October 26, 2010
Were any voters swayed by 1st District debate? Doubtful
Our three 1st District Congressional candidates shared a stage Tuesday night, comparing and contrasting their positions on a variety of issues. It's impossible to tell whether any of the 80 voters in attendance were swayed; each candidate received scattered applause before moderator Dr. Deborah Ford, chancellor of UW-Parkside, asked for silence.
There were no real surprises; Republican Paul Ryan, Democrat John Heckenlively and Libertarian Joseph Kexel stuck to the party line, as they took turns tackling more than a dozen questions. Best line of the night, though, went to Ryan, who compared himself to ... Goldilocks!
In opening remarks, Heckenlively said Ryan's views are "extreme." He votes, Heckenlively said, "with the most conservative members of his party," "for the fat-cat elites. He's the poster-boy for all that's wrong with Washington."
Kexel said the federal government "is out of control." He advocated repealing the income tax, shutting down the Federal Reserve and returning the election of U.S. Senators back to state legislatures.
Speaking third, Ryan cast himself as the moderate. "It's a Goldilocks thing," he said. "There's a liberal, a Libertarian and something in-between." The case he made for himself was based not on issues, but rather on his accessibility, constituent service and "principled representation."
He seemed to echo Kexel's statement that all that's in our future are "nostalgic stories about when America was great." Ryan said the U.S. is at "that proverbial fork in the road" where "our country will lose its greatness." The "debt-threat," he said, will produce a future with a "lower standard of living."
No one expected the debate to change the election's predictable outcome, given Ryan's millions in campaign funds compared to his opponents' um... any?*; his name recognition as a five-term incumbent; the feeling that we're in for a Republican surge this year. Still, their answers to specific questions clearly delineated policy differences.
How do you feel about government regulation of executive salaries?
Ryan: "I agree."
Heckenlively: "I disagree...but Ryan calls for tax cuts for the wealthy which would massively redistribute wealth." He went on to propose raising the cap on Social Security taxes (so individuals would pay SS tax on income over $100,000, and limiting corporate tax deductions for excessive executive compensation.
Should a tax deduction be given to companies that send jobs overseas?
Heckenlively: "While promoting exports is good (it creates jobs here), our policies give companies tax benefits to move jobs overseas."
Kexel would repeal all corporate taxes (as well as the income tax).
Ryan: "We should take taxes off exports and put them on imports."
How would you increase bipartisanship in Washington?
Heckenlively: "We have the most polarized Congress and Washington in decades," but -- despite that -- the Obama administration "at least reached out," and then passed health reform and Wall Street reform. Bipartisanship, he said, "is up to the people standing in the say saying 'no, no, no.' "
Kexel: "If I'm elected, we'd have tri-partisanship." His real solution would be to remove all domestic issues from federal control and back to the states, leaving only defense, international trade and the court system to the federal government.
Ryan: "The President went far left, with a Congress tht's far left. I do not see what has happened over the past two years as a sincere effort (at bipartisanship)." His preferred solution is that Congress' Democratic majority switches to a Republican majority; "then we'll have bipartisanship."
Kexel: "A transit system needs to be based on market systems. The downside of KRM is that Racine and Kenosha will pay for it forever."
Ryan: "The cost does not add up." He prefers fixing roads and bridges. "Infrastructure is a big deal."
Heckenlively agreed on infrastructure "but you have a lot of people who can't afford cars." KRM, he said, "is absolutely essential for economic development."
Social Security has been a success for 75 years. What would you do with it?
Ryan agreed with Social Security's success and said, "I don't support privatizing." His plan, he said, makes no change at all for people now 55 or older.
Heckenlively: "While Ryan argues he doesn't want to privatize Social Security, look at his Roadmap; it is privatization." Heckenlively is "dead-set" against any privatization. "All we need to maintain its long-term solvency is to raise the cap."
Kexel: "I don't believe the federal government should be managing your pension at all." He suggested "educating people" about where to put their retirement funds as they get older.
What's the answer to environmental challenges like Asian carp?
Heckenlively: "You can't make this a state issue. Pollution crosses interstate lines."
Kexel: "The Constitution does allow the federal government some role in (issues about) navigable waters." But he suggested that "states can work together."
Ryan: "We need better fish barriers." He also suggested "reversing" the Chicago River.
Kexel: "I have no objection if the companies have reliability." By which he means proper liability -- the company would be "on the hook" for a complete cleanup.
Ryan: "I do support drilling and liability," he said, but in the past companies "cut corners and permits were rubber-stamped." His long-term answer is to invest in alternative fuels -- "get into nuclear" -- "and get us off Mideast oil. We have lots of our own."
Heckenlively opposed drilling in the ANWR. "This is one of the last pristine places on the planet" and any drilling will have environmental impact. "We need a massive investment -- a Marshall Plan" to move the U.S. beyond carbon and coal and into wind and solar power, he said. "Compared to what we spent on the Iraq war, $500 billion is a bargain to end our dependency."
Given the high unemployment in the region, would you extend unemployment benefits?
Heckenlively: "Absolutely." We have "tens of thousands of people desperate, but Ryan voted against extending benefits six times this summer."
Kexel: "Unemployment benefits shouldn't come from the federal government; it's a state issue." While saying he feels "sorry for those who are unemployed," Kexel said the solution is a free market. "I can imagine a market that is red-hot," he said.
Ryan defended his votes by saying the measures all required borrowing to pay for the extended benefits. "If borrowing and spending were the keys to sucess, we'd be booming right now."
How do you see the end of the Afghanistan war?
Ryan: "Not with the signing of a treaty on a battleship." We're starting to see "material results" he said. "I think President Obama has done a pretty good job on this."
Heckenlively agreed. "There will be no signing ceremony to end this war. It's virtually impossible to come up with a victory scenario...We should recognize it's a quagmire, call it a draw and leave."
Kexel said the issue will "come down to whether the people there want to live together peacefully." But he criticized Congress -- and Ryan -- for letting President Bush declare war, which is constitutionally a Congressional prerogative. Congress "should have declared war -- or not."
How would you change the Health Care Reform Act?
Heckenlively: "I like it, but there should be a single-payer system. The biggest problem with our health care system is how we finance it."
Kexel: "I would repeal it," he said, in favor of a free market system.
Ryan: "I would repeal it. It won't stand, it's a fiscal house of cards that will give us massive deficits."
*Addendum: I just looked up the candidates' campaign finance reports. None from Kexel, which indicates that he hasn't met the minimum $5,000 threshhold for reporting. Heckenlively reported total contributions of $9,388, with $6,530 on hand as of Oct. 13. Ryan reported $3,429,930 in total contributions this election cycle, with expenditures so far of $1,367,485. During the debate, Heckenlively noted that Ryan has spent $700,000 on professional fund-raising for himself and other candidates.
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