Friday, October 10, 2008

Little Time for Talk in 2nd District Debate

Little Time for Talk in 2nd District Debate

Barth, Loebsack, Miller-Meeks, White
Barth, Loebsack, Miller-Meeks, White

The four-candidate 2nd Congressional District debate seemed fairly congenial--but that may have been because the format left the candidates little time to engage one another. With a strictly enforced 45 seconds an answer, it was hard to stretch out.

"I'm running out of time, I'm just getting started," said Green candidate Wendy Barth as the red STOP card went up. "It's not fair," Democratic incumbent Dave Loebsack nodded in sympathy.

But Barth and independent Brian White were grateful to the Johnson County AARP, the debate sponsors, for including them with Loebsack and Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks in the Thursday afternoon forum. The equal treatment extended to the order of speaking and even to the moderator's repeated habit of skipping the fourth candidate as the questions rotated.

The questions leaned toward the senior-oriented, but the answers revolved around the relative effectiveness of the Congress Loebsack joined two years ago.

"I got tired of seeing Congress doing nothing but seeing who was the victor in a partisan fight," said Miller-Meeks, citing Social Security, health and energy policy.

Loebsack defended his record while agreeing with the premise. "I ran in 2006 because I was fed up with a system that was broken. I wanted to once again make government a positive force in people's lives," said the congressman. "I have worked tirelessly to provide for our troops and provide oversight to the Bush Administration's Iraq policies."

But the harshest criticism of partisanship came from White, who is premising his entire candidacy on breaking away from the two party system. "The answers are simple. The reason I'm running is nothing gets done," said White. "The first thing you do is get rid of everything in Washington including the interest groups." White, somewhat surprisingly, drew the most applause lines in the forum, as he returned again and again to his theme and called for term limits, getting rid of PACs, and ethics reform.

Barth described herself as a single issue candidate: "My single issue is sustainability," she said, adding that thousands of issues fall under that umbrella. "It means having a lifestyle that continues generation after generation. Our lifestyles have to change. We can embrace that change or deny change."

Barth launched the sharpest exchange of the debate as she attacked Loebsack for his vote on the financial bailout bill. "The biggest mistake you made was voting for that," she said while looking at Loebsack. "They want us middle class taxpayers to bail them out, " she added while running out of time.

"I'm disgusted. Both the Democrats and Republicans hands are dirty in this," said White to sustained applause.

"Those are the two toughest votes I've had to take," said Loebsack. "The downside of not doing anything, I feared, were worse." Loebsack said the second version of the bill included $4.6 billion, which he cosponsored with Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, for flood victims and wind tax credits.

"The risk has been passed on globally and we're paying the price for that," said Miller-Meeks. Asked about tax policy, the Ottumwa doctor said, "I advocate an optional flat tax and then we could go to further tax reform. Time is money," she said, in reference to the cost of tax preparation.

"We have to stop tax incentives for companies going overseas," says Loebsack, who said flat tax proposals hurt the middle class. Loebsack said the Bush tax cuts should not be extended. He also called for alternative minimum tax reform. "If we don't reform it, it'll catch the middle class."

"I am a huge flat tax supporter," said White. "No loopholes, no deductions, none of that. It's very simple."

"A progressive tax system is better," responded Barth. "There should be a Peace Tax so people can say 'I don't want any of my money going to the military,''' she said.

"Social Security funds should not be used in the general budget," said Miller-Meeks. "That's part of the reason we have a problem now. We need to have a Congress that lives within its means and not continue to rob the Social Security fund."

"President Bush pushed this idea of Social Security privatization after his re-election," said Loebsack, "and it was roundly rejected by the American people."

Loebsack said the initial Patriot Act went too far and he would have voted no. "I don't believe we should impinge too much on our civil liberties. It's got to be a balancing act."

Miller-Meeks said anti-terrorist issues that risk civil liberties should have timelines. "We need an active and a vigilant press because they hold officials feet to the fire, and they have an investigative arm."

"We have to protect civil liberties as a priority," said White. "We need to do it the same way the criminal system does -- with probable cause."

"There's never going to be 100 percent safety. We have to protect ourselves but can't be paranoid," said Barth.

2nd District candidates will have another forum on Oct. 21 -- or some of the candidates will. Only the major party nominees were invited to the KCRG-TV event. White urged Loebsack and Miller-Meeks to go to bat for his inclusion, while Barth pledged to liveblog her responses to the questions.

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