Hello Loyal Readers!
Last night, I attended the Tea Party forum held at Whatcom Community College attended by a loose association of conservative federal candidates and both sides of the battle royale in the 42nd legislative district. Having returned, unscathed, I bring you a whole report complete with pictures, quotes and video. Yes, I even managed to snag some video clips of the forum, which you will see in my next post. However, because of the sheer volume of material, I am splitting this blog post in two. This post will cover the ever-colorful federal candidates, while my next post will cover the legislative district candidates.
First thing I noticed was the crowd. As usual with Tea Party events, the demographics skewed older and whiter, but I did notice a generous sprinkling of younger volunteers and even a few young-ish attendees. Candidates milled around in the hallway, glad-handing voters before the debate began. The media was there in full force, with Jonathan Martin of the Seattle Times, Jared Paben and John Stark of the Bellingham Herald, and Dillion Honcoop of KGMI on site.
Since I don’t have a big organization backing my journalistic efforts here at The Political Junkie, I have to do it all out-of-pocket. If you want to throw me a few bucks for my trouble, here’s the digital tip jar. Every little bit helps.
As required at all Tea Party events, Vincent Buys sang the national anthem. I might not vote for him but I definitely would buy an album of his best hits because that handsome Lynden man has got a voice. Moving right along, Professor Thorndike who was moderating the forum reminded everyone that, “As with all Tea Party events, respectful behavior is expected at all times.” This admonishment was almost followed, which I will get into in my second post. But enough scene-setting, let’s get to the debate!
For the brand new 1st congressional district, only Larry Ishmael (Independent) and John Koster (Republican) showed up. Apparently, all the Democratic challenges for this seat were busy asking their mom to stop funding negative ads, self-funding their campaigns, funding then releasing their own polling, or self-publishing a magazine about themselves. Oh yeah, and maybe Darshan Rauniyar was busy too. Anyway, I’m working on an article over the weekend with a full update on the Democratic side of the 1st congressional district, so hold tight on all that.
After Ishmael and Koster, there was state Sen. Michael Baumgartner who has the dubious delight of challenging Maria Cantwell this year, and Chuck Jackson, who is also competing for that seat. While Baumgartner reached forward and spoke clearly and articulately into the microphone, Jackson, in his flannel shirt, mumbled from a distance. As a result, it was difficult for me to get all of his answers. Next to him sat the candidates for the 2nd Congressional district, starting with Mike LaPointe, a third-party candidate who describes himself as representing the “99%”. After that was Dan Matthews, whom I interviewed at the GOP county convention this year, and John C. W. Shoop, a large man with a large hat and a large voice running to “the right of Limbaugh.” Also included was Eli Olson, another Republican running for this seat. As expected, Rick Larsen and Maria Cantwell decided to skip this debate, leaving Mike LaPointe as the only non-conservative for this panel. Got all that? Okay.
First question was about Obama’s use of executive orders and the rule of law. John Koster cut right to the focus of the question with his answer. “That man has played fast and loose with the constitution and he needs to respect the rule of law. The biggest and best way to solve this problem is to replace the president.” The next question focused on immigration and e-verify, an electronic method to determine worker eligibility. Jackson immediately answered that he had no idea what e-verify was, but Baumgartner answered with a solid nod toward Homeland Security. “It’s a national security issue to have folks in this country who we don’t know who they are. It can’t be up to business owners alone, we need more secure borders.” Koster offered a similar response noting, “Some migrant workers work different farms each day, we have to give them some sort of paperwork to hand their employers.”
The next question sounded surprisingly Occupy-ish (is that a word? Occupy-ey? Occupy-entine? Help me out here, wordsmiths!) “Since more than 90% of our news is owned by corporations, how can we get news that isn’t slanted by corporate interests?” Baumgartner gave a shout out to the non-traditional media like yours truly, saying, “The rise of bloggers and independent journalists has really given us an opportunity. We need to support net neutrality, as long as people keep their 1st Amendment rights, we will be able to get the information we need.” LaPointe lamented the decline of investigative reporting. “Newspapers have laid off all their investigative journalists, now they just print the he-said, she-said. We have to step up and get the word out.”
Matthews reinforced Baumgartner’s point about net neutrality, but seemed to be a little confused about how it works. He said, “I trust the intelligence of the American people, information is available in all venues and that is why we need net neutrality. We need to keep governemnt out of the picture when it comes to the internet.” Which is more than a little confusing. For those of you who don’t know, net neutrality is a response to internet providers being able to control how fast or slow a website loads. Comcast, and other providers, could decide tomorrow that Netflix, who is a competitor for their television dollars, will load really, really slowly, ensuring that customers get frustrated and turn to Comcast for their Doctor Who fix. As far as we know, companies have not done this, yet, but many have discussed it. Various groups are urging the government to outlaw such practices before they are enacted to ensure “net neutrality,” i.e. all internet sites are treated neutrally by the companies that deliver them. Which brings me back to Matthews statement, if he wanted to keep government out of the picture, then he would be arguing against net neutrality. If he wanted to protect us from such practices, he should be arguing FOR more government intervention.
Moving right along, we got to private property rights. Olson and Matthews both name checked Agenda 21, a rather innocent UN resolution calling for nations to work to prevent climate change that is prominently featured in many Glenn Beck-ian theories. If you want to see some of that paranoia, check out KGMI host Patti Brooks’ favorite site, The Whatcom Excavator. LaPointe, in his first chance to talk, disagreed. “I have problems with the property rights of private corporations because they often abuse the environment. They don’t have the right to abuse the environment on their property, that affects us all!”
The real fireworks started when a question was asked about Obama’s recent statement concerning successful people and how they got there. The president was talking about how bridges and roads help businesses succeed, but the conservative media and the Romney campaign has selectively edited his remarks to make it appear as if he is saying that entrepreneurs don’t create businesses. Did that stop our candidates at the Tea Party forum? Not in the slightest. Ishmael tied it to his ancestors fighting in the Whiskey rebellion of 1791. Shoop, noting that he has owned general partnerships before, said, “Businesses in America today are being strangled. You hire one employee, you have to hire three more: an attorney, a bookkeeper and an accountant!” Olson went straight for the ad hominem, “I really think the president was talking about himself on that one, when he was looking at the teleprompter.”
Finally, several answers in, we get a question about the Affordable Care Act. “Should Congress be exempt from Obamacare?” Most candidates used the question as an excuse to rip on Obama, but Shoop answered with an extended metaphor about a surgeon removing cancer from your colon, ending with, “Obamacare is a blight on America, a cancer, and it needs to be removed.” Ishmael and Koster both promised to repeal it.
Next was a question about making English the official language of the United States. Prof. Thorndike allowed everyone to answer this question because, “I imagine it will be a short answer.” Koster, Ishmael and Baumgartner all answered with a terse, “yes,” but when it got to LaPointe, he leaped on the question. “Absolutely not. We weren’t the first ones here. It was the native American Indians. Are we speaking their language? We shouldn’t be demanding that they speak our language, we are playing the blame game. This is America, people can speak any language they want. I shouldn’t have that power, we are all equal here.” To my surprise, the crowd gave him an enthusiastic response.
Matthews directly followed with, “Si. What better way to unite us than a common language?” Shoop touted his experience in Israel where the government offers classes to speak Hebrew, and finished saying that he “doesn’t want to press two for anything!”
Thorndike, ever the professor, offered that in Israel, the street signs are actually in Hebrew, Arabic and English.
The next question was about tax reform, and if the top 10% of wage earners pay enough taxes. Shoop said he would shrink the tax code “till even an IRS agent could understand it.” Matthews took a swing at class warfare saying, “More than half the people in this country don’t pay any tax and even get money back.” Again, another misconception. Almost everyone in America pays some sort of taxes, whether it is federal income tax, state income tax, property tax, sales tax, etc. Everyone pays into the system.
LaPointe, showing his Occupy roots, hit a populist note. “The richest among us don’t pay anything. Bank of America got a refund of several million dollars last year. Here’s a way to look at it: in 1950, for ever dollar a worker paid in taxes, a corporation paid three dollars. Now, for every dollar a worker pays in taxes, a corporation pays $0.33. We have corporations sitting on several trillion dollars and it is obscene.”
Jackson drew the conversation back to the national debt and argued for a flat tax with no adjustments, exemptions or loopholes. Baumgartner used the question as a springboard for swinging at his opponent, Sen. Cantwell. “Anyone who thinks DC is doing well should keep the people there. We have failure of government in both parties across the board. Simplifying our tax code is part of that.”
Finally, the federal candidates gave their closing statements. Baumgartner used it as an opportunity to highlight his opposition to the Aghanistan war, which used to be a rare Republican position that is rapidly becoming mainstream as President Obama continues to support the conflict there. “I will fight to make sure that when wars are fought, they are properly authorized and have a real exit strategy.” LaPointe, in his closing statement, riffed on Matthews earlier comment about English being a uniter, “You said that a common language keeps us together, I would note that everyone in Congress speaks the same language.” Shoop, on the other hand, went straight for the jugular of hot button issues. “Why are we paying Larsen ninety-four grand a year to live in DC and beg for our money back. He came back to our district and we said, ‘Hell no!’ to Obamacare and he went back and said, ‘Yes Nancy, yes Harry, yes Mr. President.’ We need a federal representative that will finally outlaw abortions!”
The Political Junkie’s Analysis of the Federal Candidates
Maria Cantwell, since the state party is focusing all their money and efforts on the governor’s mansion this year, but I hope he seats state-wide office at some future point. While I rarely agreed with him, it was nice to have a candidate who didn’t seek the vote from the lowest common denominator. In terms of showmanship, John C. W. Shoop dominated the debate, with rhetorical flourishes, catchy one-liners and lots of applause lines. However, I wonder if he has any appeal beyond the most conservative base.