Barber vs Kelly vs Manolakis: The most boring debate ever


by Pamela Powers Hannley

The Congressional District 8 (CD8) special election debate on Wednesday night was the most boring debate I have ever heard.

High school graduate Jesse Kelly repeated the Teapublican talking points faithfully– guns, God, guv'ment– but he forgot the gay part of their message. Former Gabrielle Giffords aid Ron Barber revealed himself as a true Blue Dog (AKA Republican-lite). And the Green Party's Charlie Manolakis did what any self-respecting third party candidate would do; he raised issues that the two major party candidates would rather not mention– like universal health care, the Occupy Movement, and the 99%. 

The only thing that made the debate less somnamulant was the live chat line provided by the Arizona Daily Star. I had great fun jousting with FOX News zombies like local radio attack dog Jon Justice (who kept declaring verbal victories for Kelly when none existed). Of course, the FOXies were all for a double border fence (championed by Kelly) and further militarization of the border (promoted by both Kelly and Barber) but totally against "Obamacare" (which Kelly wants to end and Barber weakly sorta defends). One brilliant commenter even declared, "Not everyone needs health insurance." (He's either on Medicare or just foolish. Chat line chatter here.)

By far the longest discussions focused on the economy, the border, healthcare, and Rosemont Mine (Kelly for, the other two against). Unless I missed them between chat posts, ending the wars, public education, true immigration reform, job creation (beyond cutting taxes for the rich, as Kelly proposes), the plight of the 99% and the disappearing middle class, the Republican War on Women, and broader environmental issues were not addressed.

On the economy, Kelly blabbered about the folly of raising taxes (AKA letting the Bush tax cuts sunset) during a down economy and pushed for further tax cuts for the rich and smaller government. His transparent defense of the corporatist class was appalling. Barber said he would not vote to increase taxes on the middle class but believes that the rich should "pay their fair share"– President Obama's original position during the big tax cut fight of December 2010. Every time the economy or job creation came up, Kelly touted tax cuts for the job creators– ignoring the fact that trickle down economics has failed on all accounts, except for making the rich richer.

On immigration, all three candidates focused on border security and the drug-related violence in Mexico and ignored the messier issues– like the role US policy (NAFTA and the War on Drugs) has in creation of the violence; the plight and exploitation of undocumented workers; deportation and family stress; border crosser deaths in the desert; and the DREAM Act.

Predictably, Kelly was the most militant on border issues– calling for a double fence along the whole Arizona border and more law enforcement. (Kelly wants less government except when it comes to the military.) Focusing on militarization with electronic gadgets as well as more boots on the ground, Barber's position wasn't much different. Manolakis introduced a few chuckles into the debate when suggested that border patrol agents should ride camels because they're suited for the desert and cost less to maintain. (Charlie, although you're idea makes some sense, it doesn't go with the John Wayne cowboy image Arizonans have of themselves.)

None of the candidates addressed the roles that the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the War on Drugs have played in creation of border violence, near lawlessness in Mexico, and dire poverty south of the border. President Nixon's War on Drugs has worked as well as Prohibition did; it has increased drug use and helped organized crime become more organized. (Check out the PBS documentary on Prohibition. The similarities to today's situation with marijuana prohibition are too glaring to ignore.)

On healthcare, Kelly decried rising healthcare costs and repeatedly called for repeal of Obamacare but offered no solutions for the future– although he was asked to do so multiple times. Presumably, he goes along with the right-wing's call for the return of free-market health insurance, which is what got us into this costly mess. Ironically, Obamacare (which is based upon Romneycare, a Republican initiative) supports private insurance– except for a few important changes like prohibiting the denial insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions, expanding coverage to millions of Americans, and providing a minimum benefits package. Barber gets points for bringing up negotiating drug price discounts with Big Pharma. (President Bush II and his all-Republican Congress created Medicare Part D– the Medicare prescription drug benefit– as a giveaway to the pharmaceutical giants. The US is the only country in the world that pays top dollar for drugs and does not negotiate volume discounts.) Otherwise, Barber showed faint support for the worthwhile parts of Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare). Manolakis gets bigger points for championing universal healthcare. Medicare for All is really the best solution to rising costs, broader coverage, and curtailment of unnecessary procedures.

Overall, the debate was too civil– with the majority party candidates repeating talking points. Except for the camels, negotiation of drug prices, and the brief mention of universal healthcare, no new ideas were discussed. 

The CD8 vote is happening now. If you live in Giffords' old district, as I do, check your mailbox for your ballot. If you want to go old school, you can go to the polls on June 12. The winner of this election will serve out Giffords' term.

Thanks to redistricting, the old CD8 will morf into the new CD2 for the general election in November. Barber has announced that he will run for that office also. Marth McSally, one of Kelly's challengers in the recent Republican primary, also has said she will run again. I'm hoping that other Democrats– particularly State Senator Paula Aboud– will enter the CD2 primary race to spice it up. Mr. Civility's mild-mannered, middle-of-the-road approach is more suited to campaign administration and not the blood sport of American politics. 



  1. “Dr. Carmona is exciting people; Mr. Barber is, at best, arousing tepid support.”

    “But is this [Barber] the best Tucson Democrats can offer?”

    I totally agree with these statements.

    Re Carmona: This is because Carmona has had the balls to come out publicly on many controversial issues– path to citizenship immigrants, the GOP war on Women, the DREAM Act, denying healthcare, denying contraception, Sec. of State Bennett’s ridiculous tiff with the State of Hawaii over Obama’s birth certificate, etc, etc. Where is Barber on these issues? No where.

  2. A comparison between Ron Barber and Richard Carmona is instructive. I was skeptical of Dr. Carmona as a recent Democrat who worked in the Bush administration and didn’t have a deep political profile, but he has been running a dynamic, effective campaign, forcefully advocating Democratic and liberal positions. Dr. Carmona is exciting people; Mr. Barber is, at best, arousing tepid support.

  3. It’s pretty clear that Charlie Manolakis is more liberal and a better Democrat than Ron Barber, who couldn’t even bring himself to say he was even going to vote for President Obama. I agree with Suan that the Democratic party should have picked a better candidate, one not so cowardly that he is afraid to support the President or his signature initiatives. If Jesse Kelly is elected in June, he will be one more crazy right-wing Republican nut, but the term is short and how much damage can he do? He would lose in November in the reconfigured new 2nd district. The Democrats would do well to find a primary challenger to Ron Barber in AZ-02 for the fall, someone more dynamic, less wishy-washy, more of a real liberal Democrat.

    I’m sure AZBlueMeanie and Michael Bryan are disappointed with the Barber campaign and wish there was a better candidate, too. But they won’t say so until after the primary. Obviously, Barber is an improvement over the incompetent nut running on the Republican party line. But is this the best Tucson Democrats can offer? There are better candidates currently serving in the legislature, and let’s hope that by Wednesday at 5 p.m., when the filing period for the August 28 primary ends, there is a worthy challenger to Ron Barber in the Democratic primary.

  4. I am sorry to say that, Mr. Charles Manolakis did a much better job than Mr. Ron Barber. He seemed distracted, couldn’t answer questions. The Moderator had to repeat several of the questions, because he did not answer them. He said he didn’t know how many rebuttal cards he had in his hand. He stole Mr. Manolakis’s commentary and at least Mr. Manolakis took him to task on it. When it came time at the end for Mr. Manolakis to ask a question, that I and many others thought was clear, he didn’t understand it. The biggest mistake was (running on the Democrat platform) he would not answer who he was voting for President. THAT WAS SHOCKING!!!The party should have picked a younger man, who is not under so much stress. Mr. Barber is a nice delightful man, but Mr. Manolakis was heads and shoulders above him in his performance at the debate..

  5. Thank you for your well constructed review and criticism of the “debate” last night, Pamela. I found it almost excruciating to listen to and found myself thinking I would have preferred that Drinking Liberally had instead hosted a web-streaming root canal. The saving grace was the coolness of the Shanty’s patio, friendly liberals and cold pints. AZ BlueMeanie is spot on with his disbelief that such important topics were not broached.The blame cannot be laid on ignorant voters since the AZ Daily Star’s editorial board composed some of the questions.

  6. I have been to several forums by the candidates and I am amazed that audiences never ask questions about military spending or foreign policy, nor did the media in this forum. House Speaker Boehner is threatening to shut down the government again over the automatic budget cuts to defense and domestic spending he agreed to last year after holding the country hostage over the federal debt ceiling. And President Obama was just in Afghanistan and hosted both a G-8 economic summit and NATO summit this past weekend — yet not one question about military spending or foreign policy. These are going to be major fights in Congress, but no one will even ask a question.

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