Yesterday afternoon the League of Women Voters sponsored a candidate forum at the Kelly Senior Center for the three candidates in the 4th Congressional District. Turnout was good to hear incumbent Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore, Republican challenger Dan Sebring, and independent challenger “Eddie” Ayyash share their thoughts on the issues folks in the 4th CD are concerned about. The forum was somewhat limited by the fact that the candidates were limited to a minute and a half to respond to each question asked of them, not to mention the fact that the candidates couldn’t directly engage each other as they could have if the event were a debate.
While I was prevented from videotaping the forum due to the ground rules agreed upon by the candidates, here are my thoughts from the copious notes I took.
- Dan Sebring was the first candidate to give opening remarks, and after a brief statement about himself and what he stands for, he went on the offensive against Rep. Moore, attacking her for her support of the federal stimulus, cap & trade legislation, and the health care reform legislation passed by Congress. As I watched Sebring give his opening remarks, I couldn’t help but notice that he made very little eye contact, reading from a note card as he attacked Rep. Moore.
- In contrast to Dan Sebring’s opening remarks, Rep. Moore used her opening statement to talk about the accomplishments of the 111th Congress, noting that she is proud of health care reform, proud of energy legislation, proud to have brought troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and proud to have been a part of one of the most productive sessions of Congress in a long time.
- Eddie Ayyash used his opening statement to note that he’d be an independent voice in Washington, saying that the two parties have failed to produce results for the citizens of the 4th Congressional District. Ayyash also noted just over 23 percent of Milwaukee’s residents live in poverty, saying that enough is enough.
- When the candidates were asked to share their thoughts on the Citizens United case that opened the floodgates for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money (without disclosure), Sebring answered by admitting he didn’t know anything about the case. While I give Sebring credit for being honest, it’s striking to me that Sebring hasn’t bothered to educate himself in the slightest bit about a case that has a tremendous impact on candidates and elections. Speaking after Sebring, Eddie Ayyash spent a few moment providing Sebring with some background on the case, adding that he believes corporations shouldn’t be allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. Adding to Ayyash’s points, Rep. Moore noted the direct result of the Citizens United case is corporations being allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, while individuals like you and I are limited as to how much we can spend to influence elections through our contributions. Rep. Moore went on to add that in addition to being able to spend unlimited amounts of money, corporations also don’t have to disclose that they’re spending the money, leaving voters without the transparency they deserve in order to decide how much credence to lend to the claims being made by groups that don’t have to disclose their donors.
- When asked if they supported lowering the effective tax rate for corporations, Eddie Ayyash started things off by noting that there’s a difference between the actual corporate tax rate and the effective corporate tax rate, noting that corporations like Citibank and GE pay less in corporate taxes than many individuals pay. Sebring responded to the question with a short answer, saying he believes job creators need lower taxes. Rep. Moore answered the question by saying she believes we need to revert back to the tax rates in place during the presidency of Bill Clinton, adding that we can’t afford the Bush tax cuts that benefited the richest Americans.
- One of the more interesting exchanges – and not entirely because of the answers the candidates gave – was when the candidates were asked about their positions on illegal immigration. Remarkably, the three candidates shared a lot of common ground on immigration reform, with the exception of Dan Sebring’s stated belief that while he supports illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. having a path to citizenship, he believes that path should also include a penalty for those here illegally, including preventing those individuals from being able to own real estate, have credit cards, etc. However, what caught my interest was an exchange between two audience members sitting behind me after Eddie Ayyash noted that he immigrated to the U.S. from Jordan in 1989. After hearing that, one of the women turned to the other and said, “I wonder if he [Ayyash] is a citizen,” with the other woman adding, “I don’t know….Obama isn’t.”
- Another interesting exchange came during Rep. Moore’s answer to a question about how we bring jobs back to the U.S. As Rep. Moore was giving her response (she noted we need to actually start making stuff in America), Sebring supporters in the back of the room began making noise and interrupting her, prompting Rep. Moore to say, “I have the mic.”
- Interestingly enough, Molly McGartland, the far-right Republican candidate running against State Rep. Chris Sinicki, actually left the candidate forum at one point after at least one outburst from her from the back of the room.