By Nick Diamantides
About 200 people attended the California 37th Congressional District candidates forum at the community center of Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Long Beach last Saturday. The event was sponsored by the Long Beach Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) and featured incumbent Congresswoman Laura Richardson, Republican challenger Star Parker, and Independent challenger Nicholas Dibs.
Parker, who was selected by a draw to speak first, began by telling the audience that many years ago she was a welfare mom, but her life changed dramatically after Christian conversion, enabling her to graduate from college and start a business in Los Angeles. She explained that she later founded her nonprofit group, the Washington D.C.-based Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE), which is a public-policy think tank that proposes market-based solutions to fight poverty.
Parker said that until recently she had no desire to run for public office and was content to work behind the scenes to bring about positive change. “But things have changed. Our nation is tremendously divided, and we cannot go on against our core principles,” she told the audience. “So this March, when the Los Angeles County Party asked me to return home and fight for freedom from inside the Congress, I agreed.”
Parker lamented the fact that many people in the 37th District have come to believe that they cannot survive without government-funded entitlements such as welfare. “Yes, I do believe that the income redistribution laws are unacceptable in a rich, free and bursting-with-opportunities environment,” she said
Dibs began his opening remarks by noting that in June, July and August more than 14,000 people signed petitions to put his name on the ballot. (This is Dibs’s second time on the ballot challenging Richardson.) “I’m the first person since 1950 to get on the ballot as an Independent candidate for Congress in the State of California,” he said. “That’s because our election system makes it very difficult for someone who is not part of the party apparatus to get on the ballot.”
He noted that the U.S. and all its states and communities face many challenges and crises, and the 37th District, as well as the nation, needs people in Washington who have common sense and are not under the control of party bosses or special-interest groups.
Dibs told the audience that greed, corruption, and injustice practiced against the American people are at the core of all problems faced in the country today. “By and large, the American people have been deceived by many of their elected leaders for over 50 years,” he said. “It’s time that we sent an Independent to Congress who can stand up for truth and justice and the best interests of the people.”
Early in her opening remarks, Richardson noted that she is a lifetime member of NCNW and shared the values of that organization. “I am running because, back in 1968, I was six years old, and I had an opportunity to see that some of the laws (on the books) at the height of the Civil Rights movement didn’t make sense, and they weren’t fair for everyone,” she said. “So my mother told me, ‘you should be a person who makes better laws.'”
In an obvious jab at Parker, Richardson added, “I am not here because I was recruited by the Republican Party. I’m not here because I am supported by Sarah Palin, who dumped a bunch of money in our district thinking we wouldn’t know the difference between a counterfeit and a real person in our community. The reason I became a public servant was because I felt that it was important to use the skills that I gained as a graduate to be able to help somebody else.”
Later, Richardson told the audience that because she worked in the business sector for 14 years she understands the needs of business people. She added that, unlike Parker, she has lived in the 37th District for many years. “You need a member of Congress that will continue to fight for you,” she said.
After the introductory remarks, Long Beach Unified School District Board Vice President Felton Williams, who served as moderator, asked each candidate questions specific to statements each had made during the past few weeks of campaigning. He asked Parker to explain why she believes that abolishing minimum-wage laws for those under the age of 21 could significantly reduce the wave of illegal immigrants coming to America.
“The reason I want to abolish minimum-wage laws for everyone under the age of 21 is not because of the illegal immigration problem,” Parker replied. “I want this because too many of our young people are spending their time hanging out on street corners and getting engaged in gang activity.” Parker noted that the breakdown of the family and the moral relativism taught in public schools have not helped young people make wise choices, but abolishing the minimum wage for those under 21 would enable more employers to hire youth and teach them skills that would put them on the path to leading independent, productive lives.
Next, Williams referred to Dibs’s oft-repeated statements that he favored having a flat tax for everyone but the poor. “How would you determine who is poor?” Williams asked.
“What I stated was that the tax code is thousands of pages, and we need to simplify it and cut out the corporate loopholes,” Dibs replied. “You and I have to pay taxes, but the offshore corporations and the money people who profit at the expense of us don’t pay their fair share. In order to eliminate the corporate loopholes, we need a flat tax for corporations and people.” He added that a revised tax code would have to include some kind of a graduated scale so as not to place undue burdens on those below the poverty line, which is determined by the federal government.
Williams then asked Richardson what federal expenditures could be reduced and how the money could be better spent. Richardson said one example that comes to mind is a recent study conducted on 96 missile defense systems. According to Richardson, by eliminating waste and inefficiencies in those systems, the federal government could save more than $296 billion.
“What would I like to do with that money?” Richardson asked. “There are a lot of things I would rather do than have a missile defense system that really, at this time, is not working.” She explained that she would put that money back into the nation’s schools and spend it on programs that provide assistance to the needy and to seniors.
Williams asked all three candidates about their ideas on Social Security reform. Parker said she would push to exempt seniors from all taxes and look for ways to allow working people to put part of the amount deducted for Social Security into private retirement accounts, which would generate more money for them in the long run. She added that the Social Security system was set up like a pyramid scheme and is now in danger of collapsing because, with the influx of retiring Baby Boomers, there will be more people taking money out of it than putting into it. “There are a lot of things we can do with Social Security,” Parker said. “It is an open debate.”
Dibs offered another solution to the Social Security crisis. “We don’t have a lock box on Social Security,” he said. “One of the first things I would do is propose legislation to put a lock box on it. The problem is the government deficit spends, and they borrow out of the Social Security Trust Fund.” Dibs noted the wars in Iran and Afghanistan are the primary causes of the government’s deficit spending. “Bringing the troops home will enable us to put more money into important programs like Social Security,” he said, adding that the federal government also needs to help grow the economy so that more people are employed, producing a greater revenue stream for that Trust Fund.
Richardson agreed with Parker that the large number of Baby Boomers who will soon be over 65 will put a large stress on the Social Security system. However, she strongly disagreed with Parker’s suggestion that the government should stop taxing seniors. After lambasting the Bush administration for its tax cuts and war spending, which, according to Richardson, are the primary causes of the federal deficit, she said, “Let’s face the fact— we do not have the money to properly fund Social Security.”
Richardson also agreed with Dibs that the federal government has to end costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and use the money now spent on the wars to supplement the Social Security system.
The candidates then spent close to an hour discussing how to improve the nation’s educational system, eliminating the federal deficit, reforming health care, solving the problem of illegal immigration, and several other topics. Parker and Richardson exchanged several sharp criticisms during the forum, and each had many supporters in the audience who applauded loudly at their candidate’s comments.
In closing, Parker said, “I am the best candidate for this office because we need to do something about the political insanity of redistribution programs that have gripped the poor communities of this country for 40 years and are now spreading across the nation. The last thing we need to do is to collapse this society by expanding government dependency.” She added that, if elected, she will fight to save America’s schools and work hard to pass legislation that encourages free enterprise. “If elected, I will bring new energy, new leadership and new ideas to Washington so that we can build our economy by attracting private-sector business to create jobs,” she said. “I will work to build our education system so that students can get the best possible education. I will build self-sufficiency and independence by strengthening our nonprofits with charity tax credits.”
In his closing remarks, Dibs warned that it’s time for the American people to wake up. He noted that both political parties are under the domination of the country’s elite, who care little about what is best for the people. “The Republicans and Democrats have controlled the agenda for the last 50 or 60 years,” he added. “If you are okay with what Bush did to our country for eight years, vote for Star Parker. If you are happy with what’s been going on since then, vote for Laura Richardson. If you like neither, vote for me.”
Dibs told the audience that, by electing him, they would make him the only Independent member of Congress, which would send a shock wave throughout the nation. He also stressed that, unlike Parker or Richardson, he would be able to work with members of Congress from both parties.
When Richardson had her turn, she noted that 35,296 children in the 37th District do not have health insurance, and 70,800 people are unemployed. “We have problems, and we need people in Congress who can work with President Obama to better our community,” she said, because like it or not, he is our president. Underscoring her sharp philosophical differences with her Republican opponent, Richardson added that she strongly disagrees with Parker who wrote in a book that “welfare is an insidious parasite that sucks self-reliance dry at its best and, at its worst, is responsible for the deterioration of urban America.” Richardson noted that in the last two years her staff had helped hundreds of people who were having problems with the bureaucratic red tape of a federal agency and her primary focus will always be to help people in need. “I ask for your vote again,” she said.