August 27, 2006

Chafee-Laffey IV: Second Panel Round

Carroll Andrew Morse

Republican Senate candidates Lincoln Chafee and Steve Laffey debated on television on WJAR-TV Channel 10 this past Saturday. Here are the notes I jotted down during the panel's second round of questioning...

Michelle Johnson asks Mayor Steve Laffey about being quoted or perhaps misquoted as saying God told him to run for mayor. What does he think the role of faith in politics is?
Laffey: I pray, I go to church, but when I get involved, it is all about public policy and what it is the best decision for the people I serve.
Gene Valicenti asks Laffey if God told him to run.
Laffey: No, but I’ve remarked something to the effect of “I guess the man upstairs wanted me to run”.
Senator Lincoln Chafee says that Rhode Island was founded on the separation of church and state by Roger Williams fleeing Puritan persecution and that RI wouldn’t join the US until that principle was included in the Federal constitution. Laffey put a charade of a crèche at City Hall, and was sued by ACLU.
Laffey responds that the people of Cranston put different displays at City Hall and their right to do so was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Valicenti notes that Laffey did lead the fight on the issue.
Laffey says it all started with a man who wanted to place a Menorah at City Hall, so he called a lawyer and learned that public holiday displays are OK as long as they are diverse; there’s tremendous public support for this.
Valicenti agrees that the public approves and asks Chafee if that’s wrong.
Chafee says he point is that there is a separation of church and state and we don’t want state sponsored religion.
Laffey says what we want is the Federal courts to make these decisions, not Chafee.

Jim Taricani asks Chafee why Republicans should vote for him when his positions differ from the Republican mainstream on issues like tax cuts, war on Iraq, abortion and stem cells.
Chafee says he considers himself a “traditional Republican” who favors fiscal responsibility, the environment, personal freedoms (keep governmentt out of our bedroom) and opposes foreign entanglements.
Taricani asks Laffey what Republicanism means to him.
Laffey says he refers to himself as reformer and a populist, in the mold of Teddy Roosevelet. TR saw unequal power, and he worked to set it right for people. In Cranston, I saw unequal power, and I set out to change it. Both great Democrats like JFK and great Republicans like RWR have favored tax cuts. Recent tax cuts have generated 500 billion dollars in extra revenue.
Taricani asks Chafee why he doesn’t believe in tax cuts?
Chafee: Deficits! We have to have the resources to fund special education, prepare for wars and natural disasters, and invest in infrastructure.
Taricani asks Chafee why people should think the guy with the Harvard MBA is wrong on this.
Chafee says the tax cuts were too deep. We’re still in deficits and they’re like an addiction, easy to get into but hard to get out of.

Bill Rappleye asks about college students graduating with an average debt of $20,000. What is the role of government in making college affordable and what about Pell grants?
Laffey says he supports maintaining Pell grants at the current level. Education at the college level is very successful in this country, the real education problem is at the primary and secondary level.
Rappleye: My question is about paying for college.
Laffey says the existing system is appropriate.
Chafee warns to watch what Laffey says, not what he does; Laffey supports deep tax cuts, even though Pell grants are not keeping up with college tuitions. An investment in education that gives everyone a chance to go to college is what makes America great.
Laffey says we should cut the $27B in pork, cut the $125-$150B in corporate welfare, and freeze discretionary non-defense spending to pay for existing programs without increasing the deficit or raising taxes.
Rappleye tries to get back to his original question. Is it OK for kids to graduate with a $20,000 debt?
Laffey says education loans at current rates are a good investment. Students and parents have to put some money in the game.
Chafee says that Laffey offers lots of sound bytes but no real solutions.

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I found it very irritating, to say the least, Sen. Chafee's continued insistance that Rhode Island was founded on the "separation of church and state" (a term not used until I believe 1803 in a private letter of Thomas Jefferson's, which was later quoted by a Supreme Court justice in a case in the 1960's), or that Rhode Island was solely responsible for getting this into the US Constitution -- both statements are just untrue (must be written in invisible ink, because I don't see it in my copy). I attribute it to ignorance and a liberal mindset.

Rhode Island was founded on the concept of "freedom of conscience," meaning the right to worship as one's conscience should dictate, not as the state might. Permitting religious displays is not endorsement of a specific religion. Rhode Island was also different as a colony, in that we did not have an "official" state religion (i.e. Virginia = Episopalianism, Massachusetts Bay = Purtianism, etc.). That did not mean that Rhode Island's leaders thought that acknowledging God was a "bad" thing -- keep in mind that Roger Williams himself was a preacher, who named Rhode Island's capital "Providence" (after, God's Providence for having led him there) -- or that one's religious belief is something to only be praticed behind closed doors when no one is looking.

The part of the First Amendment, which is part of the Bill of Rights is very clear. It is liberals like Chafee that have warped it into something that was never intended by it's writers, because either they don't understand the concept of "original intent" or they simply don't like what the founders intended. It says:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Posted by: Will at August 28, 2006 1:06 AM

Original intent is all very well and good, but Jeferson himself wanted the Constitution to be a "living document".

Posted by: Jim at August 28, 2006 11:27 AM

It IS a living document. It can be amended as needed and has been quite a number of times.

"Living" and "Let's interpret it to mean whatever the Hell makes us feel good this decade" are exceptionally DIFFERENT things.

Posted by: Greg at August 28, 2006 12:58 PM