Wednesday, May 07, 2014

April 7th Debate for Democratic Candidates in 13th Congressional District

On April 7th I attended a debate for the Democratic candidates for the 13th congressional district, held on the Penn State Abington campus.  I took notes and have typed them up for this post.  (I had typed them up earlier but the file was inadvertently deleted; thus the delay).  These are rough notes and by no means intended as a transcript.  I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions.  As always, interested voters are encouraged to contact the campaigns with any questions or concerns.  

A few personal observations are at the end.


Moderator:  Dave Davies

Questions:  moderator questions to all and one question specific to each candidate, questions not known in advance; audience questions, and closing statements

Abington Township Commissioner Steve Kline gives the ground rules, and introduces the moderator and candidates

Q1:  influencing educational policy

VA:  Thanks to all.  Education is personal.  I went to public schools in Nebraska.  The cuts here have been devastating to education.  Sequestration cut $3 Million.  The Ryan budget cuts [missed the number] Billion more.  We need early childhood education.  We need to untie teacher’s hands – now they teach to the test.  College must be affordable.  Advocate for federal government not to make money from student loans.

BB:  Thanks to all.  Very first bill I introduced was modeled on the Arkansas Hope Scholarships.  Still paying off my student loans.  A national crisis.  Pennsylvania has excellent public colleges and universities.  Pres. Obama says funding formula tied to affordability.  Other end – universal pre-k.  Only 5% of 3 year olds and 14% of 4 year olds are in pre-k.

DL:  Thanks to all.  I’m a product of public education, and went to 8 elementary schools.  In the legislation my first request was to be on the education committee.  I lead efforts to fight vouchers, etc.  I fought the bill that would have required school districts to pay for charter schools but no decision making ability to decide if they want them.  Your zipcode should not determine the quality of your education.  College – the pay it back / pay it forward, caps payments by percentage by percentage of income.

MM:  Thanks to all.  Agree with others.  Oppose privatization.  Edison schools in Philadelphia didn’t work.  Universal pre-k.  New higher education models.

Q to Daylin Leach:  You are called the liberal lion of Pennsylvania.  Voters want someone to get things done.  Your achievement record?

DL:  Legislation for ovarian / breast cancer screening.  Republicans took the idea.  Passed D Corp legislation.  Bill to allow medical marijuana was co-sponsored by the most conservative Republican in the Senate.  Passed bill so pregnant prisoners are not shackled in childbirth.  Also times to stand and fight – right to choose, voting rights.

Q2:  Social security.  Any adjustments to benefits or age?  What should be done?

BB:  Important to add context.  Social security to pay benefits and run a surplus, could last 28 years.  Problem begins in 2042.  Lift FICA cap to historic average.  Currently $100K, lower than past if adjusted for inflation.

DL:  Marjorie Margolies introduced legislation to eliminate COLAs for 80%, raise age to 70.  A few weeks ago said ask rich to voluntarily pay more.  Agree with B Boyle to raise FICA cap.  Use e-COLA not COLA.  Agree with Senator Elizabeth Warren, give seniors a modest sum on retirement to pay bills.  Private pensions being reduced.  People relying more and more and social security.

MM:  20 years ago Pres. Clinton came to an entitlement seminar here, everything on the table.  Do not agree with raising retirement age.  Must raise cap to $500K.

VA:  Social security and medicare are lifelines.  Must be there for our seniors.  CIE important, more realistic way to calculate market basket for seniors.  Raise FICA tax.  Totality of benefits.  In 13th district [missed this number] families receive [missed this number].  Deeply committed to this issue.  Endorsed by the National Committee to Protect Social Security.

Q to  Brendan Boyle:  Voted for new restrictions on abortion clinics.  Position?

BB:  Fully support Roe v Wade.  Tragic mistake to make criminals out of women or doctors.  GOP offensive with they talk flippantly of rape.  At 37 my views are different than when I was in my 20s.  Last election I was one of the targets for a national pro-life group.  In my legislative career I voted with Planned Parenthood in 12 of 14 votes.  I voted for that bill because it required annual health inspections, to prevent future Gosnells. 

Q3:  Leadership skills.  Moment from professional life

DL:  First, the PA Supreme Court was 4-3 GOP.  One justice left, so it was 3-3.  Corbett gets to appoint the replacement justice.  I went to the caucus, got them to agree.  Sent a list of 5 names, said Dems would agree to appoint any of them.  5 GOP that people thought would be fair.  Corbett picked 1 (Cory Stevens).  Secondly I stood my ground, and the bill was passed.

MM:  I adopted two foreign children.  It was illegal for single women to adopt so one came in as a student.  In Congress I had a working relationship with the majority leader when there wer more than 40 women in Congress we got together, came up with a list of 4 issues to work on, including sexual harassment.   The Clinton budget – voted to push it over, voted out of office because of it, but it was the right thing to do.

VA:  I was the chair of the Dept of Anesthesiology at Drexel, had multi-million dollar budget deficit.  I was an economics major in college.  I made decisions and got budget under control.  As president of the National Physicians Alliance I was working on the Affordable Care Act and a proponent of single payer.  When the last Sen. Kennedy bill was in the senate we couldn’t get single payer but keep going.

BB:  Five years ago when elected I was the first Democrat in that district.  On the state government committee, a controversial bill, a non-discrimination bill.  I was surprised it wasn’t already illegal.  I received over 1,000 emails, 99% disagreed with the bill but I voted for it anyway.  It passed the house but not the senate.

Q4:  Name a public figure you admire, a role model

MM:  Elizabeth Warren, for banking regulations

VA:  Donna Edwards, Congresswoman, progressive, brings people together

BB:  Daniel Patrick Moynihan, brings ideas to the public arena, got them passed

DL:  William Brennan, Supreme Court Justice

Q for Marjorie Margolies:  You were in charge of a non-profit, Women’s Campaign International, in 2001 there was a vote for a salary increase, some discussion of renovating a Fairmount Park mansion that you might live in

MM:  did not vote for my own salary.  Park wanted to rent houses to ngos [non-governmental agencies].  A plan was prepared but it never happened, just discussed.  [Reads from Inquirer articles which says her salary was comparable to other organizations]

Q5:  Foreign policy.  Proper use of American power.  Syria, Ukraine.

VA:  Significant challenges.  Distilled down to dependence on oil or natural gas.  Europeans get natural gas from Russia.  Europe is not responding to the crisis.  US needs to move away from dependence on foreign oil, etc.  US needs to get everyone to the table.  Last resort is to go in with troops.  Rule – be an arbiter for democracy.

BB:  From World War 2 to 1990/91 the Cold War is the prism to look through.  Now post-Cold War era.  Deal with national states sponsoring terrorism.  Putin has nostalgia for USSR.  NATO – hard to keep together in post – Cold War era.   Work with NATO, nation’s chip in and help.  Preserve trans-Atlantic relationship.  Let’s not be lulled into a false sense of security.

DL:  We’ve been too anxious to go to war.  Self-defense necessary and legitimate role.  Recent conflicts been of choice.  Less stable countries quicker to go to war.  Russia – we are facing different situation.  Put seems unstable.  If he goes in what do we do?  Dividends of ending Cold War at risk.  Hope Putin walks back.

MM:  Condemn annexation of Crimea.  Support sanctions.  Hope allies step in.  Part of delegation that went to the Ukraine before the Orange Revolution.  Protestors said they wanted independence.  I was President of Womens Campaign International.  US should invest in more human capital.  Get women to the table.

Q to Valerie Arkoosh:  You said you are not a politician.   Can you build political relationships?

VA:  Congress is full of career politicians, not getting the job done.  Lived in district 17(?) years, involved in community.  Have patients from NorthEast Philadelphia.  Unique policy background.  I have a degree in economics and also in public health.  My natural constituencies are women and bipartisan issues.  The GOP has a doctors caucus.  It has 14 Republicans.  There are 3 Democrats but they still don’t have a bipartisan caucus.  There are no women doctors in Congress.  I am uniquely qualified.

Q6:  tough job, fundraising.  Will you be there for your constituents?

BB:  It is an overlooked aspect of this job.  When I took office in 2008 it was important to have top notch constituent service.  In the state house I ranked second in constituent service (my brother Kevin is ranked first).  I take the job seriously.  It can be difficult.

DL:  Gerrymandering is an evil.  The 13th congressional district is not one that requires constant fundraising.  I have amazing constituent service.  I love engaging with people, debating.  We can solve gerrymandering at the national level, with a constitutional amendment.

MM:  I have kept in touch with Congress, can get things done on Day 1.  Women.  I get lots of funding, including Dept of Defense for advocacy training.  Government shutdown, women got together and made it stop. 

VA:  Actions speak louder than words.  I recruited a diverse campaign team.  They have health insurance.  I’ve shown up for all the debates and public opportunity.  I’ve gotten to know so many incredible people in the 13th

Audience questions

Q7:  Immigration, path to citizenship

DL:  Strong supporter of immigration reform, moral, economic and security issue

MM  Senate passed path to citizenship.  Never brought up in the House.  Important economic issue.

VA:  My great-grandparents immigrated here to work on the railroads.  Support DREAM Act.  Re-examine deportation policies.  Expand guest worker and visa program.

BB:  Nation of immigrants.  My father was an immigrant.  Some of the language at the national level is incendiary.  Fix broken illegal and legal immigration system.  Ting part of Tea Party is preventing action on this.

Q8:  gun violence

MM:  I was there when Congress passed the assault weapons ban and Brady bill.  Look at violence in schools and Gabby Giffords.  Must stop being afraid of the NRA.

VA:  Spend countless nights trying to keep people alive.  90% of the public supports sensible regulations.  Close background check loophole, assault weapons, etc.  heart aches for family of 11 year old shot by 2 year old in Philadelphia.

BB:  Endorsed by Philadelphia FOP.  In Philadelphia 50% of guns from straw purchase.  Need robust lost and stolen provision.

DL: Debate this a lot.  Went to Hershey to fire guns and see what it is like.  Some people shouldn’t have guns.  Some weapons no civilian needs.  One gun a month.

Q9:  Supreme Court, political contributions.  Will you accept any money?

VA:  Campaign finance is critical.  Spigot is wide open for wealth to influence.  Need constitutional amendment.  Need transparency.  Big fan of public financing.  Small donations tax deductible.  Federal matching.  98% of the money I raised is from individual donors.

BB: Recent decision similar to Citizens United.  Central failing is the fact that the majority of the Supreme Court justices equate money with freedom of speech.  Need constitutional amendment.  Play by the rules of the game.

DL:  Citizens’ United single worst decision of the last 100 years.  Political system bought and paid for.  Running for Congress all you do is raise money.  Terrible, unpleasant, and undignified.

MM:  Why wait for a law to pass.  Ask all not to accept independent expenditures, Super PACs.

Closing statements

DL:  What would I want as a Congressman?  Someone with a record of consistency, plus a spark, compassion, willingness to fight for lost causes.  Progressive champion.  Existential things that we hold dear.  Right to vote.  Climate change.  Income inequality.  Major fights.  Little people need a champion.  Won’t win every battle but will fight every battle.

MM:  Little that separates the candidates.  My time in Congress and work with Women’s Campaign International will make me a much more effective candidate.  I am 100% pro-choice.  [takes shots at Boyle over choice and his view that no millionaires in Congress – citing Ted Kennedy].  Disagrees with Daylin Leach on legalizing recreational marijuana, citing case of murderer high on marijuana.  Daylin Leach badmouths Steny Hoyer.  Steny is a friend of mine and effective.  Val Arkoosh – [something about single payer].

VA:  I have experience working on health care.  DC is full of career politicians.  Need an ally not just a representative.  More than health care candidate.  Health candidate.  Oppose vouchers and charter schools.  Environment.  Access to quality affordable health care.  There is a way to get things done in Washington.  Doctors bring people together to solve problems.

BB:  A candidate has the benefit of a famous relative.  My dad is a DEPTA janitor, worked at a warehouse before that.  Work ethic.  Race not about Bill Clinton but Frank Boyle and others like him.  Income equality.  Need a change in Washington.

Personal observations:

Mrs. Margolies spoke with some difficulty -- she had a sore throat.  That may be why she read several of her answers off of cards.  She misunderstood one of the questions, about how the candidates would stay in touch with constituents.  She talked about her connections to Congresss.  Her remark about recreational marijuana use leading to murder got some laughs.  

Sen. Leach noted that he likes to engage people and debate.  I can vouch for that.  

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