Waldo County Senate Candidate Forum
Saturday, April 8, 2006, Belfast Library
- Senator Snowe is consistently ranked as one of the most popular Senators in America, if not the most popular. What is your message and strategy for convincing voters she is not worthy of their support?
This question focuses on Olympia Snowe's popularity. In today's BDN, we have a different poll that asks about actually voting for her. Olympia Snowe pulls 63 percent against any unnamed Democratic nominee. What that tells you is that any Democratic nominee is not enough. As we saw with the Kerry campaign, it is not enough to be the "vote for me because I'm not the incumbent" candidate.
Here's my campaign's two-point strategy:
- Give people enough information that they will see the need for voting Olympia Snowe out of office.
- Give people a candidate with backbone and conviction, one who shares their view of the world, so they can comfortably and enthusiastically vote FOR the America they want to live in. That's me.
First, we need to make people aware of Olympia Snowe's actual voting record, particularly over the last several years. Olympia Snowe is riding on her long-ago reputation as a pro-choice moderate, which as we all know is no longer the case. Factual information about some of her most egregious votes needs to get out there. Fortunately for me in this race, but unfortunately for the United State of America, she has been casting some awful votes lately, votes that clearly don't match the rhetoric that gets into the papers. We need to let people know what she's actually doing.
Second, even when people have strong motivation to vote against a given incumbent, people also look for something to vote FOR. That's where my own personal history over the past 34 years in Maine comes in -
- my books and published columns that show people how I see the world, from a progressive, peace-oriented, organic, and sustainable perspective.
- my long record of political activism on environmental, agricultural, civil rights, gay rights and energy issues.
- my strong record on choice and women's rights that, at this point in time, trumps Olympia Snowe's record.
- my political connections that are centered on my long involvement with the Maine Democratic party, but also range all across the political spectrum.
- This is where I tell you that my husband David Bright was co-coordinator in Maine for the Kucinich for President campaign in 2004, and that I was on the founding board of the Maine Progressive Caucus.
- Also, that the co-chair of Maine's Green Independent Party was on my campaign exploratory committee, he is posted as a supporter on my web page, and he has contributed money to my campaign.
- Also, I was just recently endorsed by the fledgling Veterans Party in Maine because of my strong stance on veterans issues, an endorsement that is very telling considering my staunch opposition to the Iraq War.
- Because of my diverse personal background, living and working in Maine the last three decades, I have made many personal connections that I will capitalize on in this race.
My job in the next six months is to get that 63 percent down to 49 percent or less. This is definitely do-able.
- What needs to be done in Iraq in order for us to stabilize that country and get our troops out?
I see our presence in Iraq as a major part of the problem, the cause and focus of much of the violence happening in that country today. Getting our troops out will help to stabilize that country, which is now in the midst of a civil war. I cannot see any indication that our military presence in Iraq is preventing any of this violence from happening. On the contrary, I do believe that our presence there is fueling the violence, not stopping it.
We are like a bear who punched a fist into a hornet's nest, thinking he would find sweet honey. We need to remove that fist and let the hornets go about the business of fixing the damage we caused and rebuilding their nest.
We are ready targets, fighting an enemy that we cannot identify. We are an occupying army in a country that wants us gone. We have destroyed Iraq, its culture, its government, its infrastructure, and reportedly killed around 100,000 of its citizens (even George Bush admits to 30,000 Iraqis dead from our bombs, ten times the number of people who died on 9/11 -- which, as we all know, had nothing to do with Iraq).
I agree with Rep. Murtha that we have reached the end of our ability to do anything more militarily in Iraq. Our troops are not trained in nation building, that's not their job. To continue to place our good men and women in harms way for an objective ("total victory") that is amorphous and unattainable is foolishness of the highest order, and an unbelievably crass disregard for American life (not to mention Iraqi life) by a president who defines himself as a "war president."
We need to get out of the way of the fledgling government, and let them take back control of their own country. What is going on now, from my perspective, involves widespread criminal activity (kidnappings, roadside bombings, battles for dominance by various religious factions) in a country that is lacking a functioning domestic police force and judiciary. The United Nations and some countries in Europe might be able to provide some policing units to help stabilize the situation, but our military cannot. And our continuing presence there only serves to ratchet up the intensity of the violence.
We are not welcome there, half the population thinks it's OK to try to kill American troops because they are an occupying army (which we are), the fledgling government clearly resented the interjection of Condoleeza Rice and Jack Straw recently when they tried to get a duly-elected high Iraqi official to resign because they didn't like the outcome of the election that we so prominently touted as the foundation of their new democracy. We made a mistake going in, we need to admit we made a mistake, we have to pay for the damage we have done (which will take decades and billions more dollars we cannot afford), we have to let go of our arrogance, and we have to step back and let the country get back on its feet.
- Should national Democrats be pushing right now for censure of the President for breaking the law and violating the civil liberties of American citizens? Should they be pushing right now for an investigation of whether or not the public was deliberately mislead regarding the lead up to the Iraq war? How will you approach these issues in your campaign?
I have publicly supported Sen. Russ Feingold's censure resolution. I have publicly supported Rep. John Conyers' call for a special committee to investigate impeachable violations by the Bush administration. I have said repeatedly that when I am elected, I will vote with the new Democratic majority in the Senate to launch investigations into:
- the lies that got us into the Iraq war,
- the torture of our war prisoners and "enemy combatants"
- the secret CIA prisons in foreign countries
- the denial of habeas corpus rights to Guantanamo Bay detainees
- the corruption in the Iraq reconstruction contracts
- the incompetence at FEMA and Homeland Security
- the admittedly illegal spying on Americans by the Bush administration,
- the outing of a CIA agent by the vice-president and president
This Administration and the Republican Congress are wildly out of control. It is time to take our country back.
- The Dubai Ports deal was typical of this administration- secretive, self-serving and corrupt. However, those who opposed it, including many Democrats, resorted to arguments that were racist and xenophobic. What would have been your argument against this shady deal?
My first reaction when I heard that the United Arab Emirates was about to buy about two dozen U.S. port facilities from a British conglomerate was: What the heck is a British company doing owning any of our port facilities? Our ports are part of our critical infrastructure and should not be owned by any foreign entity, government or private corporation. Neither should any multi-national or international outfit be allowed to own those facilities. At a minimum ownership should be limited to solely American companies. My preference, however, would be for those facilities to be government-owned, not necessarily federal government, but by some state or city port authority. That is the only way we have of guaranteeing that our national security interests are in the hands of people actually interested in our national security.
- What do you see as the flaws in trade deals like NAFTA? What should be done to correct them and what are your criteria for measuring whether a proposed trade deal is a fair deal for America's workers and communities?
As I wrote in 1993, before NAFTA became law (on page 35 of my book), my two greatest concerns after reading the actual NAFTA document were these. First, that the terms of the treaty superceded all our national laws, including any state law that hinders trade with either of these two countries, and even superceded the authority of our own Supreme court. Second, the secrecy, confidentiality, and inaccessibility of information built into this law and any appeals to this law makes any meaningful oversight impossible. The sidebar agreements on labor and human rights issues that President Clinton tacked onto the treaty were for show, and were not expected to be enforceable, even back then.
We need to get out of NAFTA and CAFTA, which we can do in six months if we chose to, and we need to start from scratch forming better international partnerships, with labor and human rights issues at the base, not as the ineffectual window dressing.
But beyond NAFTA and CAFTA, we also need to get out of the World Trade Organization. In today's Bangor Daily News, we have an article that talks about Governor Baldacci requesting an exemption for Maine from the WTO's proposed service sector rules. According to this article, those WTO rules would make it illegal to "create a government monopoly in a service sector that is covered by this agreement." In other words, without a specific exemption, if the government -- federal, state or local -- offers a service that is also offered by private industry, the government must stop offering that service. This includes universal health care and publicly colleges like the University of Maine system.
This is totally unacceptable. But it certainly helps to explain some of the forces we are up against. The Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress think the WTO service sector rules are a good idea.
- The poorer and younger you are, the less likely you are to vote. This is inherently to the detriment of liberal political power and to the benefit of conservatives. How do we reverse this? How specifically do we re-engage the young and the poor in politics? What electoral reforms should be pursued that would make people feel that their voice and vote matter?
The young and the poor are often made to feel powerless or inconsequential. But both, I think, have a core of hope against all odds that we need to tap into. The young are still idealistic, so I have been urging them to envision the America they want to live in, and to vote for those candidates who most closely share that vision. The poor are eternal optimists. How else to explain that the Maine State lottery is most popular in Washington County, the poorest county in the state? There too, I tell them they have that right, to vote for the America they want to live in. Just asking them for their thoughts, their opinions, their votes, is often enough to get them motivated. And so it starts.
- Anti-trust law was originally created, not to constrain market share, but to constrain the concentration of political power by the corporate and wealthy elite. That lesson has been completely lost. How would you seek to constrain and check the power of corporations to influence our political system?
I disagree with the original premise of this statement. As I understand it, anti-trust legislation was created at the beginning of the last century precisely TO constrain market share, that is to prevent one corporation or a handful of corporations acting in concert from obtaining 100 percent of the market share. This was accomplished by a strong government that recognized the danger of corporate monopolies in key segments of the economy. If corporations already had a lock on political power, these laws would never have seen the light of day.
Anti-trust laws have been weakened in the last few decades as corporate interests have come to dominate Washington. We need to reverse this trend, and strengthen governmental oversight of these key economic components. We need to take Capitalism, with a capital C, off the pedestal it has been on for far too long. We now know, with the announcement of thousands of layoffs, that what is good for General Motors is not necessarily good for America.
We can start by introducing legislation clarifying once and for all that corporations are not persons, and have none of the rights that our Constitution gives to persons. Corporations exist only because they are chartered by the state. We must make it clear that their right to exist must clearly benefit the state, or the corporation will cease to exist.
We can get out of NAFTA, CAFTA and, as I mentioned earlier, the WTO, where corporate and capitalist interest supercede human rights and worker rights. We need to rescind legislation that rewards the outsourcing of American jobs.
We need to recognize government's essential and key role in promoting the general welfare of its citizens, if necessary by constraining artificial entities that have proven harmful to our own best interests. Government can do this by denying them the right to operate that way, or, if necessary, by denying them the right to exist within our borders.
We need to take back our country, not only from the Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress, but from the dominant corporate mentality. And the only way we will get this done is if we specifically vote into office those candidates who have the commitment to going down this path. Vote for the America you want to live in.
- America hasn't had a real industrial policy for decades. Low-income and laid-off workers can't meet their family's basic human needs and get on and move up the economic ladder. For the first time, the middle class is shrinking. The wealthy elite are paying much lower taxes on a much greater concentration of wealth while working Americans have seen there taxes go up and their economic security eroded. What is your vision of an American economy that addresses these problems and what is the most important initiative needed to get there?
Lots of pieces to this.
My labor policy includes a minimum wage that is a living wage for a single adult, OSHA standards that are tightened and enforced, stabilization of pensions and Social Security, and a national single-payer health care program that is not tied to a job.
My tax policy is one based on the recognition that well-run government programs are what hold this country together, and that people - and businesses - have a responsibility to fund that government and those programs through fair taxation. Right now the burden is falling on the shrinking middle class, and that's simply not fair - nor sustainable.
So we start with rescinding those budget-busting tax breaks for the richest among us. Then we start taxing unearned income, like capital gains, at the same rate that we tax earned income, the kind that comes in a paycheck. I have never understood why income that is unearned should be taxed lower than income that is gained by the sweat of one's brow.
We then dispense with this foolishness of eliminating the estate tax on multi-million dollar estates. I think we should have a generous exempted threshold of several million dollars, and that we should make some provisions for real estate to be passed down generationally, with taxes not collected until the property is sold. That will take care of those family farms and small businesses. Beyond that, it is fair and appropriate to tax those assets as they pass from one generation or set of hands to another. That's how we collect most of our taxes (income taxes, sales taxes, gasoline taxes), when money passes from one set of hands to another.
Next, we penalize, not promote, the outsourcing of American jobs. And we reestablish fair taxes on corporate profits, making capitalism pay its fair share for the multitude of benefits it receives under our system of government.
As for a real industrial policy, I think we need to start looking at our manufacturing base in terms of national security. My dad worked in one of five steel mills that were chugging away when I was growing up in Youngstown Ohio. None of those mills are left now. What do we do when China decides it needs its steel to build its own economy, and won't sell us any more? As far as I know, we have no plan for that eventuality, or so many others.
- The backbone of the Democratic Party has atrophied at the same pace as the share of the American workforce that is unionized has shrunk. This is not coincidence. Organized labor and a democratic workplace are fundamental to a fair, just and humane economy. What will you do to facilitate the ability of workers to organize a union in their workplace?
First, we start with a national recognition that the workers of America are the driving force in this country. To have a thriving economy, we need a healthy working and middle class. As politicians who do not understand the significance of that dynamic have been elected, labor laws have been adjusted to benefit the corporations and Wall Street, to the detriment of the middle and working classes. This, coupled with the costs of the Iraq War and the tax breaks for the rich, have brought this country to the brink of bankruptcy.
Government labor policies should form the basis for all labor relations. We need to elect politicians who recognize the necessity for a balanced, respectful business/labor relationship. This needs to become national policy. If businesses refuse to negotiate with labor fairly, then the government must step in on the side of labor. We have done that before, with great success, with such things as the 40-hour work week, overtime regulations, OSHA standards, Social Security. We need to do it with health care. We need to look at implementing fair hiring and firing practices, with reasonable grievance procedures, again done by the government if union contracts are inadequate or are not in place.
Under my scenario, government regulations would provide the baseline. Union contracts would not have to be all-encompassing documents reinventing the labor wheel from the ground up. Also, basic union membership should be as portable as Social Security, and, like my proposal for national health care, would not necessarily be tied to employment by one specific company. With basic legal underpinning for labor as a part of federal labor law, specific union contracts with specific industries or employers would be negotiated as supplemental agreements pertinent to specific skills or requirements. That would put business and labor on an equal footing in negotiations, which is what needs to happen for a balanced and thriving economy.
- What should be done about the failures of the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, and what other steps would you advocate to bring health care to all Americans?
Olympia Snowe voted for Medicare Part D, knowing full well that it banned negotiations on drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. Not surprisingly, if you check her FEC campaign contribution list, you will see names of lots of drug companies, insurance companies, hospital corporations. So I have no sympathy for her recent and sudden recognition that that part of the new law needs to be changed. Once again, she sounds like she cares, but she votes like she doesn't.
The obvious solution to bringing health care to all Americans is to establish a national health care system like every other industrialized nation in the world. Expand the Medicare system to cover all Americans. Fold in the VA medical program, the Federal Employees medical plan, all the state employees health care plans. Tax employers a certain percentage of their payroll costs, as Maryland did just recently with Wal-Mart, and throw that into the mix. And yes, raise taxes, proportionally and progressively, on individual incomes, to cover the rest. We can do this.
- Is a woman's ability to get an abortion a constitutionally protected right? Where is the common ground for people of different views on the issue of reproductive freedom?
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons," a phrase right out of the 4th Amendment, seems pretty straightforward to me. But beyond that constitutional right, a woman's right to decide what happens to her body is a fundamental human right.
Roe v. Wade is a remarkable document. It looks at that fundamental right in terms of the developing fetus, and clearly states that a pregnant woman starts to share with the "state" the right to say what happens to the growing fetus as the fetus itself matures toward viability - the ability to be separated from the pregnant woman, by whatever means, and live to tell about it. It is at that point of viability that the government gains a legitimate interest in, and the right to intercede in some cases, in a pregnant woman's decision on whether or not to continue a pregnancy. I think that is a valid and appropriate position for our government to take.
What is also in Roe v. Wade, to its credit, is a straight-forward statement that the court decision deliberately excludes theology, the issue of when life begins. To me, that is at the crux of this issue. The push to criminalize abortion is a religious drive, by people whose religious beliefs do not allow them to see abortion in any secular context. So I see the abortion debate not just in terms of Constitutional rights, or even fundamental human rights, but also in terms of religious freedom.
A woman has the fundamental human right to make reproductive decisions, including the decision about whether or not to continue a given pregnancy. And she has the right to make that decision based on her own religious beliefs, only constrained in the United States by the "viability" factor in the Roe v. Wade court decision. And based on our Constitution's First Amendment rights, she has the right to make that very personal and religious decision without coercion by state or federal laws promulgated on the religious beliefs of others, beliefs to which she may not subscribe.
My position is that Roe v. Wade IS the common ground we are looking for.
- President Bush declared that America needs to break our addiction to oil, but its clear from his record that he doesn't intend to do anything to make that happen. Considering that energy policy has big implications for the environment, global warming, and national and economic security, something needs to change now. What are the first steps needed?
One of the idiocies of the Iraq War is that we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars in an attempt to monopolize the last vestiges of oil in the Middle East, when, if we had spent those hundreds of billions of dollars on moving the country to sustainable energy, we would be there already.
The violence of this war, the financial drain on the economy, and the huge increases in gasoline and home heating oil prices has forced an awareness of the trouble we're in. I've heard more talk about peak oil and sustainable energy in the last six months than I have in the last 25 years. Which is good.
The first step is to admit that we're at or near peak oil, and that we need to move to sustainable energy as quickly as possible, for our own survival as a nation and as a species. Increased mileage requirements on vehicles is the simplest and easiest first step. Ethanol and biodiesel development comes next, provided we can figure out how to grow the crops and make these fuels using less energy than we get from the final product. Develop electric cars that can be recharged at home using solar panels or wind turbines. Substantial research into and development of sustainable and renewable energy sources - wind, solar, hydro, in some places with hot springs, thermal. Building codes that require solar panels in all new home construction, as some European countries already require. Retrofitting of older homes for energy conservation. More energy-efficient appliances, including ones that can run directly off solar panels. Local and regionalized agricultural systems, to minimize the trucking of food across the country - along with a cultural change in thinking so we do not demand, nor expect to see, strawberries sold in Maine in January.
We need to undertake this challenge the way we did going to the moon in the 1960s. We need to focus our national attention on it, and use our brightest minds to come up with pieces of the solution to this multi-layered problem. We need to figure out how we can live well with less, and in peace with our neighbors, down the block and around the world.
- Because of various constraints on political debate (time, money, media, need to stay on a message, etc.), there are many important issues that don't get the attention they should. Describe one bold policy idea that you want to fight for that is outside today's discussion, and that demonstrates your vision of and commitment to a better America.
Election reform. Standardized paper ballots for all federal offices, standardized voter eligibility for casting those votes for federal offices, and voting on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
Balloting for all federal offices, President, U.S. Senate and Congress, should be done on paper ballots, separate from ballots for state or local candidates, with a standardized format all across the country. No computer balloting, no touch-screens, no mechanical lever balloting, no punch-cards, just paper ballots with pencils to mark them with. Counting would be done by hand. Scanners like we have in many towns in Maine could be used to get an initial count, but the official count would be the hand-count done on election night, either before or after the scan.
Voter eligibility is the next big issue. U.S. citizens voting in federal elections, for President, U.S. Senate and Congress, should have the same voting rights all across the country. This is an "equal protection" issue. Right now voter eligibility rules are all over the map. Maine is very progressive in that we have same-day voter registration, and we allow felons to vote. Other states have various waiting periods for registration, some of them longer than the waiting period for buying a gun. Many states ban felons from voting for life. I think states have the right to set those standards for elections within their own state, but when voting for federal candidates, the voter eligibility rules should be the same all across the country. Yes, we may end up with someone who can vote for president but not for his own state senator, but that's OK. If federal candidates are already listed on a separate ballot, like I propose, this should not be a problem.
The third election reform I propose is to move election day to Veterans Day, November 11. What more fitting tribute to the importance of veterans in the nation's history than to designate their special day, already set up as a national holiday, as the day to elect our federal office-holders. Beyond the symbolism, we have the practicality of more working people being able to vote. Working people having to take time off from work to go and vote has been an insurmountable impediment for too many people with our current Tuesday voting. Also, with those paper ballots, we'll need more ballot clerks counting those ballots, which we are more likely to get if people have the day off anyway.
Standardized paper ballots for federal offices, standardized voter eligibility for casting those votes for federal offices, and voting on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.