I am thankful to the Journal & Courier for broadcasting the Ackerson/Buyer debate in Indiana’s 4th Congressional race. But, I do have to say that the audio was a little sketchy. In particular, Steve Buyer’s audio feed was miserable. On top of that, I had to interrupt my viewing to tend to my children, and I don’t think there was a “pause” option on the video stream. So, this is not going to be a comprehensive review.
Broadly speaking, I think the candidates demonstrated that they are presenting the voters of the 4th District a choice between the pragmatism of Nels Ackerson and the ideology of Steve Buyer. Buyer would tend to begin his responses with buzz word principles that sound good, but, at the end of the day, are loose enough to adapt to the result you want. The most important fact about Buyer is that his voting record approaches or equals 100% conformity with the Republican party line. We might as well just save his salary by having the 4th District give the Republican whip a proxy vote to use as he pleases. He said that he views the House as something like an arena of combat for competing principles.
Ackerson, by contrast, is perhaps a little too committed to the notion of bipartisanship for my tastes. But, he’s deeply committed to the idea that a Representative is elected by his or her district to solve problems, not to get into a pissing match with the other party to see who has the bigger ideology. (I’m paraphrasing.) He says he’ll be a Blue Dog Democrat, committed to fiscal responsibility. And, he embraces the notion that people fundamentally want to do the right thing, regardless of whether they are Republicans or Democrats.
Buyer began and ended the debate on peculiar notes. In the beginning, he said two or three times that this would be the only debate between the two of them. Typically a candidate who is afraid of losing debates will at least maintain a pretense of being willing to debate the issues; but, golly, gee, his schedule just won’t permit, or whatever. In the meantime, he lets his surrogates go out and run out the clock on debates. Buyer wasn’t even making the pretense that he was willing to entertain further debates. Then, still at the beginning, mind you; he made some cryptic reference to Ackerson breaking the rules agreed upon for the debate. At the end of the debate, the audio was really bad, but I think he was trying to tell Ackerson he owed Buyer’s wife an apology. My best guess as to what the apology was for was because Ackerson chastised Buyer for his poor attendance record in Congress and Buyer was maybe saying that Buyer’s wife’s family member (sister, mother?) had a terminal illness. These remarks just struck me as weird, awkward, and not well articulated; all of which was exacerbated by the sketchy audio.
Some other notes:
#Ackerson’s resume is stunning.
#Question about policies for effective health care policy. Ackerson notes that rural areas need better access to doctors. He would start with improving the veteran’s health care system. Universal health care concerns him because of the cost and our national debt. Buyer used the buzzwords liberty and personal responsibility, blamed class action lawyers, and spoke of a need to reform the tax code so people could buy health insurance. He also stated that health information technology would be helpful.
#Question about R&D for energy resources, including wind, fossil, solar, etc. Buyer said he agreed with all of these fuels, and that it was a matter of national security to add these to our energy portfolio. Developing energy resources is a chicken and egg type problem. Ackerson said that Buyer was wrong about the Democrats defeating solar energy. Solar energy isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a partisan issue. [At this point, my children required my attention.]
#Question about illegals. I returned to the debate as Ackerson said that for those who weren’t paying their taxes, they should be prosecuted along with their employers. But, he said, a deport ’em all strategy wasn’t practical.
#Question about environment. Buyer threw out the buzzwords of “personal responsibility,” “economic liberty,” and “property rights.” (Translation: I got mine, f**k you.) With respect to wetlands regulation, he suggested that we don’t need big, bad government to tell good, smart farmers what to do with their wetlands. He referred to “rampant environmental extremism” in Washington. The kids once again intervened.
#Question about education. Buyer stated that 1/3 of students don’t graduate on time and conceded that No Child Left Behind needs to be tweaked. Ackerson cited education as another non-partisan issue. He said that local independence of schools important, and the federal role needs to be limited. However, rural schools need better funding; and we need to focus on higher education. Higher education costs are rising faster than health care. He notes that Buyer voted against the GI bill until the last vote.
I mentioned the oddity of Buyer’s opening statement above. Ackerson closed by challenging Buyer to more debates. He said that every county in the district deserves the same respect. He basically wondered what the hell Buyer was talking about with respect to allegations of rule violations Buyer made at the very beginning of the debate. Ackerson noted that “this isn’t about us; it’s about you.” We need to stop the Washington games. He mentioned that Buyer’s commitment to term limits seems to have waned and that Buyer has supported huge increases in the federal budget. (So much for those resolute principles.)
I’m not sure how many people the debate reached, but I’m sure glad it happened; and I hope there will be more. There is a huge difference between the two candidates, and it would be nice for the voters to be given a better opportunity to become aware of what those differences are so that they can make an informed vote come November.
Update Dorothy Schneider, writing for the Journal & Courier wrote on the debate. As for the “rules violation” mystery:
Dave Wyeth, a member of the hosting Hendricks County Farm Bureau, said Buyer was referring to a news release Ackerson sent out Wednesday about the event. Wyeth said there was no written rule about not sending out releases but said the event was intended for only Farm Bureau members and the leadership.
Buyer would’ve conducted this debate in a broom closet at 2 a.m. if he could have gotten away with it.
Update 2 WBAA also carried the debate. It’s available here.