The policies of the Bush administration are rewarding wealth not work, exporting American jobs and burying the next generation in debt, Democratic Party U.S. Senate candidate Tony Knowles told a Soldotna luncheon audience Thursday.
The former Anchorage Assembly member, city mayor and two-term Alaska governor said looking at the critical issues facing Americans and the way politics is being shaped by partisanship led him to seek national office.
A trip to Wasilla he made earlier this year was indicative of voter concerns, he said. There, people talked not only about the local coal bed methane issue and how they felt betrayed by state government, but also raised concerns about education and the USA PATRIOT Act's potential for impact on personal freedom.
"It was a real eye-opener for me," Knowles said.
The PATRIOT Act passed by Congress soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks gave the federal government unprecedented powers to examine the private lives of individuals in the name of national security. Ever since, it has been the target of heated criticism for eroding civil rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
A move in the U.S. House by a bipartisan group of representatives to modify a portion of the act that permits the government to know what books citizens are checking out of libraries lost on a tie vote, 210-210. A majority was required.
According to news reports, some 10 Republicans who had initially supported the amendment changed their minds under pressure from the Republican House leadership.
"The PATRIOT Act puts the government in our books and in our bedrooms as never before," Knowles said. "It is a threat to numerous parts of our Bill of Rights."
Knowles noted other threats from other quarters.
"We see people wanting to amend our constitution, whether it's to diminish the First Amendment the Freedom of Speech or the Separation of Church and State or the most recent, and I think one of the most calculated political moves, to amend our constitution to discriminate, really for the first time, and based on who a person loves (referring to the so-called "Marriage Amendment" defeated last week in the U.S. Senate). We should never use our constitution to diminish rights."
He also noted that a woman's right to choose abortion, which he said he believes to be a constitutionally protected right, hangs by one vote in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The nation needs serious health care reform, Knowles said, especially with regards to the 42 million to 44 million Americans living with no medical insurance, eight out of 10 of whom are working Americans. One way to change that, he said, would be to give the 45 percent of small business that cannot afford to provide its workers with health care insurance some kind of tax credit if they did. He also said it should be a national goal to insure all children.
Knowles said he supports the idea of allowing drugs to be purchased from Canada, where prices are lower than in the United States.
He also accused the current administration of turning its backs on its veterans, calling that "shameful and a disgrace."
Alaska, he said, had other issues at stake in the fall election, Knowles said.
"Are we going to get an energy policy that puts Alaskans to work, gives America the right kind of energy and sets higher goals?" he said.
Knowles slammed President George W. Bush's tax-cuts policies for giving huge breaks to the nation's wealthiest people, but little in the way of tax relief to most taxpayers.
He also said there's been a lack of meaningful corporate tax reform. Citing a Wall Street Journal article, Knowles said some 75 percent of the foreign-owned corporations doing business in America paid no income taxes. The same went for 60 percent of American corporations.
"This is all on the Wall Street Journal's front page a couple of months ago," he said.
In the April 6 article, WSJ staff reporter John McKinnon said the U.S. General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative agency, reported 60 percent of American corporations paid no federal taxes between 1996 and 2000, years when the economy and corporate profits were soaring. McKinnon also reported that according to the GAO, about 70 percent of the foreign corporations had said they owed no U.S. federal taxes during the late 1990s.
The GAO study looked at tax returns from 2.1 million U.S. corporations and 69,000 foreign-owned corporations. Some 45 percent of large U.S. corporations and 37 percent of large foreign corporations (defined as having $250 million in assets or $50 million in gross receipts) had no tax liability in 2000, according to the Journal's story.
Partisanship and special interests are harming America, and Americans know it, Knowles said.
"2004 is considered by many people to be the most important election in their lifetimes, and I don't disagree," he said. "I hope to be a part of that. I hope that when we look back on 2004 we can say that was the year we took our government back."
Deciding to run wasn't an easy decision, Knowles said.
"I figured I may have run my string of luck out. I've been involved in some close races," he said. "You can only win so many. That's the nature of Alaska politics."
Knowles said he won a seat on the Anchorage Assembly by 30 votes. Later, he won re-election as mayor against opponent Tom Fink by 180 votes. He and his running mate, former Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, won their first gubernatorial race by 536 votes, he said.
"As you can see, the margin is getting bigger and bigger," he joked, adding, "We could just take this in a barnstorm."
Campaigning in Alaska has taught him something, he said.
"Never take anyone for granted and you never write anyone off," he said. "Every vote does count. Every person counts. That's something I'll never forget about politics, particularly Alaska politics."
Asked about campaign strategy in an interview earlier in the day, Knowles said he wasn't treating any part of Alaska as if it were already in his camp. Alaskans traditionally expect their candidates to meet them face-to-face, person-to-person, he said. When voters call him by his first name, he figures the encounter will be comfortable.
"When they start calling you governor or mayor, that means you're going to get a lecture," he said.
It is important, especially now, he said, that issues and personalities be above partisanship.
"At a time when, I think, our country is more partisan and more driven by partisanship and special interests than ever before, I think the Alaska solution is the honored tradition of person-to-person politics, and that issues are always more important than party. You should always love your country and your state more than your party."
Campaigning gives candidates not only a chance to talk to people, but to listen, "an often forgotten virtue," Knowles said. A political campaign, he added, "is more than fleecing a bunch of fat cats and buying TV ads. It is a way by which our democracy gets better. If you think about how so few people vote and how young people don't get involved, I think you'll see a change in this election because when people want their government back, they are going to participate and they think they can make a difference."
"The issues in this race jobs, health care, education, Social Security and our personal freedoms I think the urgency with which people want to deal with those issues in a positive way is why, not only in Alaska but in America, this election is so significant and important in people's minds," he said.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.