By Nadin Abbott
April 14, 2012 (Ramona)—Four candidates seeking the 50th Congressional District seat offered contrasting views on key issues in a lively debate last week. Conspicuously absent, however, was incumbent Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), who has thus far missed all in a series of debates held across East County.
Participants included Democrats David Secor and Connie Frankowiak, Tea Party Republican Terri Linnell, and Libertarian Michael Benoit. Dave Patterson of the Ramona Forum moderated the debate amid a relaxed atmosphere at the Ramona Library.
During introductory statements, Frankowiak told the small audience that she was running to save the Republic from the plutocracy that has taken over, as well as the corporate “robber barons.” A political activist from Julian, she believes it is time to “take money out of politics that has corrupted all” and to “stop passing Patriot acts that are stealing our freedoms.”
Linnell, a resident of Ramona, said that she is similarly qualified as the incumbent with a Bachelor of Arts degree in business and an Associates in Electronics. She also said that our government has a for sale sign “and we need to take it down.” She promised that she’d introduce an Amendment titled Lobbying with Money is Bribery, adding, “This needs to stop.”
Secor, a retired court employee and former teacher who has also held blue-collar jobs, told the audience that he is the son of a miner and has been an old fashioned Democrat since the Nixon-Kennedy debates. The Crest resident also wore proudly his First Cavalry pin, since he is a combat veteran who served in Vietnam. Believing there is too much corruption by big money in politics, Secor said he refuses to accept any donation larger than $100 and will take no PAC or union money.
Benoit said that he agreed with Ron Paul in almost everything. He told us that “government that governs least, governs best.” He said that every time legislation is passed, it takes more and more of our rights away. He pointed to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as a recent example of this. He also voiced concern over the federal government’s announced intent to take passports away from people who owe money to the IRS.
In his view we do not need to pass laws. “We need to repeal them.” Government is no longer doing what it was supposed to do, he said.
After introductions, questions were asked from members of the audience.
The first addressed the NDAA and how both the United States Patriot Act and the NDAA were passed by members of both parties.
Benoit replied simply, “If you pass a law that violates rights, you are not protecting rights. No more laws.”
Secor told the audience that Rep. Hunter was part of the Concordance committee marrying the two bills that emerged from both the House and the Senate. Hunter contended they were Constitutional. But in Secor’s view this violates the fourth, fifth and sixth Amendments at the very least.
Linnell agreed with Secor that Hunter was in charge of determining the constitutionality of this. Because of this she became an Oath Keeper. She also mentioned the further attack on our rights, with the passage of H.R 347 which criminalizes protest. As she put it, Hunter has no issues in locking people as domestic terrorists.
Frankowiak said that every representative who voted for those laws broke his or her oath of office. She also said that they use the excuse of attaching these things into far larger bills as riders. The American people are not being told what is being done in their name, she believes. “We need to vote for people who will vote for the Constitution.”
In effect all four candidates agreed that these laws are a direct attack on the American people.
The second question involved single payer healthcare.
Secor and Frankowiak agreed that fundamentally, health care is a right.
Secor said that Medicare for all is the obvious solution; real administrative costs for Medicare are down to about 1%. Secor also pointed out that we pay far more in our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in medical care than every other industrialized nation. He believes preventive care would reduce total medical care costs, noting that currently about 5% of healthcare users account for most of the cost.
For Frankowiak this is a moral issue. We are the richest nation in the world, yet 50 million of our citizens go without medical insurance.
Linnell said that in Italy, they can no longer afford single payer. Her solution is cash for service. She opposes opening care to everybody. She also said, “I don’t want health insurance. The hospital gives a 40% discount if you pay cash.” Later on when the question came again as to how to solve the problem, she said that all this should be left to the locals. The problem with the federal government is that it becomes a one size fits all, she contended. She likened mandatory health insurance to forcing a person to buy a gun. She believes she should have the right to pay cash for healthcare, as she has been doing so far.
Benoit said that the purpose of laws is to protect your rights, “otherwise it is a perversion. “ He said that the problems started when laws were passed forcing emergency rooms to treat people regardless of their means to pay. This told people that they did not need to buy insurance since they would get care anyway, he argues.
In his opinion the government has distorted the market and the market should be left alone to work as it used to be. The market will determine how efficient it is.
They were also asked what was right with the government?
There was universal agreement that the founding documents—the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights-- are what is right with the government and that we should all strive to protect them.
Frankowiak expanded into the New Deal that improved life for all.
Benoit explained that the Justice system affords rights to all of us, and that the Jury system can be used to fight tyranny of government.
Secor used the opportunity to explain that the problem we are having right now is gridlock in Congress, “which is not acceptable.” He told the audience that the debt ceiling debate was a classic example. Even after getting 98% of what they wanted, Rep. Hunter and fellow Republicans still voted no.
Candidates were next asked how they would relieve that gridlock.
Frankowiak said that we need to end the corruption we have in government. Until that goes, gridlock will continue. She pointed out that the empty chair was there because of money. Hunter was not present since he had a lot of money and name recognition. He did not have to be there. Speaking of corporate robber barons who have “robbed us of our Republic,” she added that it is better for them if the gridlock continues, and that way they can get rid of regulations. To these corporate powers, even the billions that this election will cost is an investment that amounts to chump change, Frankowiak believes.
Benoit took a more nuanced view. He is all for gridlock in the budgetary process to avoid more budgets with the deficits we are seeing. But he will work to reduce it to end all “the illegal wars.” He also said the Federal Reserve was part of the problem, and them printing money leads to inflation and an invisible tax at the pump or the supermarket.
Secor, who has worked as a college teacher, truck driver, construction worker and court employee, said that he is a middle class member and wants the middle class to be around by the time his grandkids are adults. He pointed out that 94% of elections are determined by who spends the most money. Therefore the first step is to elect representatives that are not bound to that money. It is time“to prove that truth is bigger than money.”
Linnell disagreed with the rest on the stage that this was about money. Regardless, she added, “If Mr. Hunter cared about the election, he’d be here.”
The next question concerned the national debt and how to limit it. While all candidates did agree it was a problem, their solutions were different.
Benoit reminded the audience that Jefferson said that all debts should be paid by each generation. Linnell agreed with Benoit that we should pay as you go. We need to put an end to this credit culture. Benoit also alluded to President Reagan and how the debt was not that high back then and how it’s grown since.
Secor reminded the audience that the debt grew exponentially during the Reagan years. We outspent the Soviet Union under President Reagan, he observed.
He reminded the audience that Hunter objected to the cuts that are coming to the Department of Defense because we “would not be able to fight more than one war at a time.” Secor would prefer zero wars. As he put it, the debt has to be addressed, but not as the only priority, We cannot stop all spending or we will soon look like Greece. As the Great Depression showed, we need to spend some to get out of the recession and provide jobs for Americans.
To Linnell the solutions are in the Constitution. We should not be in these wars, and she cannot understand why we are still in Iraq. She believes in living debt free. She also pointed out that as loans became easier the prices of houses went up. “The good thing about a cash based society, it keeps prices down,” she said.
Frankowiak was clear that she wants to see the wealthiest Ameicans pay a fair share. “Let the robber barons pay taxes, get out of the wars, and put the money back in America.” These steps will increase revenues and will go a long way in solving the deficit, she believes. She also said that the saber rattling with Iran was criminally irresponsible.
Next came a question on NATO and how to get out of it.
Secor pointed out though that the current conflict is really an economic conflict, not military. China is benefiting from our continued spending in the military. He said that for every billion dollars invested in the military industrial complex, we create 8,000 jobs. On the other hand, for every billion invested in infrastructure we create 25,000 jobs. He wants to shift funds from military spending in Afghanistan and instead, create jobs here at home.
For Linnell, again the Constitution provides the answer,. Benoit and Frankowiak agreed that no entangling alliances are the way to go. Benoit took it a step further, stating it is time to get out of NATO and the world government that is the United Nations.
Candidates were asked if they would sign conservative strategist Grover Norquist’s “no new taxes” pledge next.
Frankowiak said she’d never sign it.
Benoit said he had never read the pledge, but he would never, ever raise taxes under any circumstance. “They are already taxing us to death, and it causes inflation.”
Secor said “Norquist is a sham and a fool.” There is only one pledge he will take, to defend and uphold the Constitution. Taking a pledge to an unelected individual would be wrong, superceding obligations to to the people.
Secor also pointed out that Republicans in Congress are afraid to raise taxes on the wealthiest 1% because they know that Norquist will go after them. He suggested that Hunter cares about three things: defense contractors, Grover Norquist and Hunter.
Linnell would take the pledge but within reason. No way she would have voted for the debt ceiling raise. “It is like you or me going to the bank asking for more money,” she observed. “She is for the Balanced Budget Amendment and would also have voted for Cap and Balance, reflecting what she believes should be our spending priorities and living within our means.
Next came a question on energy policy.
Benoit pointed out that we are a fossil fuel based society. He also said that nuclear has some issues, and advocated for use of hemp fuel. Fifty years ago it was banned, yet it can be used to produce diesel.
Secor cited two national security issues; the first is K-12 education, the second an energy policy. He and Frankowiak agreed that if we paid the actual cost at the pump for a gallon of gas, including the costs of war, the cost would be closer to $14 a gallon. Secor, who has previously voiced concerns over some industrial-scale energy projects in East County, believes we are making strides in promising green technologies such as algae fuels being developed here in San Diego.
Linnell used herself as an example. We all need to be efficient in how we use energy, she said, adding that she views this as a personal responsibility matter. She does not believe in a one size fits all solution, except for the electric grid.
Frankowiak added that it is getting very expensive to drill for oil. The American people are a practical people. On their own they will decide to drive more efficient vehicles. She also said that more people will go back to wind and that green energy is a positive. She also once again warned the audience that if there is an attack on Iran and the Strait of Hormuz is closed, the price of oil will spike overnight.
Candidates were asked if they understood how Greece fell into financial crisis.
Linnell pointed out that Greece mismanaged its money. She also said that the Greeks were victims of the subprime market, which is “funny money.” This is a world wide problem.
Linnell also pointed out that the deregulation of the markets was a bipartisan problem. This created a world wide problem. Benoit agreed with Linnell that Greece mismanaged money and said they spent too much, and borrowed and spent.
Secor pointed out that Greece had an economy with no collection of taxes and good state sponsored benefits. In other words they had no money coming in, but money going out. He also reminded the audience that Goldman Sachs bought their bonds and that the Greek crisis is not over. Moreover, Germany is carrying the load.
He also told the audience we need to bring back Glass Steagall, the banking regulation act passed under President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration in the 1930s and repealed in the 1990s, precipating the recent banking industry scandals. He also agreed that the 700 trillion dollar derivative market is a serious problem.
The candidates offered up closing statements reflective of their philosophies.
Benoit told the audience that candidates talk big and never deliver. He promised to keep expenses to what they are, and to control the military industrial complex, and to stop the supply games from the oil companies. He also promised integrity and honesty while serving.
Secor thanked the audience for coming, and pointed out that Hunter was not willing to face his employers—the voters. He promised to do the right thing. He also pointed out that Hunter promised jobs in 2010 and has done nothing to address that, voting against the administration’s jobs bills. Secor also voiced concern over talk of reducing Postal Service, which he sees as a ruse to privatize Postal services. The Post Ofice does not use any taxes and was forced to prefund the retirement fund for 75 years in just five years, he said. If post offices are closed down it will affect rural areas especially hard, so local Congressmen Hunter’s friends in the private sector can benefit, he suggested.
He also faulted Rep. Hunger for defending the burning of Korans and desecrating of bodies, and even supporting Marine Sergeant Gary Stein who made political statements while in the U.S. Marine Corps. Secor explained that when he was in the Army that was a no-no, and voiced surprise that Hunter, a former Marine officer, did not know this.
Mrs. Linnell suggested Hunter has shown hypocrisy. She doubts he would defend the “burning of the Bible or the destruction of our flag.” She also emphasized that members of both parties are not representing her, her neighbors, or her family or friend. They line their pockets and run on name recognition.
Frankowiak closed by reading the poem Patriot’s Dream by Arlo Guthrie:
In a final analysis, there was quite a bit of agreement among the candidates, but also substantial disagreement. All believe, however, that Rep. Hunter is not serving his constituents. Each hopes to replace him in November.
With California’s new “top two” primary system, only the top two candidates on the June ballot will advance to the November election.