The Northern Virginia Urban League Young Professionals Network held a candidate forum for the 8th Congressional District on Wednesday to encourage its members to "occupy the vote."
The forum featured incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Moran, who left after giving opening remarks and answering the first two questions, with Arlington's Terron Sims II speaking on his behalf for the rest of the night; independent candidate Jason Howell; and Independent Green Janet Murphy. Republican Patrick Murray was invited but declined to attend and did not send a surrogate, organizers said.
CNN commentator Jamal Simmons, who moderated the forum, asked the candidates whether affirmative action was appropriate in higher education admissions.
Moran said the first step is to invest in the public school system, pay teachers like professionals and invest in Head Start and other early childhood education programs. Without those, children enter kindergarten unable to compete and, at a young age, begin to see themselves as intellectually inferior, which shapes their aspirations, he said.
"The most important priority is getting to children and showing them what they're capable of doing," Moran said. "When we make that investment commitment, that's when we can deal with affirmative action. But if we're not willing to make that investment, we ought not to be eliminating affirmative action in higher education."
Howell agreed with that generally but said the education system could be more savvy about mentoring and tutoring programs, and give more attention to junior high career and college guidance. He said incorporating arts education into the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, curriculum, would be beneficial.
"Until we start taking the talents of people and rewarding them and appreciating them, then we're really not going to get what we're looking for long-term," he said.
Howell said the discussion about affirmative action should perhaps look beyond race to benefit those with socio-economic backgrounds that may have limited their opportunity.
Murphy agreed with the sentiments about early childhood education.
On affirmative action, "We really do need it," she said. "I think there is a racist component in the culture, and we really need it."
'Shock and Awe'
Howell said Congress needs to get away from "shock and awe" legislation and specifically cited sequestration — the looming $1.2 trillion in defense and other cuts that will take effect if lawmakers can't reach a compromise.
He also criticized the Dodd-Frank bill, saying it was hurting small banks.
"We were supposed to stop big banks from doing bad things, instead we're slowing down small banks from doing good things," he said. "What we need to do is create more nuance in that legislation so it's not a partisan thing."
Howell said in his first two years in office he would advocate for stronger telecommuting measures, which would reduce the amount of money the federal government needed to build and maintain offices in the Washington metro area — not to mention traffic.
He also said raising taxes was "likely" due to the sheer size of this country's debt. He said he would support legislation that taxes commission received by hedge fund managers — adding that would generate more than $2 billion annually.
Howell suggested taxing employer-provided health benefits, which would encourage the move away from people having health insurance tied to their job — something he said Republicans and Democrats seemed to want.
Murphy, by contrast, said she will "embrace" sequestration.
"It's great for two reasons: It cuts the Pentagon by 10 percent, and it gets rid of the Bush tax cuts," she said. "And also it cuts the TSA budget. I don't really like those guys at the airport bothering me so much. I don't believe people are going to lose jobs over it. I think that's a lie. It's more of a reduction of an increase of a rate for discretionary items. It's been oversold as a cliff to us."
Murphy said she supported a 7-cent tax on the purchase and sale of bonds on Wall Street.
"It happens all day long," she said. "Easy fix from the software department, just move a couple of pennies out of every one of those things and solve the deficit and a whole lot of other things. Wall Street is booming."
When pressed, Murphy said the poor would be exempted from the tax, in terms of trades that affect their savings.
Murphy also said she wanted to cut subsidies to the oil, auto and asphalt industries.
Sims, speaking on Moran's behalf, said the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans "have to go." He also said more work could be done to reduce redundancies and streamline processes. He said the congressman had been working "tirelessly" to make sure sequestration doesn't come to pass.
He said the 10-percent cut of sequestration might make a good sound bite, but the Obama administration already had begun making 8-percent cuts in the Defense Department — and that the discretion for those cuts were left to the department heads most familiar with what was absolutely needed.
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