Candidates for both the Eighth and 11th districts of the U.S. House of Representatives appealed to voters, specifically Jewish voters, last Sunday morning during the Brotherhood Political Brunch at Beth El Hebrew Congregation on Seminary Road in Alexandria. The end result was a polite thank you for your views.
All three actual candidates for the Eighth Congressional District were present — U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8), Tom O'Donoghue (R), and Jim Hurysz (I).
Representing the 11th District it was a different story. Only Andrew Hurst (D), hoping to unseat existing U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-11), appeared in person. Davis sent his wife, Virginia Senator Jeannemarie A. Devolites Davis (R-34), to plead his case, and Ferdinando Greco (I) was missing in action without explanation.
None of the U.S. Senate candidates, Sen. George Allen (R-VA), James Webb (D), or Glenda Parker (I), appeared. However, none of them had confirmed an appearance even though they had been invited. Each had representatives present to answer inquires from the audience if requested.
Beginning at 10 a.m., the Synagogue's fellowship hall was filled to capacity with potential and attuned voters. Each candidate was given five minutes to make their case. That was followed by a series of audience written questions to which each candidate was asked to respond.
Prior to the candidates' presentations Jeremy Flachs, project chair of the event, told the audience, "Without you there could be no democracy. This is your chance to hear from the candidates and to ask them what is important to you."
LEADING OFF, Hurst, an attorney, referring to the recent resignation of U.S. Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) pursuant to alleged improper e-mail contacts with Congressional Pages, said, "You all see what's happening in the country and on Capital Hill. I would want to find out who has been covering this up. I think one of the big issues is ethics and how Congress conducts itself."
He then launched into an appraisal of Davis' voting record and alignment with President Bush. "Tom Davis has voted with Bush 90 percent of the time. Davis is for the war in Iraq. I'm against it. I saw the war as not a good idea from the get go. We have a much less stable Middle East because of the Iraq war," Hurst said.
He also characterized Davis as a recipient of large amounts of special interests' money. "Tom Davis is the seventh highest recipient of special interests' money in Congress," he said. "I don't accept special interest money," Hurst emphasized.
Devolites-Davis responded to Hurst's claims about her husband with, "I was hurt to hear what Hurst said about my husband." Devolites Davis went on to tie Tom Davis' record to a variety of Jewish interests and initiatives such as that of U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) in his call for an investigation of private contractors in Iraq.
OPENING FOR THE EIGHTH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT candidates, Moran reiterated his background since coming to the Washington area in the 1960s. "I have never questioned the vision of this country and what it can accomplish," he said.
"But, I have been very disappointed in the last five years. Our children should never have gone to war in Iraq. After 9-11 most of the world looked at us as the world's leader. Now two thirds of the world thinks we are the greatest threat," Moran said.
He also attacked Bush's management of the federal budget noting that under Bush "a surplus has been turned into a $3 trillion debt." Moran also chastised the President for using his only veto to date against stem cell research. Moran accused Republicans of walking in lock-step with White House policies.
Tom O'Donoghue started off by reiterating his standard stump line, "I'm basically asking voters to fire Jim Moran and hire me. I intend to address tough issues. People want straight answers on questions like our borders and illegal immigration."
He stated, "In the 21st century we can't just let people walk across our borders. First and foremost we have to secure our borders."
A West Point graduate, O'Donoghue served 20 months in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, he insisted "We cannot just stay the course. But it is naive and irresponsible to think we can leave right away. We have to get out in a way that will not destabilize the region."
Hurysz attacked the views of both Moran and O'Donoghue. He cited Moran's support for the legislation amending the bankruptcy laws stating, "Our Congressmen are in the pockets of so many lobbyists."
When it came to O'Donoghue, Hurysz claimed, "Tom would merely carry the water for the Republican leadership."
On the Iraq question, Hurysz said, "The consequences of staying or leaving immediately in Iraq are equally disastrous."
FOLLOWING THE CANDIDATES' opening comments, Flachs began the question and answer phase of the forum by presenting the group with written questions submitted by the audience and allowing each to respond. Those questions and responses were as follows:
Q: Regarding Iraq - What are we fighting for?
Devolites Davis: "We have to face the fact that we are there. If we pull out immediately Jordan and Israel will be in dire straits. It's not just about the United States and Iraq. It's about all the countries in the region."
Hurst: "Rumsfeld has been to all the countries in the region and there is no mission and no plan. We have to commit today to get out of Iraq. The people of Iraq have to have their own conversations with one another to settle or not settle their differences,"
Moran: "There is a basic reason why we are in Iraq. You have to go back to 2001. This President was on the road to being a one term President due to a failed and failing economy. His advisors needed him to become a military leader. There was and is a neo-conservative approach to the Middle East. No one in the administration understood the Middle East. We need to rapidly re-deploy our troops."
O'Donoghue: "Our mission in Iraq is to stabilize the country. It's easy to criticize. But historically, there has never been a civil war that was confined to one country. It will become a regional problem."
Hurysz: "Our present mission is the same as our mission was in Vietnam — stay the course and hope the situation improves. This war is going to cost us over $500 billion that could have been spent to solve many domestic problems."
Q: Has Medicare Part D been a disaster and what can be done?
Hurysz: "This Congress must close the donut hole. The loss of prescription drug payments to those most in need at their most vulnerable point is causing financial hardship."
The so-called "donut hole" is that expenditure area where a recipient of Part D has reached $2,250 in prescription drugs in a given year. At that point there is no further reimbursement until the recipient has spent $5,000. After that the plan pays 100 percent. The gap between has been characterized as the "donut hole."
O'Donoghue: "Drug reform was pushed through to get something done. Government should be able to offer better discounts for drugs than anyone else due to volume. This is done in military procurement. Changing this situation is going to require changing the politicians."
Moran: "Part D is a prime example of how this Administration has mislead the American people. This whole bill was wrong. It passed by bribing and arm twisting at the last moment, at 6 a.m. after an all night session. The Republicans didn't have the votes and they delayed the vote until they twisted enough arms to get the votes. This is one of the most egregious bills ever passed. The donut hole is bankrupting senior citizens."
Hurst: "At the most vulnerable point of treatment the money stops. A lot of Republicans were not for this."
Devolites Davis: "I'm speaking for my husband and he believes its time to sit down at the table and have an adult conversation about this. There are 780,000 Virginians that now have drug coverage that did not have any before this passed."
Q: Do we have a problems with illegal immigrants? And, if we do what do we do about it?
Devolites Davis: "My husband says what we need is a high wall with a wide door. Tom supports the wall. We have dangerous people coming over the border. Illegal immigrants didn't come here in a legal manner. They broke the law."
Hurst: "We do have a problem. Congress has done nothing. The wall is an absurd solution. They are coming here because they make more money than they do at home."
Moran: "We do have an immigration problem particularly in the border states. I voted for the wall and for police departments to enforce immigration laws. I also believe that English should be a requirement. But, I do not support second class citizenship for those that have been here working and paying taxes."
O'Donoghue: "We must control our borders. It's a national security issue. Immigration is our heritage. But, it must be legal immigration. We have to bring in new people in a legal manner."
Hurysz: "We have to dramatically increase the resources of the U.S. Coast Guard and Border Patrol. We need larger fines for employers who hire illegal immigrants."
Q: What can be done to solve the transportation problems in Northern Virginia?
Hurysz: "I go to all transportation meetings and I do not see any of the other candidates there. Our regional transportation is the ‘Slug Line’ in the District. We need light rail, rapid transit now. Northern Virginia's population is projected to increase by 70,000 per year over the next decade."
O'Donoghue: "Spending by government on transportation is an investment. We need the Blue Line to Belvoir plus adding another lane west bound on I-66. We also need to aggressively encourage telecommuting."
Moran: The reality is that inside the Beltway we have no choice but to increase rail and mass transit. We also need to encourage more smart growth around metro stations. That's the only way we are going to be able to grow."
Hurst: "The federal government has to make a bigger commitment to Northern Virginia. They are the largest employer in the region and contributing the largest number of commuters. Any earmarks in legislation for transportation should be based on objectives."
Devolites Davis: "Finally, an issue I know something about. The federal government provided 94 percent of the funds for the mixing bowl and Woodrow Wilson Bridge projects. But, Northern Virginia is only 28 percent of the vote in Richmond."