I'm late with this post -- snow, broken bones (not mine), and assorted other issues have delayed my work on it. These are my notes from the 13th congressional district Democratic candidates’ debate, held on January 26th, 1:30 to 3:30 at the Upper Dublin Township Building.
These are my notes from that event. It is not intended as a full transcript. I do my best to catch the gist of an answer but there were a few spots where I just couldn't catch what was being said. Should readers have any questions they are encouraged to contact the campaigns for clarification. As always, I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions.
The debate is online so interested readers can view it for themselves.
Moderator: Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News
Sponsors: MontgomeryCounty DFA and Area 6 Democrats
MC: Beverly Hahn of Montgomery County DFA
The room was packed; I would estimate over 200 people, perhaps close to 300 were in attendance
Hahn led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. She said it was heartening to see the room so full.
She acknowledges the organizations sponsoring the event and thanks Upper Dublin Township for use of the facilities. The event is being livestreamed by WeActRadio (1480 AM), and the video will be posted on YouTube.
Candidate and former congresswoman Marjorie Margolies was asked several times (three requests to her campaign and two requests directly to her) to participate, but she declined. (see her statement on the event at abc.com)
The order in which the candidates are seated, and give opening and closing statements was decided by drawing lots. The moderator will ask the questions and enforce restrictions; a timekeeper will let candidates know how much time they have and blow a whistle if they go noticeably over time. Candidates will have three minutes for an opening statement, two minutes to answer questions, and two minutes for closing statements.
The candidates came into the room at 1:42 and were seated (Arkoosh, Leach, Boyle). Hahn introduces Will Bunch and notes that he was scheduled to work at the Philadelphia Daily News today but they released him to moderate the debate.
WB: flattered to be here.
VA: Thanks sponsors, moderator, and the other two candidates. I am running because I believe our democracy should work for all; it isn’t doing so now. Most of my working life is around moms and babies. I hear stories of people losing their homes and falling through the cracks. My father had a small business and put his kids through college. Communities do better when we all do better. I studied economics and then went to medical school. I moved here in 1987, became chair of my department and had to make hard budget decisions. I went back to school for a Masters in Public Health, and worked on health care reform. We are sending too many career politicians to Washington. I solve problems.
BB: Thanks all. Events like this are an important opportunity to interact with candidates. I am a first generation American. My father came to America when he was 19, worked at an ACME warehouse and then as a janitor at SEPTA, where he still works. My mom is a crossing guard. They worked hard so my brother and I could have a better life. I went to Notre Dame and then Harvard, then my brother and I both won seats in the state house. I am an advocate for higher minimum wage, campaign finance reform, and endorsed by most labor unions in the state. My wife is a teacher in Montgomery County. I opposed Gov. Corbett’s education policy. I am running because the American dream is at stake. Income equality, millionaires and billionaires are paying lower taxes than cops and firefighters.
DL: Thanks all. I was born in Northeast Philadelphia. My mom and dad were married but my dad left soon after I was born. My grandmother got sick and moved in with us. My mom had to quit her job to take care of my grandmother. I still remember when my mom said she couldn’t afford to take care of me. I went into the foster care system. People invested in me with great public schools and libraries, and Pell grants. I now pay more in taxes than I received in student aid. I want to take the toughest issues. I’ve been in state government for 12 years, and have fought for marriage equality and other issues. I’m running for Congress to make sure the opportunities given to me are given to others.
Q: Ending income inequality; how do we make that into policy?
DL: This is one of my main issues. I don’t have any problem with people making money. A few have so much and many have so little. It used to be that a CEO made 50x the average worker, now it’s 500x. The 1%’s income has tripled but for those at the bottom income has not gone up at all in the last 30 years. I support paid family leave, increasing social security benefits, student loans, a “pay it forward / pay it back” system for student loan repayment, reinstating the cash assistance program that Gov. Corbett cut, and restoring Adult BASIC, also cut by Gov. Corbett.
BB: It is an economic fact that the 1% in American are doing better than ever, but the middle class lost income. It is the only time in American history that at the end of 10 years the middle class income went down. The first thing I would do is raise the minimum wage, which would raise wages for all. Secondly, legislation to attack discrimination against the long term unemployed. Look at the under and unemployed. The bill says you can’t discriminate against the long term unemployed. Right now you see job ads that say anyone unemployed for a certain length of time should not apply. Thirdly, CNN says the majority of those in congress are millionaires, for the first time in American history.
VA: I see consequences every day. Moms who can’t buy healthy food, pay the rent, pay for transportation. The 13th congressional district has the 3rd highest unemployment rate in PA. Let’s raise the minimum wage; Obama plans to make it $10.10, the living wage for a single adult. The living wage for an adult and a child is $19K / year. Tax rates for the wealthy are the lowest in history. It will be a hard fight. We need to help people at home. It will take all of us together.
Q: Long-term unemployment
BB: Tea Party Republicans have done a disservice to the US by putting a singular focus on the deficit, not unemployment. The deficit is 50% lower today than when Barack Obama took office, near the historic norm. We should focus on getting people back to work. Increase the minimum wage. Focus on infrastructure. This is the United States. We should have high speed rail, etc. I have stood up to the Tea Party that demonizes government.
VA: I saw opportunity pass by when they passed the most recent budget and didn’t pass unemployment insurance. We need to go back to the country my dad grew up in. He was in World War II and took advantage of the GI Bill. We need to restore investments in our country in the long run. Infrastructure, roads, SEPTA. I see patients who can’t get to the doctor because Paratransit doesn’t service a wide enough area. Expand Medicare already.
DL: Develop a better microphone moving structure [blogger’s note: he is referring to the fact that all three candidates had to share one microphone that they had to pass around; since Leach was sitting in the middle he always had to hand the microphone around]. Corbett and Medicare – Corbett was confronted by a man who brother had died because he couldn’t get a transplant because he didn’t have insurance. Corbett said no. The GOP thinks the poor and unemployed are at fault. The old economy is not coming back. We need a new economy. Green technology. The New York Times reported that even Coca Cola is getting involved – they can’t find the water they need to make their product around the world. Infrastructure. Do big things again.
Q: health care. Obamacare – some glitches. What can Congress do? Are you in favor of single payer?
VA: “Glitches” is being generous. The rollout of the ACA was fraught with disaster. It is slowly getting on track. I’ve been watching this play out since I started going to Washington, DC in 2008. We need to get governors to expand Medicaid or go to the public option. Need to make it less expensive. Look at Medicare prescription drug program. We need to negotiate prices, which Bush made illegal. I would support [bill #], which is single payer.
DL: I’ve been thinking about health care a lot because I have kidney stones. All big programs have rough rollouts. Medicare Part D had a trouble rollout. I support single payer. Twenty cents out of every dollar goes to executive salaries. Single payer will happen. The right wants to chuck Obamacare because they know single payer is coming.
BB: Most industrialized countries spend 8 – 9% of their GDP on health care; we spend 19% and will have 50 million uninsured. We spend more for less benefits and lower results. The GOP says let’s have a 45th vote to defund it. I support the president but am disappointed that his program did not include public option. People are happy with Medicare. It is part of an evolution. Now the
government is forbidden to negotiate for drug prices. We could save billions of dollars.
Q: national security, NSA and domestic surveillance. Is Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor?
DL: Benjamin Franklin said if we give up liberty for security we deserve neither. Civil liberties is important to me. No evidence that the collection of data has helped with national security. Snowden – the facts he revealed are important but I’m troubled that every 28 year old with a security clearance to decides on his own whether or not to reveal classified information. Martin Luther King said don’t follow unjust laws but stay and face the consequences of what you’ve done.
BB: Yes, it is the Letter from Birmingham, not Notes from Russia. Why in a FISA court procedure is there no public advocate. Having a public advocate would help keep FISA court honest. From the start of the use there has been tension between security and liberty. Post 9/11 it has gone too far. Snowden – we don’t’ know yet what he has revealed because he left.
VA: As a doctor I know privacy and trust is important . We have the right to believe our government will treat our information the same. The nature of threats are evolving so rapidly. Total failure of congress to insist on appropriate transparency. Barack Obama took the first steps. I want public advocate on every single case. Rules on what we should be doing not what we can be doing. Snowden – had to break the law to show what we are doing. There should be a pathway for people to do that.
Q: Iran and nukes, support sanctions? Divest in Israel because of occupied territories?
BB: The movement to delegitimize Israel is anti-Semitic. Can’t compare Apartheid and Israel. I was in Israel in March. I want the peace process to succeed but divestiture and boycotts are not good. How can you boycott Israel and not the other Middle Eastern countries because of their treatment of women? Sanctions [missed this]
VA: Iran must be prevented from making bomb. Israel must be secure. Negotiate with Iran because the sanctions are working. We must give the negotiators a chance to do the right thing by lessening the sanctions. We can reinstate them if negotiations don’t work. Nothing Iran says will dismantle bomb-making equipment. No divestment from Israel.
DL: As a young Jewish boy with the last name Leach I heard some things. Jewish people need a place for sanctuary. I’ve been to Israel, once with Brendan Boyle, though not just the two of us, that would be creepy. Boycott – no. Israel is the only Middle Eastern county that supports women. Negotiate in good faith. I don’t believe war is the only option. I’m willing to go the extra mile to prevent American boys and girls from going to war. We can always reinstate sanctions.
Q: energy & fracking? Moratorium? Go slow until we get it right? Keystone pipeline?
VA: I am opposed to the Keystone pipeline. I was born and raised in Nebraska, and know how important the Oglala Aquifer is. I view the struggle with energy and environment as our generation’s moon shot. Surely we can figure out how to end dependence on carbon based energy. Fracking – congress ignores data and facts. Let’s get rid of the Halliburton Loophole. Fracking release methane, which is a bad as carbon dioxide.
DL: I read Silent Spring as a boy and became an environmentalist. I introduced a bill for a moratorium. It must be environmentally sound. We are building wells and cutting inspectors. We are not allowed to know what chemicals are used. Doctors can know but are not allowed to tell patients or insurance companies. Corbett has said I’m his least favorite senator. I oppose the Keystone Pipeline. It doesn’t create jobs, only profits for industry.
BB: We must include climate change. I’m in the Green Caucus, and joined 12 academics for an event. Pennsylvania produces 1% of the nation’s pollution. The ten hottest years on record all happened in this century. The environment is a health and economic issue. The National Caucus of Environmental Legislators meets a few times a year. It is a false dichotomy to say we have to choose between the environment and economic growth.
Q: War on drugs
DL: In introduced a bill to legalize marijuana, but not for kids. We are spending $300M a year on criminal justice [missed this word]. $500M spent on marijuana. Every dollar of legal money on pot is one dollar less for gangs or a cartel. Corbett wants to increase by 10 times the number of places to buy alcohol but no marijuana for sick kids.
BB: Drugs are a problem in Northeast Philadelphia where I grew up. Urban neighborhoods are destroyed. States are laboratories of democracy. Let’s see what happens in Colorado, etc. Medical marijuana – I co-sponsored the bill.
VA: The war on drugs became a war on our neighborhoods. No effects. Lifelong difficulties for non-violent offenses. Mandatory minimums must go. Need to solve poverty. Don’t let selling drugs be the most viable career path. Make treatment programs available. Support medical marijuana. Will let us collect data to decide about recreating marijuana. As a doctor I’m hesitant about inhaling any burning substance in the lungs.
Audience Question: Common Core Standards. Public Schools. Vouchers.
BB: My wife is a public school teacher. We just had our first baby three weeks ago. I’m proud of my record on public education. I voted against Corbett’s budgets. For 80% - 90% of school districts things are going well. In school where I grew up the graduation rate is 30%. We can’t deny those parents additional opportunities.
VA: Education is a fundamental right, and it fuels innovation and growth. Have dropped the ball entirely. I went to public schools. Teachers let me believe I could become a doctor. I favor universal pre-k. Teaching children to be lifelong learners not test takers. My kids – not about memorizing tests but learning context. They go to a private school, following their father’s tradition. No public school money for private school.
DL: I led the fight against the voucher bill. Only kids eligible were in failing schools. Took money from public schools to private schools. Kids left have less resources. Vouchers are not enough to go to most private schools, only Catholic schools, money goes to the diocese. Can’t teach with 50 kids in a class, or no computers. Use funding formula.
BB: Let’s be clear. I have stood up and voted for every single public school bill. The problems in the Philadelphia schools are budget related. There was a single mom crying in my office because her neighborhood school is dangerous. The Main Line can’t tell urban parents their kids can’t have the same opportunities.
VA: Against vouchers.
DL: I live on the Main Life. My kids should not be part of this debate. Where they go to school is my and my wife’s concern.
Audience Q: If you accomplish one thing what would it be?
VA: Make sure everyone in the US has access to quality health care and to get health care costs under control. Study – if people don’t have good health care access the chances of graduating from high school, so does life expectancy. 30% of the money spent on health care is unnecessary, unnecessary testing, duplicate tests.
DL: Gerrymandering, destroying our country [long answer that I was not able to accurately record]. Political incentive to govern by crisis. If the concern is a primary challenge then no incentive to reach across the aisle. Our elections becoming like Soviet elections.
BB: Hope to get to vote for a Democratic Speaker. Raising the standard of living for all Americans. In Pennsylvania we have the Delaware Loophole, 70% of Pennsylvania companies pay no taxes. Get back to where we all grow together.
Audience Q: Social security, Medicare. Marjorie Margolies was asked about cuts and said everything is on the table.
DL: Social Security is FDR’s most valuable program. Before Social Security 50% of seniors lived in poverty. Have to make promise believable. The chained cpi is a way to cut benefits. We need ecpi (elderly cpi) to keep Social Security vibrant. Remove the cap on the amount of income taxed for Social Security. Need to increase benefits. If we lift or remove the cap we could make lump sum payments to retirees, especially as pensions are going away.
BB: Disagree with Mrs. Margolies on this. Before Social Security poverty among seniors was 46%, not 6%. This is one of the most successful anti-poverty programs. The Republicans fought against Social Security. GOP says to save Social Security we will reduce benefits and raise the retirement age. Years ago there were only two advocates for raising the age to 70, Marjorie Margolies and Rick Santorum. Lifting the cap moves the problem to year 2100.
VA: Social Security is a promise to seniors. With Medicare it allows seniors to live with dignity. In the 13th district the average annual Social Security benefit is $14K. Don’t use chained cpi but chained cpie, it includes money spent on health care. When my dad grew up there were defined pensions. Recently people have to forgo that. Raise the cap to fund Social Security well into the future.
DL: When I heard that Allyson Schwartz wasn’t running again I thought “is this right for me? Am I the right person?” The candidate must be a progressive, have a substantial record, evidence of creativity, boldness, spark and take on problems. I am that person.
BB: Thanks to everyone, including 2 of the 3 opponents for being here. Be sure the candidate truly represents the district. Fight to restore the American dream. Work hard, play by the rules, and you will have opportunities and your children will have more.
VA: Thanks. Whoever wins the primary must be sure a progressive Democrat represents the district. Change comes from outside. For a physician the patient comes first. Constituents will be like my patients; they will come first. Elect me and I will have Daylin’s and Brendan’s backs.