WEST HARTFORD—While the four candidates at Monday’s First Congressional debate swung mostly to the left, they still managed to disagree on a majority of issues.
This was the first debate between Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, Republican Ann Brickley, Green Party candidate Kenneth J. Krayeske and Socialist Action candidate Christopher Hutchinson.
Throughout the hour and a half long debate, the approximate 300 audience members at Town Hall both jeered and lauded candidates’ answers. Krayeske let the audience know he didn’t appreciate their participation during the debate and used some of his 15-minutes to let them know it.
The war, economy, and state’s achievement gap dominated the debate. Most every topic put Larson on the defensive starting with a question about whether the candidates would extend the Bush tax cuts for couples making less than $250,000.
Larson, the fourth highest-ranking member in the House caucus, said he was “proud of his record” and pointed out how 38,000 jobs were created through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Two-thirds of that bill went toward tax cuts, he said, and the rest, toward “moving America forward.”
He said “only the first dollar” above $250,000 should be taxed.
Brickley disagreed, saying, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to raise taxes on anyone in this economy.” She said businesses could suffer if hit with more taxes.
Brickley, an engineer, added, the “government does not create jobs,” and the stimulus bill was a “complete and utter failure.” Only 7,600 jobs in Connecticut were created or saved, Brickley said.
Krayeske, a journalist and soon-to-be attorney, said it was necessary to “combat the wealth gap,” as the top one percent of the U.S. population control 23.7 percent on the nation’s wealth, he said. In 1970, Krayeske said, the top one percent controlled 8.9 percent of the wealth.
His solution was to raise the federal minimum wage.
“The best way to bring us out of this morass is to put the money in the hands of the working people,” Krayeske said. “This is the key that we need to focus on.”
He went on to say, if the wealth gap continues, it would be detrimental to democracy.
Hutchinson, an art teacher in Hartford, said those who make $250,000 or more should be taxed 100 percent – which drew laughs from some audience members – and those who make $50,000 or less should have taxes eliminated.
He said the biggest banks should be put under private ownership. Hutchinson continued, saying jobs will not be created until “big businesses” stop sitting on profits and forcing current employees to work longer for the same pay.
Like the economy question, an entire spectrum of stances was shown when debate moderator Nan Streeter posed a question regarding the two wars in the Middle East and education. The four were asked how they felt about the difference in funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, at $75 billion, and the Race to the Top Program, at $4 billion.
Hutchinson took up the far left when he said he would cut military spending by 100 percent and bring troops – not just those in Iraq and Afghanistan, but everywhere – home immediately.
He asked the other three candidates to sign a pledge declaring their opposition to the two wars as well.
Hutchinson added the Race to the Top Program was “detrimental to schools” because it is an attempt to privatize them.
Krayeske was less radical than Hutchinson, but said the nation’s military budget could be cut by 70 percent, without endangering citizens he opined.
“I have a devout opposition against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Krayeske said.
With the “illegal invasion of sovereign nations,” Krayeske continued, the U.S. has sacrificed its educational system. “We’re letting civil services crumble before our eyes,” he said.
Krayeske suggested a program that has a low teacher-to-student ratio, and noted the anticipated increased costs of college tuition. The Green Party platform advocates free college tuition.
Larson took the middle ground in comparison to his three opponents, saying the troops are owed “a safe return home,” and the federal government should cut “wasteful spending” within the military budget.
And bringing up the right, Brickley said it was her “No. 1 priority” to “keep America safe.” Brickley added that the U.S. is currently the “most powerful” nation, and it should continue to retain that title. However, there is “wasteful spending” within military budget like funding an alternative Pratt & Whitney engine every year. (Larson later agreed with Brickley about this aspect of the military budget.)
As far as the educational system, she said, “spending isn’t necessarily correlated with student achievement.”
Brickley said the system could be reformed through creating more charter schools and more competition between institutions.
She noted students in other countries are out-performing American children in several fields and perhaps the U.S. should look into extending the school day.
The candidates expressed similar answers – this time it was two verses two – when asked if Iran should be sanctioned for its quest for nuclear power.
Hutchinson and Krayeske agreed, saying the U.S. should not sanction Iran. Krayeske said maybe a carrot, like “cultural exchange” could be used to ease tensions. He said the situation as a whole was “something of our own creation,” and touched on the former Shah of Iran.
Hutchinson said he supported “struggles against American imperialism.”
“Stop meddling in affairs of sovereign nations,” he said.
Brickley and Larson both said Iran achieving nuclear power was a danger.
Brickley said the possibility posed “a serious threat to national security,” and Larson seconded it, adding, “We stand with out great ally in the Middle East” – Israel. Brickley said she supported “crippling sanction” against Iran, which included placing an embargo on refined petroleum products.
Besides military questions, the four candidates spilt on a cap and trade question. Larson touted his stance on promoting natural gas, while working against American’s dependence on foreign oil. He noted there is plenty of natural gas in reserves waiting to be tapped.
Larson added he was proud of Connecticut’s efforts in pioneering the fuel cell, but other alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and batteries should also be developed. Krayeske did not endorse cap and trade, and said he was wary of how Wall Street would treat carbon credits. He did a quick inventory of how many audience members walked, bicycled or drove cars to Monday’s debate, netting non-green results.
“It’s about cutting our usage,” Krayeske said.
“I’m as green as they come,” Brickley began, adding that she gardens often and never uses pesticides.
On cap and trade, Brickley said the policy would also drastically increase energy costs for Connecticut consumers, some seeing a $900 increase per year on electricity.
But just when Brickley seemed to be completely switching over to the Green Party, she dropped a bomb, saying the effect of humans on climate change was “still on the table.” Krayeske rebutted this, saying Brickley may have her “fingers in the dirt, but she’s got her head in the sand,” because “global warming is real.”
Lastly Hutchinson used the question as an opportunity to take a stab at Larson, saying the congressman was “in the pocket” of “big oil” and big businesses.
He said he would decommission the oil industry and use the assets of companies like BP to clean up the environment.
As the debate drew to a close, the four candidates were allowed to make two-minute closing statements.
Larson left the audience with a quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, saying it was necessary to find the “warm courage of national unity.”
“All elections are about the future,” he said.
Krayeske said it was time to look at “different ways to solve problems,” as Republicans were thrown out in 2006, and Democrats will likely be thrown out this November.
Brickley reiterated why she was running for Congress. “The country is heading in the wrong direction,” she said.
If voters choose career politicians, they will only receive “more of the same,” Brickley said.
Huchinson said American should cancel all debt, which “wouldn’t make a difference to working people.”
“The profit motive is a dead-end,” he said.