Cong OH-14: Katz (D) Great at City Club Debate
I attended the debate at the City Club of Cleveland on Thursday between challenger Lewis R. Katz (D-Pepper Pike) (pictured at right with a supporter before the debate) and incumbent Steven LaTourette (R-Concord Township). (Independent candidate Werner Lange (I-Newton Falls), having been left out of the event, stood on the sidewalk in an Uncle Sam outfit with a gag in his mouth, handing out flyers.)
Katz was outstanding in the debate, hammering home his arguments in a confident, booming voice.
In his opening he declared that the Republican-controlled Congress has "failed the American people" through corruption and coverups, never even coming forward with promised lobbying reforms, defaulting on its constitutional duty of oversight, and reckless spending that created a massive deficit that will be a burden on future generations. "If you think that Congress has done a good job, re-elect Steve LaTourette," he said. "If you don't like the way Congress is going, then I submit to you, change your Congressman." He also stressed his impressive record as a legal scholar and teacher, and his three-point plan to get out of Iraq and give the the Iraqis a chance to govern themselves.
On the economy, Katz related how parents tell him their kids "can't stay here because there aren't any jobs." LaTourette says that the economy is wonderful, but it depends on who you are. "If you're making $200,000 with a big 401(k), you're doing well," he said, while the middle class suffers from stagnant wages and rising costs. He criticized LaTourette sharply on voting for CAFTA after promising not to do so, and slammed tax incentives that encourage outsourcing. As to energy policy, he said he wants to take a page out of JFK's playbook and call for a ten year commitment to be energy independent, reminiscent of the famous pledge to go to the moon. He called for wind power development off the Lake Erie coast. On health care he called for fixing Medicare Part D to allow negotiation for drugs and said that eventually the nation must move to a single-payor system. On education he advocated restoring funding to student loans and reforming No Child Left Behind so that it no longer acts as a "partially unfunded mandate."
LaTourette's opening statement was sort of chummy and understated in comparison. He did not dwell on issues or vision, but did the usual incumbent thing of itemizing the federal money he has brought to the district and legislative initiatives he has sponsored. He stressed cutting taxes (praising the supposedly beneficial effects on the economy and tax revenue through growth) and having helped save the DFAS federal facility in Cleveland from closing, which retained 11,000 jobs in the area. He remarked that "we have to stop this nonsense of senior citizens going to Canada and coming back with their own personal supply of medicines," which I though was jarringly harsh. He also touted his heavily-criticized identity-theft bill that would prevent consumers from freezing their credit until after a police report has been filed.
In rebuttal, Katz said that "every two years, Steve LaTourette comes home and tells everyone that he's a moderate," but that he votes the party line in Washington, DC, including his votes for CAFTA and the 2005 federal budget that he himself called "lousy" after promising to do the opposite. In response, LaTourette brandished a Plain Dealer article that portrayed him as a moderate, and claimed that he breaks with his party more than any other Ohio member of Congress. He retold how he changed his CAFTA vote based on last-minute information from the CEO of KraftMaid, a large area employer, which information turned out to be wrong. I didn't think that helped him much.
During the question and answer period, Katz called John Kerry's recent gaffe "unfortunate and stupid" and a distraction from the issues. He said that the Bush policy in Iraq has failed and Rumsfeld should be gone. LaTourette said that "mistakes have been made in every war."
Katz called it "highly irresponsible" to cut taxes during a time of war, but said he would retain the Bush tax cuts as they apply to the middle class while repealing the ones for people making over $250,000 a year. LaTourette then accused Katz of engaging in "class warfare."
Katz said that he is running as an "independent" who will not sacrifice the people of the district for his party. He called for restrictions on accepting money from lobbyists. LaTourette called the "culture of corruption" charge against Republicans "nonsense."
At the end, asked to comment on earmarks, LaTourette praised them. "I love earmarks and I'm not going to be shy about it," he said, adding the cynical comment that "My definition of a bad earmark is one in Dennis Kucinich, Sherrod Brown or Stephanie Tubbs Jones' district - in my district it's a good earmark." In response, Katz said he would bring money to the district, and pointed out that "I don't think Steve LaTourette will be able to bring as much money to the district when he is in the minority party."
Katz got the last word, saying "I can't promise that you will agree with every vote, there will be differences. But I promise that I will never do anythng to make you ashamed." This drew an arch look from the incumbent, but loud applause from the crowd.