The three candidates for Virginia’s Eighth Congressional seat rushed from one debate to the next this week, coming to Alexandria to share their views on children and families. Incumbent congressman James P. Moran, Republican challenger, Lisa Marie Cheney and independent candidate James Hurysz were all present.
Julie Carey, an Alexandria resident and a reporter for WRC, the local NBC affiliate, was the moderator. The debate was sponsored by The Campagna Center, the PTA Council and the Tenant and Workers Support Committee. Each candidate gave an opening statement and then responded to questions from the sponsors.
“I am running for Congress because I am a native of the Eighth District, born and raised, and I don’t believe that my children have the same quality of life today that I did as a child,” Cheney said. “My mother was a single parent and a federal worker for 39 years. I’m running for Congress because I understand the needs of our federal work force and our single parents. My husband is a commander on active duty in the U.S. Navy. I understand the concerns of our military families. I am also a business owner and I understand the needs and concerns of our business community. I’m asking for the opportunity to represent this district and use my voice to represent all of us here .…”
Hurysz explained why he wants to represent the Eighth District. “For the past 20 years I have lived in Arlington. I have repeatedly stood up before the Arlington County Board, the Alexandria City Council and the Fairfax County Board and asked hard questions about infrastructure, about development, about in-fill and about a Virginia baseball stadium,” he said. “This has served me well because when I represent you in Congress, I will introduce legislation guided by conscience, logic and common sense. My priority in Congress will be to return more of our federal dollars to us so that when the infrastructure is needed in this region — and it will be needed — the money will be there and we won’t always be playing catch up. We need transit alternatives that will get people out of their cars and on to alternative transit before the Eighth District becomes a parking lot .…”
Moran spoke of the upcoming election in a broader context. “Nov. 2 is as important day in American history as we will see in our lifetimes,” he said. “There is a critical, stark contrast between the two presidential candidates. Throughout all of the debates we have had, I can find no real difference between Mrs. Cheney’s positions and that of the Bush-Cheney administration. For example, the tax cuts that have been the mainstay of the Bush economic plan have bankrupted this country …. If we continue these tax cuts as President Bush says he will, in 10 years, there will be no money for anything except Social Security, Medicare, interest on the debt and defense spending. There will be no money for education, healthcare, the environment or many of the other programs that I believe government should provide. There are also differences on the war in Iraq, which I believe does affect our children. Do we want our children to enter into a world where some believe that we are as bad as the tyrants we are fighting? What about gun control? That’s not likely to come up tonight but it is very relevant to the safety and well-being of our children. I am a strong proponent of gun control; Mrs. Cheney is not. All of these issues are relevant to children and families .…”
THADDEUS LANGSTON, a member of the Campagna Center’s Headstart Board, asked each candidate about additional funding for Headstart.
“I believe that we must educate all of our children,” Cheney said. “But I believe in an earned tax cut, where those of us who have the ability to spend time in our community volunteering in our schools and especially our preschools for our children, could give that time in helping the teachers and that won’t cost the federal government anything in new dollars spent. It won’t be a tax cut for the rich but for people who actually take the time to give to their communities and to children in those communities.”
Hurysz took Cheney to task about volunteering. “My mom volunteered; I bet every mom here volunteered; it was just something that was expected in our society. In some places volunteering has been referred to as a Republican value — not expecting to be compensated for volunteering but volunteering. I see the tremendous number of volunteers in Arlington and Alexandria. I am a Democrat. Democrats are happy to volunteer in their schools and we don’t expect to be compensated for that,” he said. “As to Headstart, I believe in fully funding all of our federal education programs, whether it is No Child Left Behind or Headstart.”
Moran voted against the Republican Headstart authorization. He explained why. “It was a bad bill and will cut the Headstart program that we are so proud of because it block grants Headstart to the states,” Moran said. “Also, the block grant is not accompanied by the criteria that currently governs Headstart programs. It doesn’t have the current required child-staff ratios; it doesn’t have the current curriculum requirements. There are 13 standards that Headstart programs have to meet currently — health and safety, early childhood development — all of those things. Headstart is one of our most important programs for helping children bridge the gap from the circumstances into which they are born and what they are capable of achieving. It’s a wonderful program but it won’t be under the Republican majority’s proposal. I voted for an alternative that George Miller wanted. It would have retained the performance standards and fully funded the Headstart programs around the country. We lost and then this lousy substitution was passed by the majority. It’s a disgrace that one of the finest programs we have ever had in this country has been gutted.”
CINDY ANDERSON from PTAC asked about No Child Left Behind.
“I would never vote to reauthorize No Child Left Behind in the manner in which it is currently being implemented,” Moran said. “It’s a cruel hoax. Ted Kennedy came over and talked to a handful of us who were agonizing about whether to support the No Child Left Behind Act. He encouraged us to support it because he assured us that he had gotten a commitment from President Bush that, if we accepted the testing and the rigorous standards in the Act, he would adequately support it in his federal budget. We voted for it and the very first budget after it was authorized, the president cut funding by $9 billion from what we were promised and today, it is under funded by $27 billion. You can’t require schools to reach the achievement levels required in that bill without providing them the resources .…”
Cheney supports No Child Left Behind generally. “The No Child Left Behind bill has a lot of flaws, just like many of the bills that come out of our Congress,” she said. “But No Child Left Behind did bring accountability. It said that we cannot afford to see even one child pass through the cracks. Do we need to improve No Child Left Behind? Of course we do. Do we need to adequately fund it? Of course we do. Was it right to demand accountability? Was it right to say that we need to take responsibility for our children? But I’d like to ask Mr. Moran and the other members of Congress a question. Did you put money in to address these concerns before when we had a surplus? These concerns existed then and were not addressed. No Child Left Behind began to address those concerns.”
Hurysz’ view was closer to Moran’s. “No Child Left Behind is a disaster,” he said. “I believe in standards. I work on international standards in manufacturing. Even from a standards point, this thing is a disaster. It almost ensures that at least 25 percent of the schools are going to fail. Then, the criteria are raised every year and the children who are doing well and their parents can leave the school that is ‘failing’ and go to another school. Who does that leave in failing schools? I would do away with No Child Left Behind and use the money that is already appropriated to pay for after-school programs and for hiring new teachers to reduce class sizes. Mrs. Cheney earns her living from a missile defense program that has never really been tested even though it costs billions of dollars a year. But she supports a program where our children are tested consistently, constantly, every day and it’s under-funded by 90 percent. How insipid can you get?”
FINALLY, THE CANDIDATES responded to a question from Edgar River with TWSC, who asked if each of them supported public education and public assistance for undocumented persons who are living in this country.
“I have supported public education and public assistance for everyone in this country who needs it,” Moran said. “We have lost those votes in Congress and I know that there are a lot of people who oppose it. But what is the answer? Are we going to raise children in this country without an education? Is it in our interest to have an uneducated work force that is going to have no upward mobility as a possibility? I don’t think it’s in our interest. We benefit from all of the children that we educate. The immigration issue is a national issue but the cost is being borne by local governments. I have cosponsored what’s called a Dream Act that enables students to be able to go to college within their state regardless of whether they are documented or undocumented if they came through our school system and they qualify, they should be able to get reduced tuition as in-state residents. It seems to me that it’s going to come back to haunt us if we discriminate against people.”
Cheney would take a different approach. “I think we should take undocumented persons and make them documented,” she said. “Not just for the purpose of providing public education and public assistance but to ensure the safety and security of this nation. I would do that through the Guest Worker Policy, which has some flaws but a lot of validity. It would basically allow everyone who is living in the shadows in this country to come out of the shadows and live and work legally. This would mean that they would pay taxes and could get the benefits of living here legally. If they are paying taxes, they are paying for their education and for their healthcare. We need to take those steps and make our undocumented workers documented.”
Hurysz wants a dialogue on immigration policy. “I think we should have a national dialogue about immigration and decide what we want our country to look like in 30 years,” he said. “Congress, historically, has endorsed a high level of immigration into the United States. Currently more of our population growth comes from immigration than anything else. I have advocated a living wage and have advocated raising the minimum wage. We know who benefits from keeping wages low and it is not the middle class Democrats. Essentially, we have to have social justice here and when we get some social justice, we are going to be able to get some idea of where we are going to be going and what we are going to be doing.”
The election will be held on Nov. 2.