Last week I interviewed Patty Weiss, former Southern Arizona
newscaster, and currently a candidate for the Democratic nomination for
the Congressional District 8 seat being vacated by Jim Kolbe. I have to
confess to a staggering feat of amateurism; my tape of the interview
came up blank. Luckily, I have a good memory, took some notes, and
Patty was kind enough to review my notes to ensure that they accurately
reflect her positions. As a result, the responses I attribute to Patty
on the issues I raised are at best paraphrasing, not quotes, though she
did sign off my recollections.
My impression of Patty was that she is a very intelligent and
articulate person, the sort that might overwhelm less active
intellects, and garner a certain reputation from the envious or less
able. She is well-spoken, as one would expect from a professional
communicator, but I never got the feeling she was just stringing
together talking points, though, of course, there was some that,
naturally. There were also moments when she was less guarded than any
professional politician would have been and that could, unfortunately,
cause her some embarrassments in the future.
It is obvious that Patty is not just ‘interested in politics’ (a quote
that has been used widely to cast her as a dilettante); rather Weiss is
possessed of a well-considered viewpoint on the issues. Anyone who
thinks that Weiss is a less than serious candidate, or one who will
turn off the electorate upon greater exposure is in for a rude
awakening. She looks great on TV, and has charisma. The wildcard may be
how she fares in face-to-face retail politics. I suspect that she will
be better than most. In my opinion, Weiss is likely to exceed
expectations upon greater exposure and develop into a formidable
political contender. Her wide name recognition could very well
translate into wide electoral support as voters come to know her and
like her in this new role.
UPDATE 2/28/06: Blue in AZ at Daily Kos attended several panels with the candidates and transcribed their position statements on the Iraq war. There have been comments on this post that Patty’s previous statements about what to do in Iraq differ from how she answered me. I’ll let you review the record and decide for yourself whether that is the case or not.
I specifically requested Patty to keep her answers focused on the larger picture of principles, convictions and values at the expense of policy details.
I asked Patty what she felt makes a great representative. She said that the ability to listen to constituents and translate that knowledge into wise and principled compromises is the hallmark of democracy. When I asked her the related question of whom, outside of her own family, she most admired, she gave me a local answer – Peter Likins, the outgoing President of the University of Arizona – and a national answer – Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States. She admires Likins because of his dedication to excellence in education, a dedication she says she shares, and his willingness to make hard choices and to squarely take blame for his mistakes. Carter she admires as a man of deeply held principles who has dedicated his life to making the world a better place.
I always ask Congressional candidates on what committees they would like to serve. It immediately highlights what they feel are the most important issues in their district, and also gauges where they feel their own expertise lies. Patty said she would want to work on healthcare, education, veterans’ affairs and possibly appropriations because it is so important. This translates to lobbying for slots on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health, the Committee on Educations and Workforce’s subcommittee on Education Reform, the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (possibly serving on the subcommittees on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, on Economic Opportunity, or on Heath) and the Committee on Appropriations (possibly on subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, or on Military Quality of Life and Veterans’ Affairs). Freshman legislators pretty much take what they get for committee assignments, but Patty’s answers highlight what issues are of most interest to her, and what she feels is of most importance to the district. Patty seems clearly to be focused on the real human service needs of constituents, especially the special needs of veterans. These choices should be contrasted and compared with those of other Democratic candidates and the likely policy issues that will be at issue in the general election.
Patty and I touched the broader issues of Constitutional balance and the rule of law. She says she shares my concern that the President is over-reaching. She used the term Imperial Presidency to describe Bush’s administration of the executive branch. She maintains that Congress has the duty to reassert its constitutional prerogative of oversight. I asked her point-blank if she was ready to vote for impeachment of Bush. She said that she found the NSA monitoring program very troubling, but there were neither sufficient facts yet known and that she believed that there were still valid, good faith arguments as to whether the President’s actions broke the law. She felt that many of this Administration’s actions were troubling and potentially grounds for impeachment of members of the Administration. I have to comment here that I think Patty is being too cautious on this issue. I do not believe there is any credible argument that the President’s spying is consistent with the law. Of course, she may have changed her mind since we spoke. I certainly hope she has.
Regarding Iraq, Patty thinks that Rep. Murtha’s plan, which Patty says is widely misunderstood and unfairly maligned as ‘cut and run’, is a good basis on which to proceed. Patty feels we need to stop making the situation worse by pulling our troops into an ‘over-the-horizon’ posture where they can respond to crises but are out of major population areas. She thinks we also need to clarify to the Iraqi people that we will not maintain a permanent military presence in their country. I certainly agree with her view; the millions we are pouring into constructing four mega-bases certainly cannot be helping on that count. Finally, she says that we have to make it clear that Iraqis must fix their broken constitution to avoid a failed state. Personally, I think Patty is right in that the Iraqi constitution is moving toward a radically anti-American theocratic state and possibly a civil war, but correctly diagnosing the condition and getting the both the patient and Dr. Bush to apply a remedy is a big prescription. In any case, Patty feels that we should set a timetable for withdrawal of troops.
Given the looming pseudo-crises this Administration is trying to manufacture in Iran, I asked Patty under what circumstances she would vote to allow this Administration to use force in the future (not necessarily limited to only Iran). She says that the Administration should be held to much higher standard given its track record. Certainly, the Administration would have to present a much more objective assessment, and would have to demonstrate world support and provide a much greater degree of transparency in decision-making and information gathering. Patty’s answer seems to imply that Congress is to some degree dependant upon the Administration for its information about a foreign crisis. It is exactly this view, of Congress as a sort of jury on the use of force, rather than an independent investigator and fact-finder in its own right, that caused Congress’ horrible lapse in oversight on Iraq.
Congress must not allow the President to lead us blindly to war, but should provide an independent assessment and not just naively rely on the information spoon-fed to them by the Administration. All the shuffling of intelligence agencies that has occurred post 9/11-Iraq overshadows the massive failure of Congress to make independent inquiries, and not just accept the facts set before them. Congress has turned the constitutional responsibility to declare war into a practical dead letter by its subservience to the Executive in war. I would like to see Congressional candidates in this cycle making the case for a much more muscular Congressional role in use of force. Patty certainly has the right idea, but she continues to labor under the mind-set of the Cold War, where because of MAD, the Presidency arrogated far too much power to use force. Congress became a rubber stamp, and Iraq is the result.
Patty spoke to the issue of Iran specifically. I asked her what her approach to the problem of Iran’s nuclear program would be. She stated a strong preference to see a diplomatic resolution to the issue, but said she could not take a military option off the table. She declared that she would certainly understand if Israel felt that it had to take preemptive action given that it would be within range of an Iranian nuclear missile and the Iranian President has made very disturbing and provocative statements about wiping Israel off the map. This may be the only point on which Patty’s response gave me real reservations about her position, though, admittedly, I think about this issue differently than many.
First, military force can only kick this particular can down the road a bit; force cannot solve it without toppling the Iranian regime. As regime change in Iran is a completely unrealistic, the best result a limited military strike can accomplish is to force the Iranians to pull out of the NPT and take their program completely underground. The result will be another de facto but undeclared nuclear power (in addition to Israel) in the Middle East. Second, Iran is many years away from developing a nuclear weapon; it is not an imminent threat, but a distant one. Treating it as a crisis is only a tactic to ramp up fear domestically. Third, MAD will apply equally well to Israel and Iran as it did to America and the U.S.S.R. Despite religious fervor and rhetorical excess, neither Judaism nor Islam encompasses the sort of end of the world scenario that makes use of nuclear weapons seem possible by some fanatics. There is a large difference between strapping a bomb on one person to free one’s homeland and committing societal suicide by dropping a nuke on Tel Aviv. The result of a nuclear Iran will be strategic stability, not Armageddon. If anything, at this point in our political history, it is America that should not be allowed to have nukes. Finally, any assertion by any American official that an Israeli pre-emptive attack would be in any way acceptable is geo-politically naïve. In order for Israel to strike Iranian facilities, they would have to fly over airspace controlled by American forces. Such an attack would be strategically equivalent to an American attack in Iranian eyes, involving all the same strategic consequences as a direct American strike. The result could be an all out Iranian-backed Shiite assault on our troops in Iraq. Allowing Israel to carry out a strike might serve their perceived short-term security interests, but only at great cost to our own interests. For these many reasons, I urge Patty to rethink her position on this issue.
Illegal immigration is going to be a big issue in the general election. I asked Patty what her priorities and convictions about this issue are. First, she insists that terrorism and illegal immigration must not be conflated, as they so often are. Terrorist infiltration of our borders is an issue that needs to be addressed comprehensively on all our borders, from the wild coasts of Oregon to our busiest ports, as well as the borders with Mexico and Canada. We need to recognize that any real solution to border security will be a high-tech one, utilizing drones, sensors, and the like, not low-tech solutions like a wall along the border. We need a guest worker program to bring the 11 million illegal immigrants into the light so we can deal with the problems of this population. We also need stringent employer sanctions to prevent the current situation from recurring. The economic driver of illegal immigration is lack of economic opportunity in countries of origin. We have to address development in Latin America in the context of globalized trade. Globalization is a fact of life we have to deal with constructively. We need to ensure that free trade is also fair trade with locally indexed living wages, workers’ safety standards, labor rights and environmental standards.
Patty is very concerned about healthcare in America and I asked her how she would approach the problem of extending coverage and addressing the cost of care. She believes strongly that we need to have a universal coverage in this country. She believes it not only to be a quality of life issue and simple fairness, but also a matter of global competitiveness. We cannot compete with other industrialized nations who all have universal care if we are the only country still imposing primary healthcare costs on employers. To create a system of universal coverage Patty believes we can build upon Medicare-type government programs. She points out that while the administrative costs of private healthcare insurance averages 25-30% of premiums, public programs have a much lower administrative cost of about 3%. I think The West Wing gave the cause of universal coverage a big boost when Santos pointed out this fact in the faux Presidential debate. I feel sure there is much more that Patty would want to say on this issue, I had to cut her off to bring the interview to a conclusion.
I asked Patty for her take on the macro-economic position of the nation after 5 years of Bush. She charges Bush with using deficits and irresponsible tax cuts as a tool to attack program that Americans need and deserve from their government. Taxes are a duty of citizenship which allow society to operate and accomplish great things like building world-class transport networks for commerce, waterways and flood control systems to keep our population safe, ensure safe and efficacious drugs through our FDA, and many other wonderful and necessary things upon which our prosperity and well-being depends. We need these programs and we deserve them, and Bush is trying to destroy and undermine them. Our priority as a society should not be making the already wealthy wealthier still; it should be making life better for everyone. We cannot do that if our government is living on credit to meet the bills. Moreover, we cannot have a courageous and independent foreign policy if OPEC and China hold our debt; our spendthrift President is mortgaging our security.
Finally, I wanted to know what she was reading. I am a bookworm, and so I have a belief that what one is interested in reading tells you a good deal about a person. The last book she read was “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. It was heartening to me that Patty was paying attention to such an innovative scholar. She said that she thought him a very smart man, but that he needed a good editor. At the time, she was in the process of reading E.L. Doctrow’s “The March”, a historical novel about Sherman’s march to the sea in Georgia and subsequent slash and burn campaign up the coast of the Carolinas. If her reading is any indication of her campaigning style, we are in for an interesting primary season.