting Frank Kratovil to become a member too. Davis related the story of his son, who was fortunate enough to be away for the semester when the shootings occurred at Virginia Tech. Had someone else with a gun been there, the loss of life may not have been so great, he noted. Kratovil thought the issue was best left to the states and their respective institutions.
Next up was a question about undocumented workers.
Since the previous question concerned hunting to a small extent, Davis quipped that you couldn’t hunt undocumented workers, but those who broke the law should be deported. The illegal immigration conflict made it harder to bring in legal workers as well, he opined.
“One reason” Kratovil ran, he said, was the influx of illegal immigrants. More money was needed at the local level for the problem. But he also told the gathering that one of our greatest strengths was our diversity, but another was being a nation of laws. He also mentioned working in Annapolis to make driving without a license a jailable offense.
After reminding Frank Kratovil that the Bill of Rights outlined items pertaining to the federal government, Harris said that the Eastern Shore needed legal immigrants and they should be given more opportunities to come here legally. He also reminded the people watching that Frank Kratovil expressed support for the amnesty bill that was halted in Congress last year and would have voted in its favor.
Because Davis again skipped a chance for rebuttal, Kratovil immediately could counter that it was not Andy Harris’s task to define terms like “liberal” or “amnesty”; instead he favored streamlining the legal immigration process and consequences for employers who hire undocumented workers. But Harris again stated there was a clear difference between the two on that amnesty bill issue, and asked where Frank Kratovil was when he fought against the state of Maryland continuing to give drivers’ licenses to illegals.
Another student question asked how the three would appeal to voters who previously supported Wayne Gilchrest (who lost in the GOP primary) for 18 years.
Kratovil hoped to “carry on Gilchrest’s environmental tradition” if elected and that constituent services were an “important responsibility.” He added that Andy Harris was running against him, not Governor O’Malley or Washington liberals.
Harris pointed out the bipartisan support he received from his district as proof of constituent service and remarked that he defeated Gilchrest in the primary because Wayne had become “out of touch” with the district, adding that Gilchrest had endorsed Barack Obama in the Presidential race and questioning the type of Commander-in-Chief Barack would be.
Davis simply made the statement that his job would be to “defend my constituents from the federal government.”
None of the candidates took the time for rebuttal to this question so we reached the final question of the evening. It asked about the effect of the bailout on college students.
Harris talked initially about legislation he sponsored to prevent tuition increases from exceeding the rate of inflation, but also noted that the effect on student loans would be to make them less forgiving and that the market needed to have some liquidity restored.
Davis was bluntly honest and told those present that “we have no clue” about the effects of the bailout.
For his part, Kratovil warned of “dire consequences” if no solution was reached and that it was “time to put an end to extreme partisanship.” We needed to focus on policies to help families and not Wall Street.
In the final rebuttal period of the evening, Davis put it simply – we’ve spent ourselves to bankruptcy and it was time to make cuts in the federal government. Harris did Richard one better, saying it was time to eliminate the federal Department of Education. On the other hand, Kratovil chided Harris for voting against educational proposals like reducing class sizes at the 1st and 2nd grade level, then spoke about the need for “incentives to hard-working families.”
Richard Davis made his case for office by telling us that the two major parties had “run us into the ground for fifty years” and that perhaps it was time to consider a minor party guy.
Andy Harris pointed out a number of differences between himself and Frank Kratovil – positions on taxation, spending, an “all of the above” energy policy, and amnesty to name a few which were discussed. He also mentioned that Kratovil was against school choice. One other anecdote Andy shared was being told by a fellow legislator to “stop reading the bills” and just vote – but that wasn’t his style.
The last word was from Frank Kratovil. There was “enough blame to go around” for our situation and we “need change.” Harris was supported by Wall Street interests while Frank favored financial responsibility through eliminating the “breaks” Exxon/Mobil and Wall Street executives were getting. We “need bipartisanship,” he concluded.
And that’s where I about threw up. I was already pretty pissed sitting there because all Frank had to talk about was a number of class envy issues. It’s not Wall Street that’s the problem because those executives make their money by bringing a lot of the rest of us the ability to retire at an early age or enjoy our prosperity in whatever ways we desire. I think Frank tends to forget the solid economy we’ve enjoyed for most of the period since Ronald Reagan became President – remember those consecutive years of growth? I think some of these executives may have had a little to do with that.
I will tip my hat to Frank for one thing – he had a pretty good ground game at the event. Here’s another picture to illustrate.
The young lady was trying to back out of the picture but I wanted her in the shot! It’s a case study for future reference. One thing I didn’t take a picture of was the busload of supporters Kratovil’s campaign brought, which made the crowd probably more pro-Kratovil than the public at large would be. (But it will sound good on television.) I did notice some Harris items afterward, but I don’t know when they arrived.
I’ll make no bones about it, I’m a Harris supporter. The drop that Kratovil’s people got on Andy’s was a little worrisome but this can be corrected. I was a little more perturbed about Harris going sideways into the prosecutorial job Frank Kratovil is doing; allegedly Frank and his staff are not pushing all that hard to convict some of those who he’s paid to. Perhaps that charge has its place in a closing statement, but bringing that up when he did made him look a little bit desperate and Andy’s so correct on the issues there should be no need. Others thought Harris came across as arrogant but having spoken to him on several occasions I can vouch for the fact it’s not the case.
One shame of the format tonight was that I had already written questions I’d like answered and they didn’t take audience questions. So I have three queries here that I don’t want to go to waste; maybe the next forum can use them and let me know how they were answered.
- Where candidates receive their financial support has been an issue in this campaign. My question is why is it so terrible to take contributions from individuals acting in concert who support lower taxes for all, modernizing Social Security, enacting tort reform, school choice, and free trade while thinking it’s perfectly okay to accept money from entities who wish to deny those who are considering whether to join or not the right to a secret ballot?
- All three candidates are running to one extent or another on the mantra of “change” yet you’ll only be one of 435 Congressmen and also lowest on the seniority totem pole. With that said, what change is your highest priority and how can you make that happen?
- While growth is a local issue, your position at the federal table can help make or break our regional efforts at improving the Eastern Shore. What steps would you advocate to assist our efforts in economic improvement?
There is one final item I’ll touch on, and that happened about 11 hours before the debate began. This morning Frank Kratovil appeared on the AM Salisbury radio program, and host Bill Reddish questioned him on several issues:
On the bailout: In the interview, Frank admitted to “mixed views” on the bailout, but wanted to focus on how we got here and to him, he was “tired of Wall Street greed.” (See, that class envy bullshit started at 7:40 this morning.) As he would repeat later, there’s enough blame to go around and we “need to move forward” while we “really look at” what Wall Street executives are making. Still, this was “not a party issue.” And just to hammer the class envy point home, Frank opined that “greed is what’s killing the country.”
On oil prices: Here Frank changed his tune somewhat from earlier interviews, now claiming we “need to increase our domestic supply” but also as he said tonight curb the speculators and invest in alternative fuels.
He also claimed in the ten-minute interview that illegal immigration was a “pet peeve” of his.
So that brings an end to a day of First District politics. With all this writing, I’m going to skip the usual afternoon post and return this evening with my thoughts on the bailout.