Because the event was hosted by Indiana Equality, the candidates faced tough questioning on where they stood on various issues of interest to the GLBT community; however, the questions were wide-ranging and exhausting for the candidates--nearly 90 minutes under the spotlight. If I can characterize the candidates tonight as objectively as I can, I would have to describe Carson as the demagogue, Shepard as the scholar and Elrod as the realist. Carson had the scripted sound bites down. Shepard can eloquently and intelligently address any issue. Elrod, although hesitant at times, delivered the most practical and realistic approach on any host of issues. "Calm, determined leadership" was how he summed up the quality that makes him best qualified to serve in Congress.
Carson called for immediate ratification of the Kyoto protocols by the U.S., he wants to immediately double the federal minimum wage law to $12 per hour, he wants universal health care now and a chicken in every pot. A friend of mine joked about Carson's apparent hypocrisy on his strong environmental, anti-global warming stance as he drove away from tonight's forum in a gas-guzzling, foreign-made BMW SUV, which should make all the UAW area workers at GM, Ford and Chrysler happy. It all sounds good, even if his thinking isn't sound. Speaking of hypocrosy, Carson sounded off the loudest on the need for comprehensive campaign finance reform, decrying the role of big corporate special interest money in the electoral process. Of couse, he's the first and only candidate in the race to have TV and radio ads financed entirely with D.C. special interest money.
I liked Shepard's retort to Carson's call for a $12 an hour minimum wage. "How about $100 an hour and a Lexis?", Shepard sarcastically asked the audience, which drew a good laugh. Shepard wholeheartedly embraces the privatization of social security. He would gladly give up all the taxes he's paid into the social security system, if he can take that same money for the remainder of his working years and put it into his own private retirement account. He also wants to abolish the Department of Education. He's against the Kyoto protocols championed by Carson.
Elrod supported a higher state minimum wage law during his first year as a state lawmaker, which tied Indiana's rate to the federal rate, which is scheduled to increase to $7.25 an hour by 2009. He thinks it is impractical to expect a $12 an hour minimum wage, noting that employers will stop hiring younger workers and those workers who are difficult to employ because of low skills and criminal records if the wage rate is increased that high. The Kyoto protocols would impose punitive measures on U.S. companies, while allowing businesses in China a complete pass to emit as many green house emissions as their hearts desire he observed.
On predatory lending, Carson wants more federal regulation to protect homebuyers. Elrod warned that the dream of owning a home would be denied to many if Carson's over-regulatory approach is adopted, hurting the very people you are seeking to protect with more government regulation. Shepard echoed Elrod's sentiment. He expressed great concern over the recent spectacle of our own President having to visit Dubai to get an infusion of capital from a state-run business there to bail out CitiBank, one of the nation's largest mortgage lenders.
On immigration, all three candidates opposed amnesty. Carson wants to secure the border but provide a path to citizenship for some but only after they go to the back of the line. Elrod believes the current system is allowing the creation of a sub-class of workers who are being preyed upon. He thinks the current quota system for alien workers is too restrictive and gives too much control to the employer over the worker. He would like to see work visa quotas and rules loosened up to meet our country's labor demand with legal, alien workers. Shepard emphasized the need to shut off the flow of illegal aliens across our borders, comparing it to a leaky faucet. "You need to shut off the water before you begin the repair work."
All three candidates agreed that we needed to bring an end to the Iraq War. Carson repeated his often-used rhetorical question, "Why are spending billions building schools and roads in Iraq, when we need money for schools and roads here at home?" Carson seemed to moderate his earlier "cut and run" stance. He said he would not impose a date certain that all troops had to be removed from Iraq. Earlier, his statement was less equivicol, calling for an immediate withdrawal of troops. Shepard, too, wants to end the War in Iraq. He, like Carson, was exremely critical of the inititial decision to go to war and wants to bring it to a quick end. While Elrod wants to bring the troops home, he doesn't support an immediate pull out that would create a vaccuum which would allow radical sects to seize control of the government and create a national security nightmare in the Middle East.
The candidates were asked about the role of faith in their political decision-making. Carson, without referencing his own Muslim religion, said that religion often acted as the source of bigotry in our society and he unequivocally opposed it. I think many in the audience would have liked him to address why he and his family invited one of the most bigoted, religious leaders in the country, the controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, to speak at his grandmother's funeral, even endorsing the younger Carson as he eulogized his grandmother. Carson never touched the subject. Elrod emphasized the importance of maintaining the constitutional separation of church and state, a view echoed by Shepard.
It wouldn't have been a debate without questions on gun control and abortion. Carson is for abortion on demand and supports gun control. He said very few people are qualified and trained well enough to own a gun. Elrod and Shepard both oppose abortion and more gun control laws, noting their support of the 2nd Amendment.
The three candidates surprisingly shared similar positions on the major GLBT issues. All unequivicolly supported the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." They all agree that government shouldn't be in the business of defining marriage. As Elrod explained it, each religious group should be free to set their own definitions of marriage and government should get out of the business of regulating marriages. Instead, the government should allow civil unions between two consenting adults, whether of the same sex or opposite sex. The candidates spoke approvingly of proposed legislation to treat domestic partners on the same footing as married couples for tax purposes, known as the Domestic Partner Tax Equality Act. Elrod reminded the audience he was the only one on the panel who co-sponsored and voted for hate crimes legislation as a legislator. He noted he was also the only member of the House Republican caucus to oppose SJR-7 and the only Republican to refuse to sign a petition this week urging the House to take a vote on the controversial marriage amendment this year.
In his opening and closing comments, Carson clinged heavily to the memory of his grandmother. "She was bold." "She was a dynamic public servant." "She was courageous." At least he didn't compare her to Jesus Christ and Ghandhi as he did the other day. Carson struck me as the guy who has been planning a run for public office for some time. He was just appointed to the City-County Council six months ago after holding down a series of government jobs his grandmother helped him get.
Elrod, by comparison, would have been quite happy practicing law with his father. He explained that he had no intention of going into politics until he was approached at the age of 27 and asked to decide on the spot if he would run for a spot on the Center Township Advisory Board. He ran and won in an upset. He quickly became , disillusioned though, when he figured out the other board members were only interested in showing up for a handful of meetings and collecting their $6,000 paycheck. The only motion he was able to offer during his two years on the Board was one to require the proposed budget to be circulated well in advance of the budget hearing instead of 20 minutes before it was voted upon. His motion died for a lack of a second. Elrod went on to win another upset race over State Rep. Ed Mahern, an entrenched, high-ranking Democrat. Elrod's independence is self-evident, and his desire and ability to cross the aisle and work with members of the other party is a refreshing change.
As I described him, Shepard is the scholar. He is well-studied on all the issues. The Libertarian view is often attractive to fiscally conservative Republicans who want less government and lower taxes. Many of his ideas sound very good on paper, but the practical reality is that they aren't going to happen. You aren't going to get rid of the federal Department of Education. And you aren't going to privatize social security.
On a closing note, State Rep. David Orentlicher (D), who is running against Carson in the May primary, arrived early and shook hands with as many attendees tonight as possible, much to the chagrine of Carson and his supporters.