After last night's debate--which only lasted half an hour--Sessions made a hasty retreat out the door of the elementary school cafetorium, instead of hanging around with constituents, enjoying cookies and coffee and listening to the other debates of the evening. Granted, it wasn't an ideal format; it was a town hall meeting, with the congressional debate followed by the county sheriff debate and a Texas house district race, but the whole thing was over in under two hours. Congress is not in session at the moment, there's no urgent business that needs attention. Would it have hurt Pete Sessions so terribly to hang out with us for a couple of hours, pose for pictures with constituents, shake hands, work the room--you know, stuff that politicians do?
Democratic challenger Eric Roberson, on the other hand, stayed through the other debates and spent time afterward answering people's questions, calming their anxieties about these tough economic times. If he'd done nothing more than that, he would have won the debate, but he also bested the 6th-term incumbent in answering questions from constituents. As an attendee posted this morning in the comment box:
Anonymous said...That just about says it all--our congressman is out of touch.
I attended the debate yesterday and I must say that Eric won a decisive victory. Pete was out of touch with the audience... Go Eric Roberson!
October 9, 2008 5:04 AM
Last night's debate was co-sponsored by the Republican and Democratic precinct chairs of a precinct at the far north end of the district, which voted 68.7% Republican in 2006 (75.9% Republican in 2004). So it's not like we asked him to come all the way down to my "scary" neighborhood 25 miles to the south where people vote predominately Democratic. He was in friendly territory, where usually the candidate has to do nothing more than say "I'm the Republican" to get people's vote.
But times have changed since 2006.
On Wednesday, the Dow closed at 9,258; those of use who have retirement plans received our statements in the mail this week. Some of those envelopes remain unopened on our desks, because we're afraid to see how far our savings have plummeted.
The mix of people seemed to be fairly evenly divided politically, though it was difficult to tell from audience response, which favored Eric Roberson. People are scared, they want to know how our economy got into such a mess, what our representatives are going to do to fix it, and what they're going to do to make sure this doesn't happen again.
Before the debate, organizers distributed 3x5 cards to attendees in advance of the debate; we wrote our questions, which were collected and taken to the two precinct chairs moderating the debate. The candidates began with 4-minute opening statements, then proceeded to answer questions chosen by the moderators, who took equal turns posing the questions.
Pete Sessions lost the audience with his opening statement. He began with telling us his name, reminding us how long he's been in office, and said he went to D.C. to "grow the economy and provide jobs," a statement which received a rumble of groans and one "boo" from a man in the audience. He didn't even stop to thank the debate sponsors before launching into a partisan statement:
The first vote in the House of Representatives is to elect the Speaker of the House, so you're either voting for me, a Republican, or Nancy Pelosi...More grumbles from the audience. No one wants to hear that stuff. We want to know if we're going to have any savings left for retirement, if there are going to be foreclosures in our neighborhood, if our favorite local coffee shop is going to be there in the morning when we stop by for donuts and coffee before work, if our job is going to still be there when we get to work, or if we'll find the doors chained shut.
No one cares about Nancy Pelosi.
But Pete Sessions ignored the groans in the audience and just plowed right ahead with canned Republican talking points about cutting taxes and creating jobs; he berated Democrats for "tax increase after tax increase," giving no specifics, seemingly unaware that Republicans were in control of the House and Senate--hence, the budget--until January of 2007. He concluded with a statement I couldn't quite follow, how we should cut taxes and have more money for us instead of the government. I didn't understand that, because tax money is our money and we're the government--as in "we, the people."
Eric Roberson looked relaxed and happy to be there, welcoming the chance to talk to people in the district. He began by thanking the debate co-sponsors--which Sessions failed to do--and started with his biography, how he graduated from Richardson High School before serving in the Navy and returning back to the district to start a family of his own. He spoke briefly about his military service, and how the GI bill helped him attend college. Roberson, while respectfully referring to Pete Sessions as a "great guy: with whom he has some "disagreements," launched into some obvious differences between himself and the incumbent, namely Pete Sessions' vote against the G.I. Bill. Roberson went on to explain that he was raised in a Republican household, but that "extremists" in the party have driven away moderate people like himself. Eric Roberson's just about the only speaker I've heard who can say the word "extremist" in a way that doesn't sound like a radical. With a smile on his face, he said it with an attitude of jovial camaraderie guys have when they're hanging out together, saying something like, "C'mon, Pete, you brag about being at the far right of the Republican Party and I disagree with you on that." Roberson was interrupted several times for applause, as he talked directly to constituents about how government should work on behalf of us, our kids, our parents, and how politicians should be loyal to the people in the district, not to the President or to the political party.
Following opening statements, the moderators read questions from the audience, ranging from the economy to term limits for members of Congress.
On taxes, Pete Sessions advocated "across the board" tax cuts and delivered more standard conservative fare on lowering corporate taxes.
On the economy, Pete Sessions actually blamed "community organizers" for the sub prime mortgage crisis, implying that organizations like ACORN actually write NINJA ("no income, no job, no assets") loans.
Okay, I have to take a pause here and interject something on that topic. I almost laughed out loud when he blamed ACORN and "community organizers," the latest in a long line of Republican-fabricated boogeymen, frequently employed to scare us into voting for them instead of for our own best interest. Mortgage brokers were talking people into lying about income to get loans, and I know a little about it from a friend, who's employed as a teacher. A well-respected mortgage broker tried to talk my friend into lying about her income to qualify for a bigger loan. This broker wasn't the "liberal wacko community organizer" who exists only in Pete Sessions' imagination, but a nicely dressed professional, working in posh upscale office building--probably a Republican. My friend told me about the meeting afterward, about telling the broker that she wanted what she could afford and didn't think lying about her income sounded like the right thing to do. My friend ended up walking away, deciding not to buy a house after all. But how many other people were taken in by the nice office, the expensive suit, the professional sales job; how many people bought the lie that they could do better than just a "starter home," that they could have a "nice" house with every kid in his or her own room?
One person who promoted this type of loan was Pete Sessions' favorite president, George W. Bush. Check out this video of President Bush saying that "deserving families with bad credit histories" should be able to get "just as nice a house as anybody else," then tell me he's not part of the problem!
But I digress.
Eric Roberson countered that we don't need "across the board" cuts in taxes, we need to take a smart look at everything, cutting taxes where it will do the most good in stimulating the economy and leaving other taxes as they are, instead of coming in with a "one size fits all" tax plan.
The final question from the audience concerned a constitutional amendment on term limits for members of Congress. This question was read by the Republican precinct chair, and she got a laugh from the audience as soon as she said the words "term limits." For a few seconds, it sounded like we were at a comedy club!
Pete Sessions said that he supports term limits and has voted for them (I seem to remember him talking about term limits about 10 years ago, but a google-search of "pete sessions term limits" didn't yield much of anything).
Eric Roberson said that he does favor term limits, but would want members of Congress to have enough time in office so the people have experienced members representing them, saying that if there was constant turnover in the House, the people back home wouldn't be very well served.
After both candidates had made their closing statements, as the audience applauded and the moderators thanked them for being there, Pete Sessions slipped out the back. "He's leaving!" said a man across the aisle from me. "He's going out the back door...come out this way," he said, indicating a door behind the seating area. Actually, to be fair, the main entrance to the cafetorium was the one off the parking lot, where we all came in, and where Pete Sessions headed out after the debate. But the visual effect was the same; it looked like he was "sneaking out the back" to avoid talking to us. The applause hadn't even stopped before Pete Sessions was out of sight.
"Was it something we said?" another debate attendee joked, to no one in particular. Another laugh from others in the audience.
Well, I can't blame Pete Sessions from leaving--we didn't have the kind of venue he likes. No strippers, no high stakes poker game in the back room, just coffee, cookies and a lot of questions about what he's been doing for us for the past 12 years. Where's the fun in that?