Event At NPAC
Includes 2 Parties,
By TOM YANCEY
All five First Congressional District candidates who will be on the Nov. 4 election ballot participated in a forum held Tuesday evening by the League of Women Voters at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center.
Democratic nominee Rob Russell, of Kingsport; Republican nominee Dr. Phil Roe, mayor of Johnson City; and independent candidates Joel Goodman and T.K. Owens, both of Johnson City, and James Reeves, of Boones Creek, fielded questions written by club and audience members.
Wayne Winkler, operations director for WETS-FM, served as moderator for the two-hour event.
The five candidates thanked the League for holding the event, and all praised the Niswonger Center.
Goodman, a retailer who is restoring the old Clinchfield Railroad station in downtown Johnson City, introduced himself by asking the 77 people in the audience present to give him money.
Goodman said members of Congress "take your money and don't even ask," and "trample on the Constitution every day." Goodman ran as a Democrat two years ago, but many of his answers Tuesday evening reflected right-of-center views.
T.K. Owens, who said he is "an active substitute teacher" with the Johnson City school system, noted that the League event was the first forum that has opened the door for all of the candidates.
Owens, a native East Tennessean and graduate of East Tennessee State University, said the Niswonger auditorium and Greeneville High School's facility should be models for education in the district.
James W. Reaves, an auto mechanic who has also run once before, helped start the petition that defeated the wheel tax in Washington County, and is an Air Force veteran.
Reaves said the themes of his campaign are responsibility, God, family and country.
He said too many take the privilege of being a U.S. citizen for granted, "and have allowed our government to veer so far from the constitution that I don't know if we can get it back."
Too many people think their vote cannot make a difference, he said.
Roe, a retired obstetrician/gynecologist, noted his family's 200-year roots in Tennessee and service as a U.S. Army doctor in Korea in the 1970s. He has three children and two grandchildren.
Roe said he began government service on the Johnson City planning commission, and has been mayor for two years. He said his financial operating principle as mayor has been "spend less than you take in," and said he would apply that same rule to Congress.
Roe has said he will take no contributions from political action committees.
Rob Russell is director of the writing and communication center at ETSU and a well-known local musician and band member.
Russell said he was afraid the media would outnumber the audience when he first arrived. Russell said he would rather be home teaching his son to play guitar, or painting "my new old house," or even changing a diaper on his four-month-old son.
Russell said he entered the race because, last January, he looked at the other candidates "and didn't see anybody who looked like me," that is, no regular working person with a tight budget and a young family.
"I'm one of you, and I would appreciate your vote," Russell said.
Question: Drilling For Oil
Goodman was the first to be asked his opinion on drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, ANWR.
Goodman said it is important to preserve wild spaces for the American public, and "we don't need that oil and gas at this point."
Owens said Goodman is right, and oil reserves are available in other parts of this country that could last for many years if tapped, not to mention renewable fuels, a theme he returned to several times during the evening.
Reaves said ANWR should be preserved and is "not a concern."
Roe said energy is a national security issue, and ANWR should be tapped, noting, "The governor (Republican vice presidintial candidate Sarah Palin) of Alaska agrees."
More oil supplies in the U.S. "make you less dependent on foreign sources that want to kill us," Roe said.
Russell said ANWR is "mainly a symbolic issue, and a distraction." He said "no one wants to destroy" ANWR and "the footprint" of any oil facility should be as small as possible.
Owens was first to be asked to respond to a question about some states requiring additional forms of identification for voters.
Owens said only citizens should be voting. He said he went to Mexico in August and found that non-Mexicans must have a work visa or immigration status papers to work. He said the same standards should be used here.
Goodman said states should control voting rules, but said placing "incumbrances" for voting are illegal and immoral.
Reaves also believes voting rules should be a state prerogative.
Roe agreed, but noted how few people exercise their right to vote.
Russell said "the right to rule ourselves" put forward first in the Declaration of Independence makes "voting an essential part" of the process. He said he opposes "any law that tries to prevent people from voting."
Reaves was first to be asked a question about the long-term stability of the Social Security system. Reaves said privatization, as suggested in the question, "would have worked 15 years ago," but will not work now.
He said immediate spending cutbacks are needed. "It's not our grandchildren's problem anymore," Reaves said.
Owens said people working now are paying into Social Security the money that seniors receiving Social Security receive now, "but in 20 years, it won't be enough."
Owens said people need to expect to take more personal responsibility for their own retirement security through 401K plans, savings and investing.
Roe said, "Social Security is a solemn promise to the American people that I intend to keep." Currently, he said, the Social Security trust fund is like a cookie jar full of IOUs," because Congress has repeatedly borrowed from the fund for other uses.
The fund needs to be strengthened, and "some privatization" may help, Roe said. Otherwise, he said, economists predict the fund "will go broke in 2042."
Russell said he agrees in principle, but the word "privatization scares me," he said, especially in light of recent financial developments.
"I don't think a lot of leaders are keeping that solemn promise," he said, and they need to be held accountable.
Asked what are the "contributing factors" to the financial crisis, Roe said that making more home loans to low-income people, which was a good idea, was carried too far.
Roe noted that when he bought the house he still lives in, banks expected borrowers to have 25 percent of the total as a down payment, and would not issue mortgages that required payments in excess of 25 percent of the borrower's income.
Today, loans are made for 100 percent of the home price, and even 120 percent, he noted, and borrowers are in trouble from the start when anything unforseen happens.
Loans that were risky in the first place were bundled and sold to the secondary market, and then resold, Roe noted. When the housing market turned down, those loans were nearly worthless, and the crisis occurred, he said.
Goodman said the Federal Reserve System is run by "a bunch of crooks" who artificially lowered interest rates, then raised them, creating the crisis. He likened the current crisis to former ones in that regard.
Owens said, "I don't see where we are in a financial crisis," and called the $700 billion "bailout a shame and a sham," and a "trillion-dollar photo shoot."
Reeves said the crisis was caused by leaving "the foxes in charge of the henhouse."
He added, "Capitalism is great, as long as it's moral capitalism," and the failure in the financial markets was and is a moral one, he indicated.
Russell said there is plenty of blame to go around, but lack of "simple oversight" and systematic dismantling of rules put in place during the Roosevelt administration are key reasons for the crisis.
The candidates were asked what they would do to limit so-called "warrantless wiretapping" of terrorist suspects.
Russell said "appropriate judicial restraint" is needed.
Goodman said he is not sure that most Americans "don't want what is going on," because they have forgotten what the Fopurth Amendment to the Constitution stands for. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
Owens said the president authorized wiretapping during a war, but said wiretaps should not be done on the basis of race or national origin.
He compared this to detaining Japanese-Americans during World War II, and noted that reparations were paid later to families who were forced to spend the war in internment camps.
Reaves seemed to agree, said, "He who forfeits liberty for security deserves neither."
Roe said "brave people wrote the Constitution," and the freedoms that document guaranteed have been eroded ever since.
The candidates were asked if they favor developing nuclear power.
Roe said a hard look needs to be taken at nuclear power, which produces electricity at less cost than coal.
Russell said there is "no silver bullet" for what he called the approaching energy crisis, but a "silver buckshot" approach using many alternatives is needed. "We can no longer base (the future) on fossil fuel," he said.
Goodman said energy is not a crisis, but speculation has caused problems.
Owens said coal, especially when converted to liquid form, is very important. He said he does not favor "anything that can cause a Chernobyl" nuclear disaster.
Reaves said he favors nuclear power, "but not in my back yard."
Roe said Chernobyl failed because the Russians started operating it before it was completed. "Nuclear power is safe," though reactors need to be protected from terrorists.
"If we're concerned about greenhouse gases and carbon limits," and being less dependent on foreign oil, Roe said, nuclear power needs to be promoted.
When asked if they support laws about same-sex marriage, Russell said, "Yes, I do." He said he bases this support on the passage in the book of Luke in the Bible, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Russell said the nation's Bill of Rights "is not there to limit" anyone's freedom.
Roe said he believes marriage is between one man and one woman. Roe noted that no one should be discriminated against in property laws or contracts. However, he said that marriage should be between one man and one woman.
Reaves said he believes in marriage as being between one man and one woman, "But should I force my beliefs" on others, he asked, then answered, negatively.
He said he has a friend who is being denied health-care coverage because she is "not married" to the person she loves.
Owens said the Bible is clear in stating that man was created for woman and woman for man, but "Your sexual orientation is your business. Keep it private."
Goodman asked the audience whether they would favor laws like those in Nazi Germany that forbad "good Germans" from marrying Poles, or Jews. "Is that what you want?"
Goodman said the constitution prohibits a "religious test" for office, but the same-sex marriage question is almost the same thing.
Some in the audience reacted with whoops and applause when Goodman said, "Keep your God and your personal beliefs out of government."