There wasn't a lot of space to maneuver my plate of scrambled eggs at the American Legion Hall in Lakewood this morning. More than 140 of my neighbors in CO-7 packed the round tables to gulp down food and to listen to the three Democratic congressional candidates.
Ed Perlmutter, Peggy Lamm, and Herb Rubenstein mingled with the friendly and informal crowd. Each of them took the time to engage with me personally, and I had the experience that they were all there to listen as well as speak. Shortly after 9:00 they took their places on the small stage and gave opening remarks.
Peggy Lamm began with a series of stories that illustrated her personal connection to issues such as the welfare of our soldiers, the importance of Social Security, and the value of public education. She indulged in a grab for easy laughs by pointing out the doors in the front and the back of the room and then announcing we now had an exit strategy. I enjoyed the dig at Bush along with the rest of the crowd, but it made me wonder if she thought these things were really so casual and easy. If Herb Rubenstein had made the joke, I would be pretty sure that he had a book somewhere in which he had pointed out every possible exit from Iraq just as clearly. If Ed Perlmutter had said it, I would be certain that he had assembled a team of the best people, who had read Herb's book and a good number of others, and that he could work with them and create a plan that would lead our people to those exits. When Peggy Lamm said it, she said it with the vague charismatic ease and confidence that I find chillingly 'presidential'. When I laughed at the joke there was an anger and disdain for the Republicans lurking behind my smirk. I know where I have seen that smirk before, and I don't want it on my face. I want to be led forth by hope, and to her credit, many times when Peggy spoke of topics closer to her experience I felt hopeful. I am concerned about whose council she might wind up taking on the rest.
Next to speak was 'Hyperlinked' Herb Rubenstein. As a blogger, I enjoy a man who speaks in URLs. Herb is comfortable with this medium, and at his website he lays out positions on around fifty issues. With Quixotic energy he dove into them as best he could in the time provided. He pointed people to his website and to his books. He spoke of gay rights, union rights, tax law, Katrina, Murtha, National Health Care. He even leveled some criticism at the Colorado Democratic Party and made suggestions about how they could improve their own house. A critque, he told me later, that ruffled some feathers and earned him a vague warning. At no point, however, did he have any unkind words for his two opponents. He made efforts to differentiate himself from them while still marching forward in a united front. In a district that was tipped to the Republicans in 2002 by people who voted Green, the party would do well to find a way to be inclusive of people like Herb. The other candidates are right not to waste too many moments worrying about him as a serious challenger, but I hope they recognize him as a useful ally and knowledgeable constituent.
Ed Perlmutter took the floor to considerably more applause than the others. His opening remarks were the only ones interrupted by applause, and even garnered a small standing ovation. It is clear that he holds home court advantage in this district, and in a caucus state that can be a powerful thing. Money always gets you a long ways in politics, but being able to get people into the room wins Colorado primaries.
Perlmutter decried the consolidation of power on the Federal level, and the incompetence with which Bush wields it. He drew parallels between Washington today and Colorado five years ago when he and his colleagues in our State Senate broke the Republican stranglehold. He painted a self-portrait of a moderate man who preferred collaborative governance but who had been roused to fight by a deficit that mortgages our future, by Katrina, by Iraq, and by the rest of the wanton negligence of this administration.
After their opening remarks, the candidates gave answers to a series of five questions submitted by the gathering. The first of these was on the topic of Iraq.
Perlmutter said that Bush needed to elucidate what 'victory' meant. Saddam brought to trial? Elections? Iraq admitted as the 51st state? If we are going to stay the course until the job is done, we need to know exactly what that job is. Failing a clear explanation from the President, Perlmutter said we should not leave a vacuum, but we should withdraw "very very soon."
Rubenstein said that the key to finding an exit is international involvement, both in having a police force and in the allocation of contracts. He felt that we could most likely draw down half our troops in '06 and the other half in '07, but only if we engaged the international community, rebuilt their respect for us, and were replaced by a force that represented the interests of the Arab League, Europe, and Russia.
Lamm said we needed to find an exit strategy now. She wanted a time table immediately that preserved the good things we have created but also also allowed for a rapid exit of our forces. She then added that the Iraqi's, "might not be able to be a democracy", and that we, "need to look at other creative solutions."
When I spoke to her later, I read her back the quote, and I asked if she could clarify what she had meant. She explained that if US troops were to leave the country the result might be a civil war (a state I said seemed to be present today). She admitted she is no expert on the region, but stated that it seemed to her that after thousands of years of war that a three state solution might be the only resolution. After making sure the three divisions she was talking about were Shiite, Sunni, and Kurd, I asked her if she thought any of those groups were capable of individually forming a government that was democratic. She said while she was very hopeful that democracy might emerge in the region, and that if it did that would be the best possible outcome, the historical realities of the region might make that impossible.
The next question concerned immigration. All three were in fairly close agreement. Each felt that the existing 11 million undocumented workers in the country should have a path to take where their status could be decriminalized, and each called for sanctions against the companies that prey on migrant workers for cheap labor.
Rubenstein had a detailed plan that included amnesty for employees of companies that had more than 25 workers. Lamm suggested that working with Mexico to help them find ways to improve conditions and keep people working on that side of the border. Perlmutter said we should tighten our borders, but also create a track to naturalization for every current undocumented alien who paid their taxes, began learning English, and committed no crimes.
I asked Mr. Perlmutter later if 'committed no crimes' included the crime of entering the country illegally, or using forged documents to secure employment. He indicated to me that while those were certainly crimes, they would not be hurdles to later citizenship for those already living and working in the country.
The third question was about improvements on K-12 education. Here Ed and Peggy were in fairly close accord, and Herb saw things differently.
Both Perlmutter and Lamm cited the passing of Proposition C as evidence that things could be done properly. They both felt that the No Child Left Behind Act was a failure when just pushed on the States, but could be saved if it was federally funded. They both felt that funding Public Education and raising educator pay was a top priority. Both thought the defunding of Pell Grants was a stupid move. The only place I saw any difference was when Peggy Lamm announced that she would never vote for something like school vouchers, and then smirked over at Perlmutter to make sure the punch landed.
Herb came at things from another direction. He said the child is the customer of Public Education, and we needed to improve the product. He indicated that he has recently written a book on the topic, and told us how to get a copy. A few select quotes from his remarks were, "No Child Left Behind should have been No Teacher Left Behind," and "We just teach principals to manage. We should be teaching them to lead." He also voiced his support for home schools, charter schools, and his opposition to vouchers.
The next question was about the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
Peggy Lamm proudly declared herself a proponent of an 'America First' policy. She felt that a 'flat playing field' was inferior to a 'fair playing field.' She sees CAFTA as a threat to American jobs and stands opposed to it.
Herb Rubenstein suggested that tariffs should be part of our economic policy and designed to bring foreign countries in line with worker rights issues and environmental issues. He proposed tariffs as high as 500% on countries whose policies are antagonistic to unions. He said that China's 4000 annual coal mine deaths and terrible environmental record should be punished through our trade agreements.
Ed Perlmutter also opposed CAFTA for the reasons the rest of the panel did, and spoke about ways he would act to create jobs in CO-7 and keep the district competitive globally. As an example he cited how improving the budget of the National Renewable Energy Labs, whose biofuel funding was recently cut, could result in improvements in our environment, our economy, and our national security by lowering our dependence on foreign oil.
The final question was on gun control. All three were fairly middle of the road on this one.
Herb Rubenstein has one. He has a right to one. He has no right to a machine gun. He should face stiff penalties if he uses it improperly.
Ed Perlmutter thinks concealed weapons are fine, and has supported laws allowing them, but he does not support any law that allows them in a bar, a school, or a stadium.
Peggy Lamm sees women's physical stature as a reason they may sometimes need special protection, and while she supports safe storage laws, and advocates safety training and accountability for misuse, she sees no call to restrict lighter firearms. Like Herb and Ed, she does not think everyone has a second amendment right to a flamethrower, but does feel some gun ownership is agreeable.
They all made closing comments, and then stuck around and answered questions from all of us who cared to ask. The experience left me feeling nostalgic for a time in politics where one could always pick a favorite candidate, and still hold the other side in high regard. I felt I could do that today. I think that I am going to enjoy the race through the March 21st caucus. After that, it becomes the defiant stand against the forces of evil, and though it may be holy work it will still be drudgery.
I prepared to go and made one final circut of the room. Ed introduced me to his daughters. Peggy told me she had, "never met a real blogger before." Herb and I talked about moving the party forward, and his chances in the election. It was a nice day, and the eggs were really good.