Saying the state and the entire country can be doing better on several planes, U.S. Congress candidate Diane Benson told a meager audience of Kenai business leaders changes need to be made.
"I'm ready to clean house," Benson said. "It's time for a change, a real change."
The candidate seeking to unseat Alaska Congressman Don Young next year said she believes affordable health care should be available to all Americans, the public education system needs more funding and Congress should do more to encourage development of renewable energy.
When challenged by a member of the audience asking where the money would come from to pay for universal health care and increased education spending, Benson said, "We're worried about some spending and not other spending.
"Billions are being spent in Iraq ... billions going to contractors are being lost. The money could be spent elsewhere, on health care and other things," she said.
"Adequate health care is not a privilege, but a right," Benson said.
She related two examples of how money was misspent recently on a man who had injured his hand and a woman who lost a thumb.
In the case of the man, Benson said if his hand injury had been treated properly at first, the cost would have been $1,000. Instead, improper treatment led to complications bringing the cost to about $100,000. The woman's inadequate medical care resulted similarly.
"While I was there at Walter Reed (Army Medical Center) with my son, I saw incredible things being done ... repairing damaged nerves in the hand," she said, referring to when her son, Latseen, was flown to Walter Reed after losing both legs in a bombing incident while serving in the Army in Iraq.
"We have the most resources in the United States. Why aren't we doing better?" she asked rhetorically.
"I'm concerned for the young families ... always working to pay the mortgage," Benson said. "For them it's as if Congress declared war on them.
"Americans are working harder, longer hours and they're struggling more," she said. "We can do better than that."
One of the 18 people in the audience, State Rep. Mike Chenault wanted to know Benson's position on whether to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to petroleum development.
"I'm for any opening as long as we do it environmentally responsibly," Benson said.
She also said the "influence peddling" needs to stop.
"There's too much power in the hands of the lobbyists," Benson said.
She also said she would stand by Gov. Sarah Palin in her push to get a natural gas pipeline built from the North Slope.
Chenault also asked about immigration.
"We have a lot to do there," Benson said. "We need to separate immigration from homeland security."
She said she is not comfortable with contracting port security responsibilities to Dubai, adding that unemployed people in the United States could do those jobs.
She also said the issue of people in U.S. border towns stumbling over bodies of immigrants who had tried unsuccessfully to enter the country needs to be addressed.
"There is no simple solution," she said, adding each element of the situation needs to be looked at carefully.
"It's complicated, but I think there are ways to do it," Benson said.
When asked about the war in Iraq, Benson said the United States needs to "beef up our relations" with the neighboring nations, maintain a healthy relationship with Iran "without tipping the scales in a negative direction" and safely withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.
"We can't have our troops there forever," she said. "We can't continue the way we are without a draft.
"I'm frightened and I want it to change," Benson said.
"We need to act diplomatically in concert with the other nations," she said.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at email@example.com.
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