After the weekend that I'd had, I was very much looking forward to Tuesday night's debate between Michael Arcuri and Ray Meier. I always have enjoyed listening to Mike speak, but I had the added bonus of traveling with a car load of fellow Democrats who were also volunteers, staff, family kinda supporters. There's always a special charge that comes from being with other like-minded co-workers.
I got to HQ later than I'd planned since work was especially challenging. But the sky was clear and sunny and it was a great day to drive, even the route between Utica and Oneonta. We filled up the cars and headed off.
Enroute, one of the things we talked about was how beautiful New York State and particularly Central NY is. One of the unexpected bonuses of helping with the campaign has been seeing the breathtaking vistas this region has to offer. Whether it's the rolling hills, flatlands, lakes or waterfalls, I've spotted more homes with amazing views than I could ever choose from. One thing this has convinced me of though... when I own my own house, I must have a porch and/or patio.
But we also were pretty quick to comment that the roads we were on would not be pleasant to drive during the winter months. Given that I also found out yesterday that I might have to do so in order to pay bills, making the drive, and one particular comment in the debate took on a new meaning to me.
But we arrived at SUNY Oneonta in plenty of time even including a quick stop for dinner. At least we had plenty of time before the scheduled start of the debate. By 7:00 PM, the Red Dragon Theater in the Hunt Union was pretty filled. More people came than had been expected since folks who came after us were given half sheets of notebook paper instead of the pre-printed forms for audience questions. The Time Warner Cable Channel 23 was there filming the debate and will be broadcasting it later this month. I missed the date and time and searching for information on the Net has proven futile. If anyone can point me the right way, I'd much appreciate it. There was another TV camera there, but I couldn't catch which station.
As it turned out, we could have lingered over dinner or had dessert too, though we wouldn't have gotten seats. Meier arrived 20 minutes late thereby giving us a change to catch up with all the other people who'd made the trip from Utica without carpooling with us.
The debate was moderated by Sam Pollack, Editor of the Oneonta Daily Star. He was introduced by Political Science Professor, Gina Keel. The debate was sponsored by the Political Science Department of SUNY Oneonta and the Coalition for Democracy of Central New York.
Now, remember that this is my blog. The opinions presented here are biased and are in support of Mike. Certainly I will do my best to be fair and civil, but if you seek a different perspective, you'll need to look elsewhere. Mostly, I am paraphrasing, and what I quote is from the notes I quickly took that night.
Having sat on panels where all the speakers and the moderator were all positioned in a straight line, I understand the awkwardness of looking at the person speaking and still remaining seated in the direction of the audience. But typically, polite manner dictate looking at the speaker, especially when it's the moderator setting the format of the debate and introducing the candidates. So it was immediately ironic that though Meier spoke of "civil discourse," it was Mike who actively listened when other's spoke.
I haven't been much involved with debate prep, so listening to Mike's opening comments was rejuvenating. He spoke of the country needing vision and leadership with a direction and how he brought both skills to the District Attorney's office. He ended with a call for the stopping of the attempts to divide Americans against each other.
I'm glad I wasn't drinking or eating anything as I'd have surely choked at Meier's first comment. He stated that "civil discourse is important" and the he looked forward to the opportunity to debate Mike. If I'd known he was going to say that, my question for the evening might have been, "Given your Vice President's dropping of the F bomb on the Senate floor and your President's S word spoken through a mouth fool of food, how would you tell the children in the 24th CD that civility is important and expected?"
The Observer Dispatch said this about his opening statement:
Meier spoke of his experience as a legislator and "independent-minded conservative" who had helped develop successful welfare-to-work legislation, "not by beating up poor people, but by giving them the support they need."Just last week, I had yet another student in my office seeking help with childcare so that he could complete his education. He, like at least 4 other students that I counseled, were told by Social Services that child care assistance would be available, but only if they dropped out of college. Not only does that frustrate me in trying to support my students, but as a tax payer, I'd rather see public assistance given to someone who's actively trying to get off public assistance rather than someone satisfied with flippin burgers for a career.
He also asked why we should accept from elected officials the kind of behavior that we wouldn't accept from children? I referred to the same thing myself a little while ago. The person who could have best answered that was only in town for less than an hour.
After the opening statements, the candidates answered questions submitted by the audience.
Question 1: asked each candidate to identify the House committees he would like to serve on.
RM: Energy and Commerce because of his experience in the State Senate dealing with Medicare and Medicaid issues.
MA: First choice- Transportation, because the infrastructure of the 24CD could be greatly improved making us more attractive to businesses.
(My ears perked up at this simply for the comments we made in the car of how traveling from Utica to Oneonta in the winter, which looks like a distinct probability in my future, is such an ordeal. Little did we know that our return trip would include everything other than ice and snow and yes indeed, it is a anxious drive in bad weather even in the summer.)
Question 2: Would you support a citizenship path for illegal immigrants?
MA: The more effective route to securing our borders would be to go after the businesses that illegally hire illegals and to increase border security.
RM: No. Technology should be used to secure our borders and also those who entered legally, but became illegal and "we lost track of them" need to also be dealt with.
Question 3: Is the Federal Budget Deficit a problem and what would you cut?
RM: It is a problem, but the answer is not in net reduction of spending but rather in controlling the growth of spending. Also, government consultants getting sent to expensive conferences in expensive cities need to be cut.
(Meier had a curious stumble of words as he started his answer. He first called the President "my president" then thought he corrected himself by saying "our President.")
MA: Tax breaks for the top 1% while we're carrying this deficit that our children will pay and while we are at war is wrong. Ending the war would also stop the financial drain.
(I don't remember if it was later or at this point that Mike's comment about stopping the war was the only time the audience broke the rules and applauded at a comment. Myself and other volunteers refrained from clapping, but we were smiling!)
Question 4: Would you be in favor of raising the Federal minimum wage?
MA: Would vote to raise the wage and has pledged that if elected to the House, he would not vote for a salary increase or accept a salary increase until the wage was also increased.
RM: Voted against raising the NY State minimum wage because it would drive business out of the state. He would vote for the Federal wage increase but only if there was also some kind of relief for small business owners.
Question 5: Would you vote to stay the course in the War on Terror?
RM: Unsure exactly what "stay the course" means, but there were huge mistakes made, such as the dismantling of the police and military and damage to the infrastructure. He said that we'd need to stay in Iraq until they had a standing military and police force and that their infrastructure and Democracy was stable again.
MA: No, we need to get out by having a plan to get out. Not that we'd pull troops out tomorrow, but that they would start coming home sooner rather than later.
Question 6: What role does Congress have in oversight of the President?
MA: There is a checks and balance and an obligation to oversee branches by other branches. Ad a District Attorney, he's requested "more search warrants than there are people in the room." As the DA, he has laws he must follow as does every prosecutor in the country. The President is not above the law. Further, the War on Terror is indefinite. To give blanket authority to the President to do anything he wants forever dishonors the Constitution. We're asking our soldiers to risk their lives to help establish the very ideals this current administration is eroding at home.
(He got passionate enough about this issue what I wasn't sure if the microphone could carry it.)
RM: Getting a wiretap order against a drug dealer is different from getting one against a terrorist. However, he believes that the presidential memorandums Bush has been attaching to Law is unconstitutional
Question 7: Comment on the erosion of Civil Rights, especially in terms for Americans who are Muslim (yea, this is my question. When Cheney came to town, I faced up to the fact that I am afraid of this administration and the attitude they have fostered in this country. And I hate that I am scared of my own government simply because I am Muslim.)
RM: Its a very broad issue, but there are rights in the books and they should be followed. We need to have role models in light of diversity and that he has been one.
MA: We need to make sure that we don't scapegoat any one group. We've done that in the past with things like the Internment camps and people need to speak up and out against that. Better than laughing at a racial joke would be more people speaking up. People can set the tome by speaking out and it's the governments job to protect.
Well, I'm closing for the night since my eyes are shutting. Half the debate remains and I'll try to get here tomorrow to finish up.