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I used to be right of center politically, and while I haven't changed, my family members (the ones who I have birthed and to whom I am married) call me a liberal. I don't really think that I am-- my views are all over the place, as I think are the views of most people. One of my adult children called me the family's "token liberal" (not the toking liberal, I am not like that!) so I decided to make it my blog title. I write about what I do in my community that matters to me and I share with everyone who cares to read what I think.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

St. Mary's Candidate Forum

I went to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Anchorage for a State Senate Candidate Forum on September 22, 2014. It was put on by AFACT, “Anchorage Faith and Action * Congregations Together” the now 14 member congregations group came together in 2003 to address quality of life issues affecting the community.

The candidates who were there were Berta Gardner, Clare Ross, Kevin Meyer, Felix Rivera, and Harry Crawford, Jr. Mia Costello had planned to be there but a family emergency called her away at the last moment.  Coming from a church background that does not like to be out front and center and that does not do a lot of community involvement, walking into a traditional church such as St. Mary’s with all the Christian symbols that I am used to and hearing (eavesdropping?) attendees discuss several facets of an issue and not always in support of the religious right wing answer was refreshing. While being active in local works was not a prerequisite to being a member of the church and churches that were involved with AFACT, I was at an event that brought people who are active to it. I spoke to church members who are very active in the Anchorage community on all levels of politics. I spoke to people who are occasional volunteers at food banks and other groups, one mom took care of the children of a friend while the friend got out to volunteer while her husband was away on some long-term duty, and I met community organizers and seated politicians.

Fr. Fred of one of the member Catholic churches led us in prayer, prefaced by a Bible verse from Jeremiah (29:4-7) Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses to dwell in; plant gardens, and eat their fruits. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters. There you must increase in number, not decrease. Promote the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you; pray for it to the LORD, for upon its welfare depends your own.

Rev. Michael Burke of St. Mary’s moderated and I will tell you that he was one of the most interesting and animated pastors I have heard address and audience. The rules of the forum were simple: people with questions were not to speak until recognized by the moderator, and they were to limit their questions to one minute. Fifteen or so people got up to ask questions. The questions were varied. Among the questions (but not limited to what I will list) people wanted to know where candidates stood legalizing marijuana, what open government meant to them, if they had any ideas on expansion of early childhood programs, homelessness was addressed, a nurse asked about expansion of Medicaid, a woman who identified herself as a single parent told the forum participants that she made above minimum wage but indicated that it was still hard, and wanted to know if anyone had any solutions for people who were struggling besides increasing minimum wage, and someone asked how candidate felt about ALEC.

Keep in mind that candidates only had three minutes to respond and it reminded me of a speed dating meet-up. Everyone laughed when Rev. Michael mentioned that on his far right, they would start with Berta and she said, “Just for the record, nobody ever said that I was on the far right of anything!” When Berta Gardner began to speak, I envisioned the first of a pack of race horses. As far as I could tell, she addressed every question (or almost every question) that was asked. Topics that stood out to me were that she believes in pre-school programs and wants to increase the BSA, told us that marijuana makes criminals out of people, and that she doesn’t sign confidentiality agreements so she can share why she votes the way she does. While she didn’t think that ALEC was her thing, she didn’t have a problem with think tanks, only certain ideas that she didn’t think were best for the state.

Clare Ross radiated warmth and was concerned about mental health issues and abuse in the state and felt that education funding was the most important. She doubted that she’d ever be invited to join ALEC and wants to prioritize capital projects. She did address the homeless issue probably the most of any candidate and spoke of a concern of there being many families with children without homes and that that was an issue to act on.

Kevin Meyer, a Republican from District O, came. He was the only Republican there. While I noticed that Kevin did not answer a few particulars of questions (such as about student vouchers) he did exactly what he was supposed to do and played into his strengths. He was the Education Chair for four years on a bipartisan panel in Juneau and emphasized that education was at the top of his concerns for the coming session.  He does not support legalizing marijuana, and wanted to discuss the Knik Arm Bridge further. I did not call around to find out how easy he is to work with and am only basing my onion of what I saw, but he seemed like someone who could work with many personality types and persuasions.

The youngest candidate there, Felix Rivera, had the most enthusiasm and excitement in his answers. He was sitting next to his opponent, Kevin Meyers. He was very much against school vouchers, would like to increase minimum wage, and believes that society is shaped by and is based on education. He emphasized that Alaska used to stand for something and that there was a time when lawmakers got things done, but that government has not gotten much done, with many corporations being represented instead of the people.

Just as Berta started the forum answers with a laughable one liner, HarryCrawford, Jr. began the ending with another laughable quote-worthy one liner. When the Reverend told him that he had three minutes, he said, “I’m from the South. I’m not sure I’ve ever done anything in 3 minutes or less!” He expressed that he would like to fund education a year in advance and have an absolute minimum BSA of $425. He felt that Citizens United was the worst decision made in our country and he wants to reduce the corporate influence—and obviously, he won’t be a member of ALEC!

There was a one minute to address what they hadn’t had time for after the speakers had each had their say and after that it was time to break for cookies. I should have taken a picture as among the fascinating people who were there, there was a woman dressed as a suffragette in the back waiting to sign up anyone to vote who had not yet signed up. In spite of the fact that I think there were very few (if any!) in this crowd who had not signed up, she was hardly lonely!

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