Confessions of a Hoosier Democrat

Blogging Indiana Politics and the 2008 Presidential Race.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Five Questions with David Sanders

David Sanders is the Democratic Candidate for the Indiana 4th Congressional district. David is an associate professor at Purdue University in the Biological Sciences Department specializing in biological weapons. David was a member of the Biological Weapons Proliferation Prevention Program component of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program and a noted expert on the Ebola Virus.

Sanders is running against Rep Steve Buyer. Despite David's attempts to engage him, Buyer remains out of touch with his constituents. Buyer repeatedly refused to acknowledge David's attempts to debate him and hasn't even bothered to update his campaign website.

Despite being Chairman of the House Committee on Veteran Affairs and a Colonel in the Army Reserve, Buyer has repeatedly criticized by leading veterans organizations such as the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and AMVets, who joined together to criticize Buyer for eliminating the House committee's involvement in hearing for the Department of Veteran's Affairs.

Dr. Sanders was kind enough to take time from his schedule to answer my Five Questions...

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1> What is the most difficult thing about going up against a Seven-term Congressman?
There are two major hurdles that need to be overcome in this campaign.

The first is the advantage of incumbency. Congressman Buyer can receive free press whenever he desires. He has two common ploys. One is to appear at a press conference where the business of a campaign contributor, for example, a telecommunications company, makes some sort of announcement. The second is to sponsor a job fair.

The second strategy is related to another issue with incumbency. Congressman Buyer has accumulated campaign funds from corporate PACs. The most recent FEC filing indicates that he receives 80% of his contributions from PACs—the largest proportion for any Indiana Congressman. A large proportion of this money comes from corporate PACs such as those for the telecommunications and healthcare industries that have business in front of the committees upon which Steve Buyer serves. The core of the activity of Congress occurs in the Committees. Corporate PACs buy the influence of Committee members. Steve Buyer has been a master of this game. His activities at these press conferences resemble those of a lobbyist rather than those appropriate for a U.S. Congressman.

On this topic, I have pledged that I will not knowingly accept campaign contributions from individuals or corporate PACs who have business in front of the Committees upon which I serve. This is the way that I will preserve my independence.

The second hurdle is the nature of the district. It is the most gerrymandered in Indiana and stretches from Monticello to Mitchell south of Bedford. There is no unified media market, and the Indianapolis media are not inclined to cover the campaign extensively. The fact that American veterans from coast-to-coast and throughout the district overwhelmingly have an intense dislike for Congressman Buyer because of his assault on their benefits and arrogant treatment of them and the leaders of their veterans service organizations has received little coverage in the major media. The local newspapers with a few exceptions are generally quite fair in their discussion of the campaign and are performing an important service to their readers.

Congressman Buyer has refused to agree to any debates despite my invitation to him in June; he has not participated in a single forum and has refused an invitation from the media to participate in a debate.

The tactic upon which Congressman Buyer relies is to meet with constituents or attend events where he would be in contact with the public as little as possible. He is relying on his bet that if the voters of the 4th District don’t know anything about the candidates then they will likely vote for the Republican.

The mention of the seven terms that Steve Buyer has served in Congress serves as a reminder about another topic. Steve Buyer campaigned on a pledge to seek a twelve-year term limit for U.S. Representatives. Once the Republicans were entrenched in Congress, he seems to have forgotten about this pledge and has refused to act in a manner consistent with the principles he claimed to possess.
2> Despite being a Colonel in the US Army Reserve, Congressman Buyer has come under severe criticism from veteran's groups. What do you think is our country's obligation to our veterans?
Veterans benefits are earned, were promised, and should be guaranteed. It is a disgrace that a time when Americans are serving overseas that there has been an assault on veterans benefits. I have endorsed the New GI Bill for the 21st Century, which endeavors to correct some of these injustices. General and President George Washington stated, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by
their country.”

I have focused attention on the mental health needs of members of the U.S. Armed forces including the Army Reserve and National Guard returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have also participated in a convoy of World War II MerchantMarines who are seeking their rights. Indiana Congressional Medal of Honor Winner Sammy Davis has endorsed my candidacy. Senator Max Cleland has come to Indiana to campaign with me. The Veterans Alliance for Security and Democracy has also endorsed my candidacy.

Congressman Buyer replaced Congressman Smith, who was regarded as an advocate for veterans, as Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Tom Delay installed Buyer as Chairman to tell the veterans, in the words of a Republican staffer, “Enough is enough.” Congressman Buyer’s assaults on veterans’ benefits and the rights of veterans service organizations to testify before Congress has been extensively documented in publications serving veterans and on the Internet including at such sites as vawatch.org and Veterans for America.
3> What is the biggest challenge facing Congress in 2007?
I would not have voted for the War in Iraq. Congressman Buyer has been a supporter of the war policies that have strengthened the political power of Iran in the Middle East, diverted our forces from their important mission in Afghanistan and cost the future American taxpayer hundreds of billions of dollars. His optimism that the people of Iraq will unite behind a Baghdad government is completely unjustified and demonstrates a profound ignorance of the history and sectarian divisions of the Middle East. The Iraqi security forces have been thoroughly infiltrated by Iraqi sectarian militia members. There are strong parallels to Yugoslavia. A brutal dictator kept an artificially united country together by suppressing ethnic minorities. Once the dictator disappeared from the scene the country disintegrated.

I share the incumbent’s desire to see democracy succeed in Iraq. The most straightforward democratic expression of the people of Iraq on their future would be a referendum on the continuation of occupation of Iraq by American and coalition forces. If you say you believe in democracy in Iraq, then you must support this. We have removed a brutal dictator. Now let us respect Iraqi sovereignty.

Simple proposition—should the occupation by US (and allied) military forces continue indefinitely or end in six months? Additional referendum question—should international forces not including American and coalition forces be invited to help stabilize Iraq?

LET THE IRAQI PEOPLE VOTE!

I have explained in depth previously why either way the vote turns out is a benefit to the United States.
4> This is your second attempt at the US House of Representatives. How is it different the second time around?
Last campaign I had a small group of committed volunteers. This campaign I have two full-time campaign workers and great volunteers working with the campaign in every one of the 12 counties in the District. I have worked extensively with groups that are focused on local issues that have federal input (I-69, Divine Strake, the Indiana Veterans Home, the pipeline through Morgan and Johnson Counties, a landfill in Fountain County, etc.). I have met with veterans throughout the district and have their support. We have much greater private contributions (I have accepted no corporate PAC money) and have consequently a better financed advertising and mail campaign. We have extensive GOTV efforts and a much higher level of name recognition. Travel arrangements have improved so that I can be everywhere. I have been to fairs in each County and have visited each County at least three times during the campaign. People have been writing letters to the editor in support of the campaign for months.

Finally, the issues about which I have been providing my approaches (the war in Iraq, government corruption, health care, etc.) have emerged at the forefront of the voters’ concerns.
5> Many college professors have made the move from academia to politics, most notably President Woodrow Wilson. How does being a biology professor translate to being a US Congressman?
Many of the issues that we face as a society have a scientific or technological basis. Defense against weapons of mass destruction, protection of endangered species and the environment, preparation for a pandemic, stem-cell research, gene therapy, global warming, energy security, and health care are all subjects that have a major scientific component. It is important to have Representatives who understand these issues first-hand. I also see education as a goal itself nor merely a means to an end.

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