Yesterday Mike Copass and incumbent Susan Davis participated in a debate hosted by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. They are candidates for the Congressional seat in the 53rd district of California, my district. The hour-long event at the Joyce Beers Center was very well attended - standing room only - and it was a great debate.
I didn't take notes - and I should have - but below the fold are the points I can remember.
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I don't know if "full disclosure" is called for, but I'll try to describe my association with Mike. I don't have any position on his campaign, but I'm a supporter and have come to know him better over the course of the campaign. I consider him a friend. I have long been impressed with his clearheadedness, his courage, and his attention to detail, but in yesterday's debate he revealed even greater mastery than I already knew him to have. My overall, admittedly biased, impression was that where Representative Davis spoke in generalities and evasions, Mike had specifics - in terms of the facts of the issues, the legislative context, and his positions.
It is very much to the credit of Susan Davis that she agreed to participate in the debate - one thing I have admired about her in the past is her willingness, with frequent Town Meetings, to face her constituents and defend her votes and positions. She had nothing to gain, really, by this debate; as the incumbent she only lends legitimacy to her challenger by giving him this forum. Both candidates showed class, showed respect for the other, and that made this serious debate about serious issues focus almost entirely on the issues, on the record, and not on personal attacks. Mike did point out Susan's voting record and the contributions she's received from Titan Corp. I (with my acknowledged bias) felt that was entirely appropriate.
The question that most struck me was whether the candidates would end military recruitment in high schools. Mike's answer was an unequivocal Yes - and that we shouldn't have shooting ranges on our high school campuses, as are already (I think) present on some San Diego schools; Susan's was a tempered No, that somehow we need to fill the military and while there should be rules about it, the rules should allow our schools to be used to prime the cannon fodder pump (my words, not hers, of course).
The war machine, the Congressional military industrial complex, and our illegal occupation of Iraq (Afghanistan was shouted out by someone in the crowd, too, but it didn't reach the mics) were probably the dominant subjects of the debate. Susan is proud to have voted against the use of force resolution, and conflicted, but still proud, of her support for so many war funding resolutions - she considers herself to be "supporting the troops" by these votes (this statement brought a rare chorus of boos from the audience, which had been enjoined by the moderator to keep quiet so we could have more time for the debate). With respect to ending the war, she expressed hope that the new administration would turn things around. It was odd, too, the circumlocution by which she said (or didn't say) it will be President Obama: as best I can remember, her words were, "of course we all hope it will be one of two candidates, and I think we all know which of those two candidates it's looking like it's going to be." That, to me, in a nutshell reveals just how unwilling she is to take a position that might offend someone. But that's not the point; the point is that she seems to consider the continuation or termination of the Iraq occupation to be a question for the Executive branch - despite her steady votes of support for its funding.
Mike, of course, explained that he supports ending our illegal occupation of Iraq and understands the role of Congress in bringing that about.
Both candidates support a woman's right to choose and stem cell research; there was not a lot to differentiate them on these issues. As a microbiologist, Mike arguably has significantly better credentials on the stem cell question, but Susan's answer was quite correct and heartfelt, referring to a family member who might have been helped by such research.
One question asked for specific projects for the San Diego area; I'm sorry, but the only answer I remember is Mike's support for a public park to take the place of the Naval Training Center; this is a rather pointed contrast with Susan, who supports turning the property over to a developer for commercial development.
Specifics were again asked for with regard to policy to fight global warming. Mike talked about Kyoto and Jim Bell's plan to make San Diego energy independent. I'm sorry to say I have forgotten Susan's response.
I am sorry I did not take notes; it would be better to have more specifics to share with you. I came away with strong impressions: of a defensive, misguided incumbent and a very well prepared challenger. The audience certainly was on Mike's side, and I think that most people watching the debate would be compelled to consider him, not just the superior debater, but the person better qualified for office. I hope more voters in this district will have the opportunity to watch the debate. Please join me in contributing to Mike's campaign; the primary election is June 3rd and he could use all the help you can give him.
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Pam reminds me that there was a question on farm subsidies; Mike pointed out that the original intent of them - helping small farmers - has been lost; that they are now largely funding big agra. He wants to replace it with, in Pam's words, "something that again helps local farmers, not corporations, and stimulates environmentally sound, healthy, food production." We both have trouble with Susan's response - trouble understanding it, trouble remembering it, trouble reproducing it, but it seemed to be along the lines of how she and the Dems had worked to make the bills not as bad as they might otherwise have been.