Monday, March 20, 2006

Democratic hopefuls vie to oppose Virgil Goode

(Charlottesville Independent Media, Feb 1 2006)

Al Weed and Bern Ewert are competing for the Democratic nomination to oppose incumbent Republican Virgil Goode for the 5th congressional district. The two Democrats squared off at JABA (Jefferson Area Board for Aging) on Hillsdale Drive. About 50 people listened as the two candidates responded to 25 questions. I arrived in the middle of Weed's opening statement and missed Ewert's opening statement.

Al Weed said he would vote to impeach president George Bush if the opportunity arises. He said 9/11 was a tragedy but we've let fear take our rights away. He said the president has a history of fearmongering. And it was a Democrat who said "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Bern Ewert does not support impeachment because the drama would distract us from focusing on more important issues. He said we've gotten through tough times before but always under Rule of Law. He said we're not safer today and the world is not as unsafe as Bush portrays. He called the Bush policies "insane."

Ewert stressed a theme of real issues, real solutions for real people. He has a 20-year record in civil service at the local level, most recently city manager of Roanoke. He's often acted as a "hired gun" such as when he was called on to help Galveston TX to create a plan to deal with impending bankruptcy. We need to "rebuild the institutions of America."

Al Weed has 20 years of military service, highest rank Command Sergeant Major in the Army. His vision seemed more abstract and idealistic. He talked about building and rebuilding the foundation and all parts at the same time. Instead of fixing leaks, replace the roof. But he pinpointed 3 areas of concentrated effort if he's elected: Martinsville, Danville, and biofuels.

Weed's been studying biofuels and switch grass for eight months. The biofuel generates 4 times the energy needed to manufacture. He would support tariffs for ethanol and biofuels imported, for example, from Brazil which is 20 years ahead of us in this technology. He said we have a responsibility to face global warming since we consume 25% of the world's energy.

Ewert said we should have mandated better gas mileage long ago. He reported only 50,000 cars can use ethanol. He favors more mass transit, more compact neighborhoods, and fund research to reduce dependence on foreign oil. Biofuels is the key to our future.

Both candidates believe abortion should be safe, legal and rare. Weed said the typical woman who seeks an abortion is a single mom with 2 kids. Ewert wants to expand the WIC program.

Both oppose the marriage Constitutional amendment that may be on the ballot in November. Ewert said this hot button issue is an attempt by Republicans to distract us from real issues. Weed said the amendment would set up a Jim Crow-style set of institutional discriminations.

On the issue of tax fairness, both candidates called for more progressivity in the tax code, where you pay a higher rate the more you earn. Ewert wants to roll back the Bush tax cuts. Weed wants a simpler system but the idea of a flat tax is a "shimmer. He said "every loophole represents a constituency" and we should tweak the homeowner deduction.

Overall, the competition between the candidates seemed cordial. In closing remarks, Weed said this is "not an ego race." He said he's learned from the mistakes of his failed campaign against Goode in 2004. Weed implied that Ewert had no support staff by emphasizing that Weed has a seasoned campaign team already organized.

Ewert said he didn't know of anyone who had won only 36% of the vote who later won against the same opponent. He said people want real solutions, not some theory. Ewert left public life in 1991 and has never held elected office.


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