Even kids, it seems, react to campaign attack ads. Representing the Class of 2013 at the congressional debate hosted by the Hampton Bays Civic Association Monday night at the high school, Jennifer Linares asked candidates, Democratic Congressman Tim Bishop and Republican challenger Randy Altschuler, why they're airing negative ads and distributing negative mailers targeting their opponents rather than focusing on their own achievements.
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Neither really answered, nor did they promise to refrain from continuing the strategy as the campaign continues. Instead both lamented the deplorable state of politics in America. "We all find ourselves dragged into it," Bishop offered. A newcomer to the world of politics Altschuler said he was "surprised and disappointed" by the negativity two years ago during his first, unsuccessful campaign against Bishop.
A positive campaign would be "terrific," he said, "But every time you turn on the TV, it's about Randy Altschuler being an outsourcer." He noted that he's taped the only positive television ad airing so far.
Students from Hampton Bays High School's government and economics class comprised a segment of the audience that nearly filled the school auditorium to witness the debate. A significant portion of the attendees were senior citizens.
Dr. Bruce King, president of the civic association introduced both candidates at the outset, allowing each a chance to present opening statements. Altschuler spoke of humble beginnings as the son of a single mother. He put himself through school, met his wife in college 20 years ago and has two children aged five and one. The St. James resident said he's running for congress because the country needs "a new direction" to ensure a positive future for children.
Bishop has lived on the South Fork his entire life; he's the twelfth generation of his family in Southampton and has worked in the district for 40 years. Every job he's had has offered the same challenge. "What I've done every single day of my professional life has been the same, has been to help others," he said.
King posed two questions, relating to Medicare and Medicaid, and military spending, developed by civic association members, to the candidates. Bishop supports efforts to ensure Medicare/ Medicaid programs remain solvent. Altschuler offered what became a sort of refrain throughout the debate: Bishop's been in office 10 years and hasn't solved problems with the program. In fact, he said his opponent voted to cut billions from the program. "I'm not part of the problem, Congressman Bishop is," the challenger emphasized.
The cuts, Bishop said on rebuttal, relate to subsidies and overpayments to insurance companies, and don't affect care for eligible people. Altschuler countered, pointing out that Bishop and Democrats criticize the Republican budget, but have yet to offer any solutions. "I will work across the aisle to solve problems," he said. "Congressman Bishop's answer is always 'The Republicans are at fault.'"
Both agreed military spending must be carefully monitored. Bishop said overhead costs for the Department of Defense run a staggering $240 billion per year. That's "layer upon layer upon layer of bureaucracy," he informed. "The Pentagon is the largest business in the world and it needs to be better managed."
Select members of the local media were next up with questions. The pair was asked if they have ever deviated from their party's beliefs and voted against their interests. Both were able to cite examples of divergent philosophies.
Asked to weigh in on whether the proposed rehabilitation of Dune Road should be a priority, Altschuler said it's important for government to invest in infrastructure.
Bishop pointed out, however, that because Dune Road isn't a federal road, in the absence of a federal earmark, its improvement would have to be funded by the town, state and county. He agreed the scope of the project demands federal dollars, but the current moratorium on earmarks in Washington prevents a federal contribution.
Lacking a comprehensive immigration plan, are there piecemeal solutions that could offer relief? the candidates were asked. "Yes, there are things that can be done," Bishop said, pointing to the newly adopted policy that helps children of immigrants to avoid deportation. The incumbent chastised Altschuler for issuing a "vicious" release calling the new program "a backdoor amnesty."
The congressman said he's also worked to help reform the visa programs for agricultural workers and seasonal employees in the hospitality industry.
Altschuler's comments regarding immigration were interrupted twice by applause. He claimed to feel compassion for children in the country through no fault of their own, but also noted granting "whatever you call it" to undocumented immigrants isn't fair to those who spend years going through the system legally. He said he would work on the issue if elected "I won't just talk about it."
After the congressman listed an array of efforts he's made towards immigration reform, the challenger again said, "Congressman Bishop has been in office for 10 years and this problem has not gotten fixed ... It isn't about trying and effort, it's about results."
Asked where they see the country, both politically and socially in regard to immigration 10 years from now, Altschuler said, "It depends on who our congressman is," while Bishop said he wants to solve a problem "with no easy answers" well before 10 years is up.
"I don't think it's true, that every single problem this country in the last 10 years can be laid at my feet," Bishop said when the time came for concluding remarks. Speaking of a track record of forming partnerships, he said, "Congress needs more people like me, not fewer . . . ideological posturing doesn't solve any problems." The last statement drew applause from the assemblage.
Altschuler doesn't blame every problem on Bishop, the Republican responded. There's plenty of blame to go around in Washington on both sides of the aisle, he said. Like his opponent, Altschuler spoke of the need for building consensus, but he reported that Bishop's voting record shows he sided with his own party over 90 percent of the time.