Friday, February 03, 2006

CO-7 Adams Cnty Candidates Forum

I spent the evening as the guest of the Adams County Democrats as they hosted a forum at their headquarters. Ed Perlmutter, Herb Rubenstein, and Peggy Lamm took questions from the crowd, and told why they each felt they should be the Democratic candidate for Colorado's 7th Congressional district.
It was a cozy affair held in conjunction with the AdDems regular meeting, and the candidates had to wait while motions were made to buy a new printer for the newsletter and to release funds for clog dancers at the St. Patrick's Day dinner.

  Before the meeting was called to order, I had a chance to speak with Herb Rubenstein. There are more than a few people who think he has no chance at the nomination, but he is adamant that he is not amongst them. He has me convinced that his candidacy is the true test of the theory, because after all the thought and energy he has put into his attempt, if he fails to get the nomination it must indeed have been impossible. Quixotic or not, he is clearly fighting as hard as anyone could.

When I pointed out that his campaign had just over $900 cash on hand at the end of the last quarter, he shrugged and said that they had gotten another $20k on January 5th. He seems earnest in his intention to have his name on the primary ballot, either through the caucus or through petitions. When ColoradoLib used the word 'thoughtful' to describe what I thought was an excellently written piece by Washpark Prophet, Rubenstein was quick to offer a refutation to the story's suggestion that he was not a serious candidate. A refutation that Rubenstein was very pleased to see get prominent notice when he posted it. I am highly doubtful of his odds in this particular race, but his obvious joy at his interactions with the blogosphere made it clear that he has embraced and understands the new media like no other candidate. As the online community explores and builds the potential of netroots organizing, I expect that this race will give Rubenstein a number of great insights to share with us.

The discussion turned to Israel and Palestine. Herb says it is a topic that he is questioned about a lot lately. His son Jason is in a Yeshiva North of Jerusalem studying to become a rabbi. Herb felt that economic sanctions on Hamas were necessary and inevitable, but he was concerned that starving the Palestinian people could be as dangerous as funding their new violent leadership. His hope was that elements of Fatah could still influence the dynamic from within, and that the people's desire for stability could find expression. He said that if the United States did get involved in a solution, they should not try to do it through back channels. Rubenstein said that we should make use of modern technology and insist that any negotiations or peace brokering must be done out in the open on the internet where anyone could see exactly where people were standing. I am not sure that diplomacy is ready for such transparency, or if he has considered the peril it might create for moderates who tried to come to the table when extremists still wanted the destruction of Israel. It seems to me that if everyone had to maintain public faces, you would wind up with more posturing than progress. Many of Herb's ideas seem to me that way; innovative rather than implementable, but I suppose I have always liked ideas of that nature myself. They are the type that get us uprooted.

I sat with Ed, and we spoke about how long his days have been getting. He spent yesterday walking the precincts and today meeting with leaders of the African American community. He thanked me quickly for helping him maintain his blog, but then had to move up to the front of the room with Herb and Peggy.

Before the candidates spoke, Cary Kennedy addressed the room. She is the Democratic candidate for treasurer and is running against an appointee of Gov. Owens named Mark Hillman. Kennedy was a policy director for Colorado House Speaker Romanoff, and she worked on Amendment 23 that provided a boost to k-12 education funding, and also did technical work on Ref. C. She gets my vote.

Peggy Lamm gave her introduction first. She brought the flack jacket she has been showing around at her campaign stops. It was bought by her family when her brother was in the service, and she uses it to underscore her personal involvement in Defense issues and to underscore her condemnation of an administration that claims to support the troops, but leads them into needless peril. She shared the jarring findings of a Pentagon study that claimed if we had spent just $260 per US soldier in Iraq, 84% of the deaths of servicemen would have been avoided.

  This was the one of the few times she used statistics, or pointed to a particular policy that she felt needed specific changes. Generally, she spoke in broad themes and repeated key words that seemed to have more emotional impact than substance. A number of times she spoke of how we needed people of 'moral courage' in Congress, but she just let the audience decide for themselves what that meant. In one of her answers she used the word 'Leadership' five times. This was unlike the last time I had seen her when the family anecdotes gave support to her points rather than replaced them entirely. If this had been the only time I had heard her speak, I would not have come away with any real sense of what she intended to do in Congress. Even here, where she was specific, I was not clear how she felt about the conflict in Iraq. If we had spent the extra $260 would it have been alright, or was there a deeper problem with our involvement?

  I liked the broad themes she was expressing. It was clear she felt that there were promises that government makes to the citizens, and ours has been breaking those promises. She felt that we need leaders with 'spine'. She felt that representatives should serve the people and not special interests. I like those thoughts. I know what they mean to me. Tonight she didn't give me enough to know what they meant to her.

Ed Perlmutter started of with charm. He spoke of the recent State of the Union address and suggested that sitting through Bush's next one will be one of the toughest jobs any Democratic Congressman would face. He then gave an explanation for the purple mark that his golden retriever inflicted on his cheek, "I wish I could say I got this from mad passionate love, or I got in a fight, or Herb tried to bite my ear off..." He was casual and the crowd responded well.

Then, becoming more serious, he spoke of the American Dream that brought us all to that room that night. He acknowledged the value in things Peggy had said earlier, and it is important to note that all of the candidates were fundamentally supportive of one another. Earlier Peggy said we had "three good people running" and by remaining positive, they allowed me to feel that way to. Each at some point in the evening showed respect for the others.

Ed talked about how ties between the privileged, such as those between Bush and Enron, Cheney and Haliburton, Delay and Abramoff, were depriving Americans of living and fulfilling their dreams, and how he would work to change the focus to the middle.

Herb used his time to tell of his history and how he studied on scholarships and loans and worked his way out of his Louisiana childhood. He spoke of his father, who had worked against racism and for the unions. He spoke of his own work with the Carter administration. Like each of the three candidates, he was able to paint a very human portrait of himself, and give some insight to the formative experiences that shaped his politics.

On many of the questions, the candidates were in agreement. They reinforced one another's statements and took the fight to the Republicans. On one where they differed was in response to a question about how they would deal with the National Debt.

Peggy answered first, and while she did not provide any plan, she reminded everyone that under Clinton we had a surplus, but now under Bush it has all been squandered. While I am always up for a good post hoc argument at the Republican's expense, I would have liked to hear what steps she felt would bring us back to those surpluses.

Ed was next and advocated against making the Bush tax cuts permanent. He said we should look for those programs that were truly not working and trim them, and that if some moderate tax relief was needed it should benefit the "hard working middle" and stimulate small business through paring back the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Herb wanted to establish "very serious Estate Taxes". I think that the proposal, while it might make sense to actuaries and probability theorists, misses how deeply imbedded in the American psyche the idea of leaving an inheritance to our children really is.

On government eavesdropping there was an interesting contrast between Ed and Peggy. While both opposed the overreaching of our Imperial President. they put markedly different stresses on what supports the foundations of our freedoms.

Ed spoke of the 3rd amendment, that prohibits the quartering of troops in private homes in peacetime, and without congressional approval during wartime. He said that the right to privacy, expressed here and in the 4th amendment, was core to all our freedoms. He said the Founding Fathers saw that if you could not keep the armies of King George out of your house, then all of your other freedoms would be lost.

Peggy went in a direction that I think appeals more to those that prefer the USA PATRIOT Act over the Bill of Rights. She said, "I would suggest that if we are not a secure country than everything else is moot."

While I see more in common between Lamm and Perlmutter than I see difference, those two thoughts could not seem farther apart to me. Maybe I misunderstood her, but when she spoke I could not help but think of a quote from Benjamin Franklin, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

When asked about their job would be when they got to Congress, Peggy gave an answer I could not follow. There was a video camera at the event, and I will see if I can get a transcription. Ed's answer was straightforward, and Herb's answer contained one of the most entertaining lines of the evening.

Ed said his first job would be to vote for a Democratic Speaker of the House. After that, his job would be to create an office that was accessible and responsive to the people of our district so that he could serve the needs of the people he represents. And then his third duty would be to change the focus of government back to the people in the middle.

Herb agreed with those priorities but also added more. He said that he would "kick butts and make some noise." A representative should demand good committee posts and talk each day, "about what is wrong with our country." He said he would take chances and be a thorn in the side of the administration. He said the measure of effectiveness would be how many front pages he garnered. The line that made me grin was, "I'm tired of being overshadowed by this idiot in the 6th District."

There were quite a few other questions, and many nice moments. Herb managed to work lasers and crystals into one answer and carbon nano-tubes into another. Ed said, "with this bunch in Washington, if they can do wrong, they will do wrong. They can't help themselves." Peggy called herself the "lobbyist for the people." As always, I have pages of notes I haven't included, and there is still a lot to relate about what the candidates said, but the best moment of the evening was when at the very end, a man in the audience raised his hand and asked to speak.

  He was old enough to be the father of any of the candidates, and was wrapped in a Pipefitter's Union jacket with the name Jim embroidered upon it. He wanted to say something about Social Security, and my assumption was it was going to be about how it affected the lives of Seniors, but it wasn't. He wanted to talk about how it changed families. He spoke of two girls whose fathers had died. He watched as Social Security saved the life and family of one of them, and how she grew to take advantage of the opportunities provided for her through that social safety net.

The other girl was the sister of this man's friend. This girl was raised before there was Social Security. She was a talented writer and poet and filled with hope, but when hard times came there was nothing to keep her family from crumbling and her life from heading in the wrong direction. The girl's name was Bonnie Parker, and she found infamy in the duo known as Bonnie and Clyde.

I think Jim's story summed up the candidates views. Government has a place, and it can provide chances where there are none for people to thrive. These chances are not charity, but they are an investment. What the society gains is always more than it gives, but this is only true when what it gives is invested broadly and fairly. By removing the concentrations of power that allow the short sighted blight of greed and corruption to take hold, we can restore our government to being a healthy system that can elevate us instead of be our oppressor.


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