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NorthCoast Congressional race enters debate phase

By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa


Feb. 14, 2012: Long-time Toledo Democrat Marcy Kaptur is moving from the endorsement phase of her Congressional campaign to debate preparation, as she readies to square off against long-time friend and colleague Dennis Kucinich all along Ohio’s NorthCoast for the new Ninth District congressional seat. Redistricting and redrawn lines have pitted the two against each other in the March primary.


Dennis Kucinich opened a Toledo campaign headquarters Saturday morning at a former Latina florist shop called Tia’s, in the Old South End at 1010 Broadway, near the corner of Broadway and Jervis. About two-dozen Latino supporters greeted the Cleveland Democrat for a brief question-and-answer session. The visit continues Kucinich’s ongoing attempt to court the Toledo Latino vote and is a follow-up to his surprise appearance at the Sofia Quintero Center’s First Friday event last week.

 Dennis Kucinich

Ms. Kaptur, meantime, hosted the Ninth Congressional District Invitational Art Exhibition Sunday afternoon in the lobby of Fifth Third Center at One Seagate downtown. The student art exhibit runs through Feb. 24, with a similar event in March at Oberlin College. Students received awards of etched glass at the event co-sponsored by the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo.


Both candidates also spent time with the Lucas County Democratic Party screening committee on Sunday seeking a primary endorsement, an unusual move because the county party has a standing policy of not endorsing candidates before a primary when there is more than one Democrat seeking the position. However, the congressional race is unique because it pits two Democratic incumbents against each other for one seat. Ohio lost two congressional seats following the 2010 census. The party’s executive committee is expected to make an endorsement Thursday evening.


“I don’t think it’s unusual, but it is unusual to have a Democrat from another county come into Lucas County and screen. That is unusual,” said Ms. Kaptur who added she “hoped so” when asked if she thought her local endorsement would be a slam dunk.


“I went in with no expectations but to communicate,” said Kucinich. “That is to communicate to the people of Toledo my desire to be of service to them in the United States Congress. The people will always make the right decision. I have no quarrel with that.”


The two candidates already screened for endorsements before Cuyahoga and Lorain County Democratic Party committees. To date, Erie and Ottawa County Democrats have stayed neutral. Mr. Kucinich received the endorsement of Cleveland Democrats, his home territory. Ms. Kaptur quickly pointed out Lorain’s mayor and many city officials have personally endorsed her.


Ms. Kaptur stated her message to her own county party was her “desire to serve the expanded Ninth District with the same vigor and determination” that she has the existing Ninth District.


Kucinich described his screening appearance as “a conversation” with Lucas County Democratic leaders.


“It was a great meeting,” Kucinich said afterward. “I just pay attention to communicating with the people who I’m asking for their votes. That’s where my communication is. Endorsements, things like that—I just talk to people. I don’t worry about anything else.”


Congressman Kucinich supports the DREAM Act


Kucinich continued to advocate his support for the DREAM Act, which Ms. Kaptur voted against in December of 2010. The bill provides educational and citizenship opportunities to the children of undocumented immigrants. President Barack Obama urged passage of the bill in his State of the Union speech last month.


“When you consider many Latinos have been deprived of opportunities simply because their parents were not documented. That should rise to the level of a national concern,” Kucinich said.


“All I had to do was meet a single student in Arizona who couldn’t pursue his college education without assistance because his parents were undocumented. I just needed to meet one, but unfortunately, I met many wherever I went. This is an urgent matter, to get the DREAM Act passed. I lobbied other members of Congress. There was an urgency then and still is an urgency. There is a benefit from this to everyone, far and wide. This is a defining moment of who we are.”


Ms. Kaptur tried to explain the political context of her vote during a one-on-one interview with La Prensa. Mid-term Congressional elections were occurring at the time the DREAM Act came up for a vote.


“First of all, we need comprehensive immigration reform. The way that bill came to the (House) floor, it was not,” she said emphatically. “It was like nothing else had happened, but because there were elections in the Southwest, here’s something that could be presented. Even though it was promised it would be taken up in the Senate, it was not. So I viewed it as a false promise.”


Ms. Kaptur then went on to talk about comprehensive immigration reform in a broader context. She even dropped the names of some Latino congressional colleagues that she stated she has argued “to make this about all of us, not just about some of us.”


“The face of immigration reform should not just be Latino,” she said. “The main group that violates visas is the Poles. There’s a problem with Polish visa waivers. We have large numbers of families here from the Middle East. We have problems with Arab family reunification.”


Ms. Kaptur stated supporters of the DREAM Act in Congress need to be thinking of “a winning political coalition” to ensure passage. She stated President Obama’s support and recent executive orders affecting immigration “should help.”

Congresswoman Kaptur’s take on amnesty

She seemed to take the same tact with amnesty for undocumented immigrants, a cause that has been championed in recent years by local groups who represent migrant workers, especially Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) founder and President Baldemar Velásquez.


“I am for legalization that applies to all groups equally,” Ms. Kaptur said. “I like the term ‘earned citizenship.’ Some path to citizenship that allows people to reunite their families and do it in a manner that everyone thinks is fair, so that one group is not targeted, everyone is treated fairly, that everybody knows what the rules are. That is a winning coalition.”

Marcy Kaptur


“We have to remember where we’ve come from as a nation and those who have determined to come to America in search of a better life,” said Kucinich. “We must not forget that impulse and we must respect that as part of the energy that created America, that makes America a great country. As long as I’m in Congress, I’m going to be ever-mindful of the need to reach out to those who would otherwise be left aside.”


The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) also came up for discussion with the candidates. Ms. Kaptur called it “the one piece of legislation that relates to Latin immigration.”


The Congresswoman pointed out that she has walked the U.S. Mexico border and traveled to Mexico to see firsthand the plight of farmers and agricultural workers following the passage of NAFTA, which she blamed for economically decimating Mexican farms and farming families.


“We said in the 1990s that before NAFTA passes, millions of people are going to lose their farms—and they did,” she said, blaming a lack of “adjustment provisions” in the trade bill.

“My opponent has never been down there,” she said. “He’s never gone through companies, never traveled with Baldemar as I have to try to take the crime out of labor trafficking across the continent. I have.”

Ms. Kaptur advocated for revisiting NAFTA and renegotiating adjustment provisions for Mexican farmers who have been plunged into poverty.


“What it’s done is create a surge of people who will work for anything,” she said. “They have no rights, they are being trafficked. It’s ugly, an ugly thing that is going on. What’s interesting is it’s being handled as an immigration issue—and not an agricultural and labor rights issue. It’s an economic issue and they’re handling it as a social issue.”


We need to cancel NAFTA,” countered Kucinich. “We need to create a new trade agreement with worker’s rights, human rights, and environmental quality protections. What happened is once NAFTA passed, wages went down in Mexico. We need to recognize NAFTA was all about cheap labor. We need trade agreements that build up wage levels in Mexico, as well as wage levels in this country.”


Many political pundits believe the March primary will be decided within the city limits of Lorain, which has a 25 percent Latino population. However, Ms. Kaptur pointed out the newly drawn congressional district is split into thirds population-wise when Lucas and Ottawa counties are combined, and Erie and Lorain counties are combined.


Voter turnout is critical in the NorthCoast district


“It’s going to boil down to voter turnout,” she said. “Every single county is important. It boils down to turnout in each one of those. You can’t forget any part of this region.”


There are parts of 5 counties in the nascent NorthCoast district, which is a 100-mile-plus snakelike stretch that hugs Lake Erie from parts of Toledo to parts of Cleveland—this is an important segment of the readership area of La Prensa.


“Toledo is important. Every community is important,” Kucinich said. “You don’t minimize anywhere. I’m not into political analysis.”


But at least Democrats seem to be embracing the newly-redrawn Ninth District as a way to link Ohio’s Lake Erie shoreline in a cooperative way. Ms. Kaptur metaphorically referred to the lakeshore communities in the narrowly-drawn district as “many beads on a necklace.”


“Because of all the job washout in northern Ohio, the biggest challenge we face is self-confidence,” said Ms. Kaptur. “We’re looking at different sectors to right them in terms of job development. The food sector is one that doesn’t require much capital, but there is so much abundance there. We’ve been talking about what kinds of jobs we can generate from all the culture of the people there.”


The congresswoman mentioned all the Latino cuisine she’s experienced while traveling to Lorain and other cities. She joked at one church that the food was so good that it could be “part of the first Latino microwavable meal that’s edible.” She had attended a minority business assistance council meeting in Elyria the night before.


“I’m trying to work on connectivity across the coast,” declared Ms. Kaptur, who pointed out there is an energy with new mayors in many communities that could be a strong asset. “There are really some dynamo leaders. We can weave them together for some conversations. I think we should be the affordable Hilton Head, the affordable Cape Cod of the Midwest.”


Ms. Kucinich highlighted his record in Congress in securing a new veteran’s clinic and a pair of bridges being built in Cleveland suburbs.


“I try to deliver specifically for my constituents—and that’s what people want a member of Congress to do,” Kucinich said. “But in addition, I work on the bigger-picture issues.”


Both candidates admitted they are “learning a lot” about the future aspirations of unfamiliar parts of the district. Whoever wins the March primary, each member of Congress has pledged to work to unite communities as well as foster regional collaboration beyond Northwest Ohio or Northeast Ohio.


Future and past debates


Ms. Kaptur and Kucinich will square off against each other at public debates on three consecutive nights next week in three different communities: Sandusky, Lorain, and Toledo.


The pair, along with Democratic candidate Graham Veysey, just completed a vigorous TV debate in Cleveland. The debate was taped as an edition of In the Spotlight, a public affairs program aired primarily in Cuyahoga and Lorain.


The contestants will participate in a debate Monday, Feb. 21 in a televised debate at WTOL-TV 11’s studios in downtown Toledo from 6:15-7 p.m. There is word of a possible second Toledo debate Fri., Feb 24 at Woodward High School, although there were few details released at press-time.


Both candidates also are confirmed to appear at a roundtable question-and-answer session sponsored by the Coalition for Hispanic/Latino Issues and Progress (CHIP) on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at the St. Joseph’s Community Center, 201 W. 21st St. in Lorain, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.


The following evening, Thursday, Feb. 23, at 7:30 p.m., Ms. Kaptur and Kucinich will participate in a Sandusky debate at the Cedar Point Center on the BGSU- Firelands campus.


Copyright © 1989 to 2012 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 02/14/12 19:06:43 -0800.





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