Three area Young Democrats organizations brought incumbent U.S. Rep. James P. Moran and his prime challenger Andy Rosenberg together last Saturday at Francis Hammond Middle School for a debate, the only one that will be held in Alexandria before the June 8 Democratic primary.
Approximately 200 people attended from throughout the 8th District to see the two Democratic candidates for Congress challenge each other on the issues. Jack Henes, a long-time government and economics teacher at T. C. Williams High School, served as the moderator.
"I guess it's my job to keep things moving and make sure that everyone sticks to the issues," Henes said as he explained the rules of the forum. "We want this to be fun and informative."
Each candidate was given three minutes for opening remarks.
"I came to Washington 35 years ago," Moran said. "My original intent was to work for the Securities and Exchange Commission for a while and then return to Wall Street where I started and make a lot of money. I was assigned to help save the government some money by consolidating migrant farm workers programs...I saw real abuse.
"I saw a little girl whose legs were black and blue because she had blurted out an answer in kindergarten in Spanish and had been beaten...I went to the Civil Rights director at Health Education and Welfare and we sued the Texas Education Agency...and we prevailed. We required that they allow bilingual education...We also established the Office of Migrant Farm Workers...I also got involved in my local community, which was Del Ray at the time.
"We sued 17 banks because they wouldn't provide mortgages in our community...My priorities today are the same as they were then: find affordable housing so that everyone has the opportunity to live within their community; find economic and educational opportunities for people so they don't suffer from the accident of their birth and trying to protect our environment for our future generations..."
Rosenberg defined himself in Democratic Party terms. "I am a Democrat in the truest sense of the word," he said. "When I go to Congress, I want to fight hard to reverse the Bush tax breaks for the wealthy. I want to go to Congress to work hard for stronger environmental protection. I want to go to Congress to work hard for the same access to healthcare for all Americans...There are a lot of things on which Congressman Moran and I agree...but there are some areas where the congressman and I disagree.
"First of all, I staunchly support a woman's right to choose...Six times Congressman Moran has voted alongside Tom Delay and Henry Hyde to limit a woman's right to choose a late term abortion..."
Moran responded to that saying, "I have always supported a woman's right to choose. I will admit that late term abortions gave me some problems. However, I don't believe that government should interfere in a woman's healthcare choices. I believe that they are between her and her doctor. There have been issues on which I have changed my mind. This is one of those. I also understand that I am going to get NARAL's endorsement," he said.
NARAL Pro-Choice America, was formally known as National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.
THE ISSUE OF endorsements also arose. "The U. S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Congressman Moran and the Americans for Democratic Action endorsed me," Rosenberg said. "I would never have sought the endorsement of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, a staunch supporter of the Bush agenda. On the other hand, Congressman Moran received a very high rating from them. The ADA, Paul Weldstone's organization, supports progressive leadership and the promotion of democratic ideals. I am proud of this endorsement."
Moran expressed pride in the U. S. Chamber of Commerce endorsement. "I got this endorsement because I have promoted trade," he said. "By promoting trade with various foreign countries, I have brought jobs to this district. I have also received the endorsement of all of the teacher organizations in the district and of the leading Democratic officials here," he said.
Each of the three sponsoring Young Democrats organizations asked two questions and then the candidates responded to six questions from the audience.
Greg Roberts, president of the Alexandria group, asked what the candidates were going to do about health care.
"Just in the past week, I have met with a number of folks and we intend to work with Senator [Hillary] Clinton to revive much of her health care proposal from the early '90s," Moran said. "It is a disgrace that we have over 40 million people in this country without health insurance and that 12 million of those people are children. I do believe that we can have universal access to health insurance. It is going to cost money but we must start now to find solutions."
Rosenberg, too, believes that universal access to health care is possible.
"If we can come up with the billions of dollars it is costing for us to be in Iraq, we can come up with the money for universal access to healthcare," he said. "We have to decide as a society that this is a priority...I believe that both Congress and the administration have failed miserably in extending healthcare to those who need it the most..."
EACH CANDIDATE was also asked about federal and state civil union legislation. "I am absolutely opposed to any federal or state legislation that would limit a same sex couple's from achieving the same status as a traditional family," Rosenberg said. "I think that it is outrageous that the right wing in this country seeks to demonize gay and lesbian couples who are looking for the very same rights and same status as heterosexual couples..."
Moran agreed. "I am one of a handful of people who voted against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act...and was picketed a number of times here at City Hall for my support of not denying anyone access to employment because of their sexual orientation," he said. "In the Congress, I have done everything that I could to ensure everyone equal access to our economy and benefits...People who are in committed relationships bring great benefit to our society and should be encouraged..."
The Gazette will present in-depth profiles of both candidates in upcoming issues. The primary will be held on June 8.