DFL Senate debate play-by-play


Blogging in real time, Joe Bodell finds few fireworks at forum for DFL Senate candidates.

In an event hosted by a self-identified group of progressives, there often aren’t many fireworks between DFL candidates, and agreement on the issues is not uncommon. These generalities were certainly in place Wednesday night for the Senate debate hosted by the Golden Valley Progressives. It was the first event to feature recently-declared not-yet-declared candidate Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, and was an opportunity for him, Mike Ciresi, Jim Cohen, and Al Franken to demonstrate their progressive stripes.

6:58: US Senate Candidate Forum at Golden Valley City Hall — The Franken and Ciresi campaigns have volunteers stationed at the major intersections on the way here, and have relatively large t-shirt contingents stationed at the front doors. No wireless, unfortunately, but candidate Jim Cohen did just show up and is shaking hands. Looks like there should be a very decent turnout, especially given the nice weather.

7:08: Room is almost full — twenty minutes before the event and fully fourteen months before the election. My cohort Eric Black was good enough to make sure there was a press table set up, so we have a great seat — but we’re also the only media here so far.

Argument over whether we qualify as “media” to be deferred to a later date.

Seen Ciresi, Nelson-Pallmeyer, and Cohen, haven’t seen Franken yet. State Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-44A), who represents the area where the forum is being held, is also making the rounds (Simon has endorsed Mike Ciresi).

7:20: Just met Eric Pusey of MN Blue. Sounds like we’re just about ready to start, but still no sign of Al Franken….Word is he’ll be here soon.

7:33: Only a couple minutes late, but Al Franken has appeared, and we’ll be starting soon. Sounds like the microphones won’t be on — this could get interesting for those toward the back of the room. Jackie Stevenson, DNC member and longtime DFL activist, was going to be the moderator, but has committed to support Mike Ciresi and will pass the baton to Joel Jensen (sp?) and Elaine (something).

7:40: Introductions and rules for the event. We’ll see how that goes.

7:45: Franken is up first with his opening statement. Brief biographical details and some elements of his stump speech mixed in. Satirist’s job is to cut through the hypocrisy and the inconsistencies and get to the truth — that’s pretty good experience for the U.S. Senate. Going to take down Norm Coleman on his record, pivoting to fundraising differences between himself and Coleman. All in all, much more polished speech than back in February.

Cohen up next. I’m a pragmatic progressive, have been a consumer advocate, worked for working women and men throughout country for over 40 years. Consumer advocate at Federal Trade Commission. Came to Minnesota 13 years ago after an unsuccessful run for Congress in Connecticut against a Republican who went on to become Governor and get convicted and sent to jail — a good practiced joke. The kind of politics in Washington, slash and burn partisanship, has resulted in very little getting done in Washington. Mostly by Republican’ts, but by many Democrats also. Build coalitions, cross ideological divide, get things done. That’s what my career has been about — Cohen is a passionate and fairly polished speaker. Pragmatic progressive is one who works out solutions for working Americans.

Cohen’s opening statement came in right at the time limit.

Nelson-Pallmeyer up next — approach has been to travel the state, want to provide some snapshots of that travel. Vignettes of talks with people from around the state who care about effects of Iraq, worrying about health care. Plug for website, MostImportantDecade.com — unorthodox web address. Bridge collapse was a symbol of our country coming apart from within. Dysfunctional systems, horrible priorities, bad policies that affect us in negative ways. Policies and priorities can be changed, and we have the power to change them. Nothing in our economic system says all gains have to go to the rich. Have to cut carbon emissions by 90% by 2030 — we can do that, but it’s going to take incredible leadership and determination. All our hopes hinge on getting out of Iraq, changing foreign policy. Have to have honesty about where we are, people are longing for honesty.

Also came in right at the time limit.

Ciresi up — was at U of M today, there because AFSCME was on strike because U couldn’t give them a raise that equalled inflation. Thought of middle class squeeze, thought “how do the poor have a chance to move up?” Have to reinvest in America, invest in our children. You’re going to have to make a choice between candidates as to who’s going to get something done — I’ve delivered change. Best predictor is what they’ve done in the past. Review of accomplishments — tobacco case, pharmaceutical case. If I do not make a difference in first term, I should not run again — do not accept that you can’t make a difference in your first term. We need people who will go to Washington and shake things up.

8:14: First question: Norm Coleman believes in a “symbolic withdrawal” in Iraq — how will we withdrawal and ensure peace after withdrawal?

Cohen: We don’t need symbolic acts, we need action now. Another stage of Coleman’s shifting with wind all the time. Need to bring together all the adversaries in the region into an international conference, make sure we get out of Iraq immediately without destroying our national interests. Need to ensure that we take better care of returning troops.

Pallmeyer: “Symbolic withdrawal” means we could be there for centuries. Al Qaeda is not the major factor in Iraq. BBC did a survey saying 21% of Iraqis think American military presence is helping — time to get troops out. United States invaded Iraq to put permanent bases and take control of Iraqi oil. Progress can’t happen until US ends occupation

Ciresi: Norm Coleman has been all over the map. Called for a surge in diplomacy, thought he had read my website. We need to revoke AUMF, should have UNSC form diplomatic council, should immediately start redeploying our troops — why is it taking so long to train the Iraqis? We need a new direction in Iraq — Al and I differ in where we were at outset, where we are on redeployment

Franken: Coleman’s remarks “incomprehensible”. I am for starting to leave now, for getting out in a way that involves more planning and more thought than how we went in. Been speaking out against war for years, taking on President Bush and Norm Coleman — going to hold Coleman accountable for being a cheerleader for this war. As chairman of oversight committee, Coleman did not hold hearings on reconstruction — it’s a disgrace. Have to give returning veterans best medical treatment – Republicans say I’m mad, but when you look at what happened at Walter Reed, I ask “what does it take to make you mad?”

8:23: Next question: What’s your position on combating terrorism?

Pallmeyer: We would get much further if we treated terrorism as a criminal enterprise — lots of investigation, sharing of information, police action. Have to stand up to politics of fear — if we want to address terrorism, we should make every community liveable. I believe we need to have a better, more balanced policy in the Middle East, including in Israel-Palestine.

Ciresi: First responsibility of government is to defend the nation — need to take a look at where we’re going to go with our armed forces in the 21st century. Have to start a re-emphasis on small-footprint operations where we’re combating the underlying causes of terrorism. One of the instigators of terrorism is the Israel-Palestine issue. Need a foreign policy that leads not just with military might, but with moral might. Cites the Marshall Plan after WWII. Right questions were not asked before Iraq.

Franken: Need to act in concert with our allies around the world — tragedy of 9/11 is that we had the whole world behind us on 9/12. President had chance to lead the world, and he didn’t — he divided us. We have to work with our allies on terrorism, controlling disease, and preventing failed states — that’s where terrorism comes from. We could use the money we’ve wasted in Iraq to make sure every child in the world gets an elementary education. President Bush has been the worst enemy of Israel — Clinton was hands-on, and Israel-Palestine needs POTUS to be involved. War in Iraq has just exacerbated everything in the Middle East.

Cohen: Need to look at the fact that terrorism does exist, and we can’t bury that under the table. Need to be strong in counterterrorism activities. So many different underlying causes — we need to be strong, but we need to be humble. Recognize where terrorists are and where they are not. Recognize what we’ve done — we’ve created the situation of terrorism, destroyed Iraqi society — let’s take a look at what’s really happening — we’ve brought Al Qaeda to power and identified it as something more than it is. Need a 2-state solution in Israel-Palestine.

8:33: Next question: Education

Ciresi: When we have mandates, we should pay for them. I would scrap NCLB — every teacher I’ve talked to can’t say anything good about it, only the bad things about it. We don’t test progress, only snapshots in time. I would have a 21st century education fund so Americans can invest in America’s children. Need to do that so college education is affordable for the middle class.

Franken: When I get to the Senate someone is going to have to explain unfunded mandates to me. We need early childhood education to close gaps. Kid who’s read to who has greater vocabulary than kid who hasn’t been read to. Return on early childhood ed has been proven — we should do that. Have to focus more funds and efforts on the beginning of life and stop investing in prisons and start investing in schools.

Cohen: NCLB is not working because it hasn’t been funded adequately. Notion of high achievement, assessment, understanding quality of each student is a key issue. I don’t think there’s any way to keep NCLB the way it’s funded now. Make sure that a mandate is a mandate — that’s a demand that we fund at greater than 17%.

Pallmeyer: Money: last year 57 cents on the dollar went to military spending. 4 to education. 2 to environment — and we wonder why bridges fall down — less than 2 cents to transportation. All our hopes depend on not spending half the world’s military spending and making education and health care top priorities. Could reverse Bush tax cuts to the top 1% and provide free college education. Not enough to provide better loan conditions.

8:42: If you become a US Senator, what would you do to change vested power structure in Washington

Franken: We need public funding of federal elections. Look at where Norm Coleman gets his money from, you’ll see why he makes the decisions he makes. Talk about grassroots fundraising movement to break stranglehold of big money on politics. Companies aren’t giving to Norm Coleman because they like him — they give to him because they get a result. We have to get labor unions to be able to organize — pass the Employee Free Choice Act. Have to stand up for working men and women.

Cohen: Follow the money, look at how it’s corrupting the whole process. We should not be doing direct mail campaigns in order to secure small contributors — what this is about is the quality and resume and service of the candidates on this panel. I’ve stood up for working men and women in many ways for over 40 years, understand how to take on powerful interests.

Pallmeyer: Other industrialized countries provide health care to all workers in their countries — look at what’s being offered in this country, starting point is to protect the interests of pharmaceuticals and HMOs. Global warming: have to take on auto manufacturers and force mileage standards. Both parties are being influenced by big energy corporations. Military-industrial complex is destroying this country. We need publicly-financed elections, strengthen unions. Wellstone had bad back, but strong political spine. That’s what you need in sending someone to Washington.

Ciresi: Money is on both sides, Dems and Republicans. You either have federal funding with limits, or take all limits off and make it transparent. Nobody has ever owned Mike Ciresi and nobody ever will. Fought pharmaceutical companies because it was the right thing to do. You need money to run, and money is not going to be a factor in this race. We’re going to take this seat back if we have the right candidate.

I’d be curious to know who issued that question and who they’re supporting.

8:52: Next question: Is there a country with a health care system that we might emulate?

Cohen: I’ve called for a single payer, publicly funded, universal health care system. Canada, other western countries have such systems — government is payer, not provider of services. Extend medicare for all — medicare can work for all our citizens, reduce costs, allow for competition, get HMOs and massive stock options out of our system.

Pallmeyer: lots of conversations with Minnesotans, and all are talking about health care. Canada, Britain, France, Germany — all have different approaches, but they all do it well. We could learn a lot from them. We as candidates need to be upfront that the system is broken, and that it can’t be fixed without meaningful, deep reforms. I’m also an advocate of a single-payer system. Our medical system needs to focus on prevention and health.

Ciresi: Have to go to preventive health care (I remember this answer from a recent interview). Transparency, information technology, and reinstitute laws that prevent drug companies from advertising directly to the public. Enforce patent laws, and let government negotiate with drug industry. System is not completely broken, but it needs to be revised.

Franken: we do have some good health care here, but we have a terrible system. 16% of GDP on health care, no other industrialized nation spends more than 11%. We need universal health care — don’t think we can go to single-payer immediately because it won’t pass. But cover every kid immediately, and compare results to how it worked before — then everyone will want to go to single-payer.

9:01: Next question: How will you ensure a clear response to the climate change crisis, and what will that look like?

Pallmeyer: another reference to website — decisions in next ten years will affect quality of life for all future generations. Declare national goal of reducing gasoline use by 85% in 10 years. This issue is vital, urgent, also an opportunity to enhance quality of our lives. Steps we’re taking right now aren’t even close to what’s required.

Ciresi: Shift gas/oil subsidies to renewable energy and fuels. Law firm bought wind-generated electricity — saved lots of petroleum every year. Agrees that this is an opportunity — encourage investment in renewable energy through tax policy modifications. National security issue — already seeing defense analysts projecting that if global warming continues, we’ll see massive population displacements. Either going to pay later in blood and lives or pay now to benefit this nation and the world by leading. All we lack in leadership in Congress to get it done.

Franken: Absolutely urgent matter, and it has to be addressed. I will write a law saying no political appointee can change scientific language in a report without approval of scientist. No silver bullet, but there is silver buckshot — cellulosic, wind power, conservation, etc. We need light rail, commuter rail, encourage biking — conservation IS an energy policy. Also an opportunity to create high-tech jobs, address global warming, increase national security. We need CO2 cap-and-trade. But won’t be any good if China and India are doubling CO2 output. We have to create technologies that we can export to China and India.

Cohen: Ditto, Ditto, Ditto. Global warming is still considered by some people to be a hoax. Need to recognize that it’s not a hoax, the need to reduce is a moral dictate. Government-mandated fuel standards and major appliance standards.

Cohen is very grammatically correct in speech, and noticeably so.

9:11: LIGHTNING ROUND: Credit policy hurts people with less money — what should be done in Congress?

Ciresi: Look at predatory practices, glad to see Bush administration is picking up on that. Give some relief so we don’t have a catastrophe.

Franken: Been talking about predatory lending for years. We have to have laws against predatory lending.

Cohen: Practice is unacceptable — we need to put executives who are implementing these policies in jail for engaging in these policies. That’s unacceptable. Need to look at negative mortgages as well.

Pallmeyer: Predatory lending has had a terrible impact on poor renters as well. Need to outlaw it. Need to outlaw usurous rates (applause from Franken). Need to change federal tax policies that allow 1% to have more wealth than 95%.

9:15: Next: This race is dominated by white males, so what makes you the best to represent non-white, non-males?

Franken: I don’t think of myself as a white male. Predatory lending affects people of color, I work with labor unions, that’s people of color. Not an issue for me — I’m going to be standing up for working men and women of every color, religion, and sexual preference.

Cohen: I’ve been standing up for voiceless for decades, represented and sued on behalf of them. I hope debate process includes everybody.

Pallmeyer: Work over 30 years has been on economic justice and hunger issues — single most important thing we can do to change the world is to empower women — I’m the only candidate in this race who has a hyphenated last name — best laughs of the night.

Ciresi: Paraphrase MLK: Defective products don’t ask what color you are. My record is clear, worked here in Minnesota for 35 for women, for people of color — judge me by the content of my character.

9:20: Two-minute wrap-ups and we’re done.