LISBON - With less than a week to go, the four candidates for the 6th District House of Representatives got in their final shots Wednesday while sharing the David Anderson High School stage at the candidates forum sponsored by the Morning Journal, sister paper to the Salem News, and Channel 27 FirstNews.
In a night of digs and charges, perhaps Incumbent Charlie Wilson (D) received the loudest applause when he followed the other three candidates' condemnation of the Obama health care plan by telling the crowd he voted for and supported the health care bill.
Wilson followed by telling the crowd shots taken by Republican Bill Johnson about the health care plan and Medicaid cuts have been false. While Wilson admits it is not perfect, the plan sustains Medicare for another 12 years, helps small businesses like his spending $13,000 per year for health care for employees. Wilson said the plan keeps children from being denied health care for pre-existing conditions, stops seniors from being denied medical procedures such as mammograms and colonoscopies and helps keep young adults insured until age 26.
In contrast, Libertarian candidate Martin Elsass adamantly called for a "full and complete repeal of Obamacare, accept no substitutes." He said he would keep sending a repeal bill back to the president after every veto, and Congress should work on no other bills until the repeal passes.
Johnson said he would work to repeal the health care bill as well, stating the plan will increase taxes by $570 billion and cause an estimated 117 million Americans to lose their current health care plans. Johnson said businesses are watching their insurance premiums increase by 20 percent and in some cases 35 percent to 40 percent. Johnson said the bill should be repealed, and instead Congress should look at health savings accounts and tort reform to reduce health care-related lawsuits, which he said are driving health care professionals out of the business.
Likewise, Constitution candidate Richard Cadle said he was opposed to the backroom deals and deals made after the fact, along with the "trillion-dollar monster" of deficit spending involved. Cadle said he is the Columbiana County coordinator of the Ohio project, which is a grassroots effort to place an amendment on the state Constitution guaranteeing Ohio's citizens the freedom to choose health care and health insurance for themselves.
The health care issue was only one of the concerns candidates addressed.
During opening statements, each candidate tried shove an entire campaign into two minutes.
Johnson focused on his background as a Christian conservative, a small business owner and the person in charge of information technologies for a globally traded company. He also attacked the big spending and taxation in Congress. "A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned," Johnson quoted Thomas Jefferson.
Johnson said he would bring "proven leadership and business experience to Washington."
Later, Wilson took a shot at Johnson's business background.
"We have to get jobs and small businesses going," Wilson said. "We have to look at our trade policies and stop shipping jobs overseas. That's what Bill Johnson does for a living. Here we work for our living. All we want is a fair day's work for a fair day's dollar."
Johnson in his closing remarks refuted that he has had anything to do with the outsourcing of jobs overseas, a charge he also has faced in television ads. As the chief information officer, Johnson said he is not involved in those decisions. The company he works for has been in business since 1981, and while the company did open a plant in China in the early 2000s, the products made at that plant are sold only overseas, not in America.
In his opening statement, Wilson said he grew up in the Ohio Valley and has seen it "boom" and "bust." He guarantees it will boom again. He suggested we need to utilize the coal and the river. Wilson said he voted against cap and trade policies, which would hurt the area's ability to use coal, and he is on a bill to repeal the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
"I'm not in favor of NAFTA, CAFTA or any other afta," Wilson said.
He also talked about how important this time is for our country and how important the race is as the region chooses its "new" congressman, which Johnson pointed out later in the night asking Wilson "was that a concession?"
"No, that was a slip of the tongue," Wilson responded.
While the two major party candidates exchanged jabs with each other throughout the evening, Elsass and Cadle were free to snap at their heels.
At one point Elsass pointed out both of them were referring only to their singular opponent. "There are four of us," Elsass said. "That's simple math."
Elsass said he was running because the bank bailout policies closed the company he was working for and cost him his job. "I figured turnabout is fair play, so I'm going after his job," Elsass said.
Cadle said he was running because the minority parties won the right to run by taking it to the state Supreme Court and now people have more of a choice. Cadle also said it is not government which creates jobs, it is the small businesses.
All four candidates spoke about the one-time Social Security cost-of-living payment of $250, although some more reluctantly than others. Wilson and Johnson agreed it was needed for seniors, and Johnson added he also is not in favor of raising the age to qualify for Social Security. Elsass said because of how badly Congress has harmed seniors already, in this economy the payment had to be supported.
Cadle said he does not believe the $250 will solve the problems of seniors, and some are insulted by it.
"Entitlements have to come off the table," Cadle said. "There has to be a way to get out of the Social Security mess we are in."
Each candidate also was asked about whether he favors term limits.
Johnson said the problem is getting viable people to run, willing to put their careers on hold if they have nothing to come back to. He said if he did propose term limits they would be for three consecutive three-year terms for the House and two consecutive six-year terms for the Senate, along with the two four-year terms for president.
"It's a formula which would keep a fresh stock of ideas," Johnson said.
Wilson disagreed. As a former Ohio senator, Wilson said term limits on the state level have led to some of the best minds being lost just when they get know what to do.
"You vote every two years or four years," Wilson told the crowd. "If we are not doing our jobs, you vote us out."
Cadle said he is in favor of term limits, which work for the president and state offices.
"The brain trust Charlie (Wilson) talks about are people who think we are too dumb to figure things out," Cadle said.
Elsass said he is in favor of repealing the 17th Amendment which sets up the election of Senate members. He also believes people create term limits with their votes. He also predicted out with four people running, the winner will not get 51 percent of the vote.
"Whoever you elect, the majority would have wanted anyone else," Elsass said.
Each candidate was asked about his plans for balancing the budget.
Cadle said he would have each agency recently given a 20 percent raise give it back. He also would cut 10 percent from every department. He would push for Washington to reduce tax rates and help the businesses grow.
Wilson said he has a 10-point plan to tackle the country's debt, which includes trimming the fat. One of his bills, he said, limits congressional spending unless they find a way to pay for it. Wilson said he also supports a 2 percent cut in discretionary spending, which in three years would save $400 billion.
Johnson countered that Wilson's plans would balance the budget by 2020, while Americans have to balance their checkbooks each day. He also criticized a box on the 2010 income tax form, which will allow taxpayers to donate $3 toward paying down the national debt. At that rate, Johnson said it will take 27,000 years.
Instead Johnson offered that Congress needs to cut "pork barrel spending."
Elsass had available in the lobby the 2010 Libertarian Federal Balanced Budget Proposal, which he said balances the budget by 2012. He said he would eliminate the National Endowment of the Arts, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the federal Department of Education. He also said he would push for the Food and Drug Administation to become a consumer rights advocate. He would eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, which he called the "biggest job killer in the federal government.
Cadle asked Wilson why he has not been able to reach him, noting he had tried to tell him why he should oppose many of the things Wilson has voted for, but could not reach him. Wilson said he comes home every weekend and has five offices.
"I don't think anyone has had a problem reaching me," Wilson said, which led to some catcalls throughout the crowd from others who seemed to disagree. Wilson offered to give Cadle his cell phone number.
Wilson asked Johnson what he would have cut as the deficit doubled - Bush tax cuts, two wars or Medicare. Johnson said he would not eliminate the tax cuts, calling them the right thing to do. He also said the war was not one America chose to be in, but one it had to be in.
Instead Johnson said he would have cut pork barrel spending, earmarks, the National Endowment of the Arts and health care. He criticized Wilson's plan, which he said included raising the spending limit for Congress.