Students discuss Democratic presidential candidates

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More than 40 students braved the cold February weather last Wednesday togather in the Lowman Student Center and discuss the major presidentialcandidates vying for the 2004 Democratic party nominee position.

The Sam Houston Democrats organized the forum, which featured four speakers, each touting the strengths of their individual candidates. Following the discussion of each candidate, students were encouraged to voice their concerns about each candidate’s positions and platforms.

General Wesley Clark spokesperson Elizabeth King, a representative of the General Clark Campaign for President, discussed her candidate first, seeking to address what she called misconceptions concerning his campaign. King also wanted to convert some students who still had not decided whom to back.

“I think the most important piece of advice I can give to those of you who are students at the university is that you have to analyze each candidate on your own and not simply as filtered through the media,” King said.

King added that it was important that students formulate their own opinions based on what they know about the nominees and not just rely on the advice of political pundits. She said that if one only relied on the information that was being broadcast in the media, it would seem that the primary was only a two-person race between John Edwards and John Kerry.

“Most people, I can guess, are probably not aware that actually last night (Feb. 3) Wes Clark won far more delegates than John Edwards did,” she said. “In fact, he won more delegates in the primary last night than any other candidate running for president up to this point in the primary process other than John Kerry.”

With the nature of the military presence of the United States around the world being a major topic of concern in the upcoming election, King said that Clark’s record as the Supreme Commander of NATO forces in Kosovo will make him a strong contender, and he is respected even among many of his critics.

“General Powell has acknowledged that (Clark) was one of the most brilliant officers he had ever come across in his entire military career,” King said.

King also spoke about what she sees as conflicting reports concerning Clark’s views on the war in Iraq, which she said has been used by the media to paint Clark as contradicting himself.

“A few weeks ago it was reported that he gave Congressional testimony in September 2002 that supported the use of force in Iraq,” she said. “In point of fact, that’s not what his Congressional testimony said at all. If you read the transcript, you will find that General Clark actually called for the artful diplomatic process backed by the threat of military action only if all diplomatic options had been exhausted.”

She added that Clark had proposed a full military action headed up by NATO only after a postwar scenario in Iraq had been fully fleshed out with the United Nations present to administer the rebuilding of the nation. She said that Clark had worked hard to forge alliances with other nations and sort through international diplomatic issues.

“The reason this is so important at this time in our country’s history is because the United States right now is in a very compromised position on the global stage,” King said.

Following King, Howard Dean supporter Pat Miller took his turn. Wearing a t-shirt stating “Take Back America – Our Future is at State,” Miller incorporated an overhead projector into his presentation, placing slides that often poked fun at President Bush and his policies.

“There are a bunch of really large issues in this year’s election,” Miller

said. “There’s war. There are weapons of mass disappearance. There is Osama bin Forgotten. There’s gay marriage and gay rights issues.”

Miller spoke of “an elephant in the room,” which pointed out what he considered to be flaws in Bush’s proposed national budget for 2005. Of Bush’s $2.4 trillion dollars, he said that the budget said that the country would be $364 billion in deficit.

“I would maintain that that’s not right,” Miller said. “That there are a couple of things that are not obvious by looking at that budget or listening to Dan Rather on the evening news.”

Miller said that the budget for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not included in the budget, nor was the cost of Social Security and Medicare. With the new expenses factored in, Miller said his sources place the deficit at $603 billion.

Miller finally projected the total U.S. deficit at $8.473 trillion over the course of the next decade beginning with Bush’s budget for 2005.

Along with budget problems, Miller also said the tax cuts proposed by the Bush administration would also come back to haunt Americans.

“He’s calling it a tax cut, but we’re having to borrow, which means we have to pay it back,” Miller said. “That’s not what I call a tax cut. That’s what I call a tax deferral.”

He said that in order to fix the upcoming budget deficit, most political analysts are probably going to suggest a major increase in taxes along with a drop in government benefits, which will probably take a generation to stabilize the economy.

“That is the elephant in the room,” Miller said. “I believe that is the issue that this election is going to turn on. Whoever the nominee is has got to get (Bush) off so that that doesn’t happen.”

Miller finally concluded by defending his candidate against the charges that have levied against him.

“Howard Dean has taken a rap in the press for being too radical,” Miller said. “He attacks other candidates. His veins pop when he talks. Some people think that that’s not very presidential, and maybe it isn’t very presidential. Maybe he doesn’t look to you like the president, but I’ll tell you what he looks like to me. He looks like the guy I see in the mirror when I start thinking about all that other stuff.”

“Whether or not this man ends up with the nomination, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to him because he has energized the base. He has taken people like me and hundreds of thousands of other people and given them a reason to be angry about George Bush.”

Pat’s son Matt Miller, a senior criminal justice major at SHSU, spoke for John Edwards. As a graduating college student, Miller said that his primary worries concern the state of the economy in the upcoming years. He said that three million jobs have been lost since Bush took office, and Edwards’ policies would help revitalize the economy.

One issue he said is affecting the country is American “megacorporations” that have headquarters offshore in places like the Cayman Islands that allow tax shelters.

“What John Edwards wants to do is just go ahead and kick out those tax shelters that they’ve got overseas,” Matt Miller said. “We’re not going to do that. If you’re going to move your headquarters overseas to avoid paying taxes to us, then that’s fine, we’re going to kick those shelters out from underneath you and no longer allow you all these great tax benefits.”

Matt Miller said that in order to combat tax shelters, Edwards is going to offer financial incentives for companies that keep their headquarters in the United States, such as a 10 percent tax cut to corporations whose employees work and produce goods in America.

Other economic reforms from the Edwards camp include the American Dream Tax Credit, which would give 5,000 Americans the opportunity to receive jobs and also match the amount of private savings dollar-to-dollar up to $1,000 for American couples who make $50,000 or less annually. Also, Miller said that Edwards wants to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.65 since, when adjusted for inflation, it is statistically lower than it was 30 years ago.

“We’re all college students,” Matt Miller said. “He wants to lower the interest rates we’re having to pay on our college loans. For the education you’re receiving now you may pay 10, 20 years.”

Matt Miller said Edwards wants to give college students their first year of education for free in exchange for 10 hours of community service. He also wants to end “legacy” college entrances which allow students to admitted into universities solely because their parents have attended. Finally, he also wishes to create a new Homeland Security scholarship for students

hoping to major in criminal justice.

Finally, Sam Houston Democrats President Melissa Rosser, a junior, spoke for John Kerry, who she said is also supporting education incentives.

“John Kerry is proposing what is called college opportunity tax credit,” Rosser said. “What people do with this is people give you a credit for each and every year you spend in college for the first $4,000 you pay in tuition. What would happen is you would get 100 percent of the first $1,000 you spend, and then after that you would get 50 percent.”

Also, Rosser said that Kerry is proposing complete credit for a four-year college tuition in exchange for two years of service, either military or other institutions such as the Peace Corp.

“Also what he wants to do is give tax breaks to manufacturing companies that produce their goods and create jobs in the United States,” Rosser said. “Also, he wants to get rid of tax cuts to people who make over $200,000 a year. He does want, however, to keep the tax cuts for the middle class families.”

Rosser said that Kerry also seeks to give tax credits to small businesses, to help provide healthcare coverage to employees and give businesses that are owned by women more government contracts.

Rosser also said that one of the things that separates Kerry from the other candidates is his environmental policies.

“He wants to take away our dependency on foreign sources of energy and invest it in alternative resources such as hydrogen,” she said. “He wants to increase the use of hydrogen and make it so every car in the United States is running on hydrogen by the year 2020.”

Rosser said that with hydrogen, Americans have the potential to power their cars at 100 miles per gallon without pollution and that Kerry wants fuel economy to be at a minimum of 30 miles per gallon by 2015. In order to develop such hydrogen technologies, Rosser said that Kerry is planning to give grants to companies involved in fuel cell research.

She said that Kerry wants to rebuild American relations with foreign nations, and also increase American military forces that he believes to be spread too thin throughout the world.

Finally, as the only senator in 1996 up for reelection to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act along with his support of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act and other civil rights laws, Rosser said that Kerry is one of the biggest supporters of gay rights in the election.

Rosser said that the Sam Houston Democrats have not selected a candidate to officially support, but will back whoever the Democratic National Convention chooses to run in November. The group, founded in the fall of 2001, meets in LSC 306 Wednesdays at 7 p.m. to discuss political issues affecting students and encourages students to vote in the upcoming election.