Tuesday, June 29, 2004

My meeting with Roger Eaton, candidate for Congress.

Tiffiney and I met with Roger Eaton and his campaign manager Larry Spell today for about two hours. Roger was gracious with his time, and we discussed many issues, including his position on universal health care and education block grants.

Roger works as a plant supervisor for Owens Corning in Morehead City, NC, and has been hard on the campaign trail for two years. His opponent, five term Republican Walter Jones, ran practically unopposed in 2002, taking in 90% of the vote against a Libertarian candidate. No Democrat ran in 2002 in the 3rd District. Democrat Leigh McNairy lost badly to Jones in 2000.

Eaton backed Edwards for President in the Democratic primaries. Spell supported Howard Dean, as did I. Roger's wife is a nurse in Carteret County, and the two have a twelve-year-old son. You can see Roger's responses to the National Political Awareness Test here. Jones has refused to fill out his NPAT, even at the request of Senator McCain. Jones's most recent NPAT is from 1996, and can be viewed here.

Roger is pushing his message of accountability in representation. His proposal for monthly "town meetings" is much needed in an era of distanced politics. By allowing citizens to voice concerns personally, they have the opportunity to debate the issues with their representatives in Congress. This personal connection is sorely missing in the 3rd District with incumbent Jones. He also wants to maintain an interactive web site which allows constituents to voice opinions and vote on upcoming legislation in order to maintain a true representative in Congress.

Jones, who is now famous for "freedom fries" and Helms Lake, is failing to represent his constituents in many ways. He opposes a raise in minimum wage or the creation of a living wage. He rails against wasteful spending, then proposes a costly transfer of name for Falls Lake. He chastises liberal virtues as "immoral", then immorally fails to see that thousands of his constituents have affordable health care. He also voted against HR3214, legislation which would relieve the backlog of DNA analysis. Each is likely linked to a difficult case, and could prove guilt or innocence of charged as well as convicted criminals. Our justice system deserves support from DNA analysis, and its use should be fully funded by our tax dollars. If it keeps one innocent person from serving undeserved jail time, it is worth the costs involved in HR3214, which passed despite Jones's Nay vote.

One of Roger's big pushes this campaign will be to fight back against the labeling of Democrats as "immoral." So often over the past decade Republicans have tied morality to supporting conservative causes. As Roger said, we can't separate politicians from their religion, but we can remove religious dogma from government. His religious convictions come with any eye of toward his Methodist minister grandfather. Morality has nothing to do with the specific faith or religion of a person, but instead, should be judged by that person's actions. Roger is opposed to the religious intrusion into our modern politics, and understands how this has created a polarizing atmosphere for the nation.

Roger suggested that to reform our education system, he would propose utilizing education block grants to states to help bolster state participation. He would finance this greatly by cutting the federal Department of Education in half, eliminating and consolidating unnecessary positions and programs.

I discussed John Kerry's proposal for creating a community service-for-education funding idea with Roger and Larry. They agreed that such a proposal would benefit our society, and to do so, it should be tied into an existing program such as AmeriCorps. I imagine this would greatly decrease the start-up costs and organizational hurdles, and allow the program to begin less in the red. Education, I stressed to Roger and Larry, is not only a way to promote individual accomplishment, but it also provides a valuable benefit to communities and society. They acknowledged this link, and reiterated a desire to substantially invigorate our education system.

One area where Eaton will need to hit hard will be on military issues. Although it has been long taken for granted that the military vote swings conservative, following disastrous events in Iraq, unannounced call-ups of reservists, and extension of duty for thousands, this year's military vote may yet be up for grabs. Jones is likely taking his support for granted, and Roger feels he can beat Jones at his own game.

Roger is pushing hard to propel Congress to support Concurrent Receipts legislation. CR involves allowing military members to enjoy the same medical benefits as civil servants, such as postal employees. Jones has not supported this initiative, despite its strong backing from military-related groups. Eaton's drive to show that Jones does not offer sufficient support for our military could seriously undermine Jones's credibility, especially with military families who depend greatly on government benefits.

Mr. Eaton is also in favor of abandoning the FTAA and "fast track" trade power for the President. Working as someone in a blue collar industry, he understands how important labor and market protections are to maintaining the strength of our nation's work force. Current Bush administration policies, backed by Rep. Jones, are eroding the few safeguards our country's workers have against cheap foreign competition.

On the subject of taxes, Roger wants to return top tax brackets to the pre-Bush tax cut levels in order to boost revenue, pay down debt, and reinvest in programs such as education and national parks. Defense budgets could be trimmed by eliminating pork programs and weaponry, while still bolstering troop support and readiness. Elimination of the missile shield program could greatly support these efforts. However, Eaton cautioned, we should not raid Social Security to pay down debt or finance other projects. SS is a savings account, not an investment account. It should never be touched until a legitimate withdrawl is made for its recipients. Roger also wants to reduce taxes on the lowest income bracket, a decision which should be highly favored by many residents of the 3rd district.

I brought up an old NPAT question which asked candidates whether they supported a balanced budget amendment. Roger supported the principle behind a desire to balance the budget, but he, like I, cringe at any attempt to amend the Constitution. Larry pointed out that such an amendment may not be wise financially. At times, especially during periods of tight revenue flow in the economy, the federal government can greatly benefit society by sponsoring debt, thereby "greasing" the financial wheels. If the balanced budget amendment were in place, such a financially responsible policy would be unavailable.

I also talked to Roger about starting an official campaign blog. I stressed that this would allow him to reach out personally to constituents with a message whenever he wished. Larry seemed to have given that a thought already, and a campaign blog may soon be in the works. I hope they decide to do this since, as we have seen with Jeff Seeman, Barack Obama, and many others, it really adds a personal connection between candidate and voter.

Tiffiney and I have signed up to work on the campaign. Though there is no primary opponent, the plan is to place campaigners at each polling place to hand out Eaton for Congress flyers to every person we can in order to garner name recognition. We are going to tenatively cover the Pine Knoll Shores and Emerald Isle locations, though that may change later. I'll likely go back to the HQ on Friday to help out with administrative tasks and routine campaign stuff. I have also pledged to assist on Thursdays and Fridays each week when necessary.

For more information about Roger, please contact his campaign through his website. I'll be posting a couple of pics as soon as they are developed.

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