Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Analysis of the first debate between Darcy Burner and Dave Reichert

On the Internet, everyone is equal, and it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from or who you are. You can have a voice and that voice can have an impact. The Internet as it exists right now has the potential to be one of the purest forms of democratic participation that the world has ever seen.

We have right here in the Pacific Northwest some incredible examples of that. There’s a young man who started a website called the Northwest Progressive Institute that has a real impact on local politics. He didn’t have any money when he started it.

It’s a website that he put up, with the help of his friends, and has put an enormous amount of work and effort into, that has had a real impact on local issues and local elections. And when he started that website, the young man in question, Andrew Villeneuve, was 17 years old. The Internet can be an incredible tool for giving everyone a voice in a way that we have never been able to do previously.

- Darcy Burner, our champion for Net Neutrality, October 10th, 2006, Seattle Times 8th District Congressional Debate

Last night's no-holds barred debate between Darcy Burner and Dave Reichert was an event that was eagerly looked forward to by a great number of people both inside and outside the 8th Congressional many, in fact, that the theater at the Meydenbauer Center where the debate was held was not large enough to accommodate all the people who showed up to watch it.

Less than ten minutes after the doors opened, the theater was filled to capacity.

Among those turned away included Representative Jay Inslee, a citizen who drove some fifty miles in anticipation of witnessing it in person, and most unfortunately, a significant number of students who had clearly been dropped off by their parents and were perhaps hoping to attend the debate to fulfill a school assignment.

There can be no doubt that people are fired up this year and hungry for change.

As I noted in the opening of my post, I was involved in this debate in more than just one way. I had anticipated being an audience member, but I did not anticipate actually becoming part of the debate itself. Yet that is exactly what happened.

My story, the story of how I became involved in politics, was used in response to a question about the regulation of the Internet and the policy of Net Neutrality. My story, and the story of NPI, is unusual - and unique.

I believe Darcy used it because she found it compelling and inspiring, and I'm truly honored to be thought of in that regard, as are the other members of the Northwest Progressive Institute. And though it is absolutely true that NPI began as nothing more than a website (and an idea), it is now an organization as well, and a team effort.

NPI itself is preceded by Permanent Defense, which I launched when I was fifteen. I launched Permanent Defense because I was sick of Tim Eyman's right wing initiatives decimating neighborhoods across the Evergreen State. Even in the City of Redmond, which is a prosperous community, the ill effects of shortsighted Eyman initiatives were being felt. And despite the harm that was being inflicted, it seemed that many citizens did not truly understand the danger that I knew I felt.

That was the beginning of my involvement.

The following year, NPI itself was founded, and the year after that, this blog was launched, and the year after that (last year) Pacific Northwest Portal was introduced. Darcy could have said I was 15, 16, 17, 18, or 19 and she would have been correct - each year I've worked to put together new projects to strengthen this organization and deepen its impact.

And of the projects and campaigns that I have worked on in my career in politics, I have to say that Darcy's candidacy stands out as an immediate highlight, even though she isn't done campaigning and the election is still to be decided. In my view, and in the view of all of NPI's members, Darcy Burner is already a winner.

She has helped to trailblaze a path that other candidates are following, and will follow. She is part of this revolution of people powered politics that is changing America. She is both a leader and a follower in this movement of equals.

In this first debate, she proved what a serious, tough candidate she is. I am very proud of her, and I know I'm not alone.

Though this was her first major debate, and although she is a challenger, she bested the incumbent with her incredible, captivating performance. She was cool, calm, and comfortable answering questions. She spoke authentically but not too forcefully. She wasn't perfect, but she was excellent.

Reichert, on the other hand, was uninspiring. He frequently stumbled in his comments, misjudged how much time he had left, thus cutting himself short, and wouldn't even answer all the questions. He had to consult his notes, and announce to the audience that he was doing so. At times he appeared angry and emotional, visibly shaken and off balance.

Darcy Burner emerged as the clear victor in a long and passionate debate which covered a very wide range of issues. I'm not going to go into everything that was spoken with a blow-by-blow account. But I do want to review the debate and mention specific occurrences that are key to the conclusions I've drawn.

Moderator James Vesely opened the debate by explaining the format and then calling on the panelists to begin asking questions.

KUOW Weekday host Steve Scher was first out of the gate with a question about Iraq, asking Reichert if he thought the President's strategy in Iraq was working, and if not, why should the architects of a policy that hasn't stopped the violence remain in power?

Reichert tried to distance himself from Bush by indicating he believed a change of course was necessary. "We don't need to stay the course," Reichert stated. "We need to be flexible."

Darcy, by contrast, was very clear in declaring the administration and Congress' policies in Iraq a failure, and declaring that a new direction is needed.

When Reichert was given the opportunity to follow up, he began by trying to link Iraq and September 11th together. "First, we have to remember we were attacked. The United States was attacked."

This drew loud condemnation and a chorus of boos from the audience, which had a visible effect on Reichert. He appeared agitated and frustrated, and he scowled. James Vesely then asked the candidates for their help in keeping their supporters quiet so the debate could go on.

Reichert paused, then looked down at his notes and began speaking again. But he misjudged the amount of time he had, and, in mid-sentence, checked himself, said his time was up, and apologized.
"Mr. Baker said, who was on this panel, said, 'the Iraqi government is capable of sustaining peace in war torn Iraq.' The plan is, the plan has always been from Day One, a strong government, a strong economy, a strong structure... infrastructure, in place, and a strong army and a strong police department and until that happens we need to stay in Iraq. The time is up. I'm sorry."

- Dave Reichert
It was amusing, but Reichert did at least have the sense not to walk off the stage and leave the debate.

The candidates were closer on the issue of immigration (at least in their words) though Darcy made her reasoning for her beliefs more evident than Reichert did.

Ryan Blethen asked Darcy about Net Neutrality, in which she clearly articulated her position and used myself and NPI as an example of the medium's equalizing nature. Reichert claimed that he supports net neutrality, but it appeared to me from his answer that he didn't even get the concept.

Times reporter Jonathan Martin asked about tax cuts, and Darcy responded by saying that hard work should be rewarded, not accumulated wealth. Expanding into financial policy in general, she denounced the huge deficits the Bush administration has created and called for real fiscal responsibility.

Vesely interrupted after Darcy's answer to request the panel start directing questions to Reichert, since the last three had been directed to Darcy.

Reichert, unsurprisingly, claimed the Bush tax cuts have resulted in lower unemployment, more jobs, and new businesses without actually citing any solid evidence to back up such claims.

Steve Scher asked Reichert about the fallout of the Foley scandal, and Reichert said he wanted justice. He praised Hastert for "referring the matter to the FBI". Darcy, in contrast, harshly criticized Hastert and the House Republican leadership and reminded the audience that Reichert did not join her in calling for the Speaker's resignation.

Kate Riley brought up the 9/11 Commission recommendations, and asked Reichert, "What have you left undone? What keeps you awake at night?" He had to refer to his notes and then began rambling about the issue, stumbling over the acronym FEMA. It was not an impressive response.

When it was Darcy's turn, she observed "You deliver results or you get fired. If this President and this Congress worked for Microsoft, they would have been fired." She then took Reichert to task for failing to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

Ryan Blethen asked Reichert about the issue of media consolidation, wanting to know if Reichert believes the FCC should adopt rules wanted by mega conglomerates.

Reichert's response was surprising: he said he wasn't familiar with the issue and would have to pass.

I couldn't help but think silently to myself: so why is it that you're in Congress if you don't understand a key issue like media consolidation?

Darcy had no problem responding to the question and remarked that diverse voices are needed and a marketplace of ideas is important. She credited the Internet as a medium which is helping to prevent centralized control over the media landscape.

Jonathan Martin asked Darcy how she would pay for universal health care, and she responded by pointing out that the U.S. is spending more on healthcare than any other industrialized country. "We waste an enormous amount of money," she said, because the system is inefficient - for instance, those without health insurance have to get their care in an emergency room, and that's expensive.

Reichert claimed he was for affordable healthcare and then insisted that the Bush Medicare prescription drug plan has worked.

Other topics the panelists asked about included Social Security solvency, veterans' benefits, the R&D tax credit (which both candidates said they support), and Reichert's appearance with George W. Bush.

Darcy criticized Reichert for taking orders from House Republican leadership and only voting against the party when told (something Reichert has publicly admitted to).

Both candidates gave lengthy closing statements. Darcy gave a concise but rich description of her background and motivation for running for office. She talked about the need for a new direction and proudly declared,
"George Bush is taking the country in the wrong direction. This Congress and this Congressman will never stand up to him. But I will."
Reichert touted his law enforcement background and his appointment as a subcommittee chair. He was emotional and his voice was striking. He did not smile, nor did he appear to be at ease. At the end, though, he managed to insolently retort "At some point, Ms. Burner, you are going to have to come out from behind the bushes and recognize I am your opponent."

Questions from the audience followed, and they included previously untouched topics such as North Korea, the outsourcing of jobs, the minimum wage, whether it should be legal for pharmacists to decline to fill prescriptions based on their own moral judgment, educating funding, presidential signing statements, torture and the detainee bill, the Second Amendment/gun ownership, and campaign finance.

Each candidate was allowed to ask the other a question. Reichert asked Darcy about her record of community service. Darcy asked Reichert, in a lengthy question, how the people of the 8th could trust him when he's come out on both sides of various issues.

Reichert angrily defended himself from that accusation, of course. Darcy made it clear that she has been involved in her community.

The debate ended shortly thereafter. The candidates shook hands. Curiously, Reichert disappeared behind the curtains, where a small buffet had been set up, and conferred with his staff. Darcy proceeded to step down from the stage and began thanking supporters for attending the debate.

The moderator, James Vesely, was decent, but not, I thought, completely fair. He rebuked the audience at length for interrupting Reichert and tried to punish Darcy's supporters by giving Reichert more time (which didn't seem to help Reichert much at all). He also mispronounced Darcy's last name more than once, asking Ms. "Bruner" to respond to questions. (He corrected himself after a few audience members voiced their unhappiness by shouting "Burner!")

Besides watching the debate and a tape of the debate, I also listened to the broadcast of it on KUOW this evening, and the one thing that really stood out to me was that Reichert sounded better on the radio then he looked at the debate itself or in TVW's video broadcast.

Despite this, the stumbles and confusion were still evident even though there was no accompanying video. For her part, Darcy sounded great. Her words were sharp and clearly spoken, and her tone communicated confidence and poise.

If you'd like to watch or listen yourself, you can stream it from TVW's website.

Finally, some links to other debate coverage:
And, David Postman offers his thoughts, though he did not attend. If you've got links or want to share your own thoughts and or experiences, please post a comment.

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