August 10, 2006

Laffey-Chafee I: Cross-Examination

Carroll Andrew Morse

Senator Lincoln Chafee and Mayor Steve Laffey, the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, debated on today’s Arlene Violet Show on WHJJ-AM radio. Here are the notes I jotted down as they were debating. This is the part where they get to ask one another questions...

Senator Lincoln Chafee says he voted against tax cuts in 2001, because we should be fully funding special education programs like the IDEA program before cutting taxes. And more Federal funding for special ed would mean local property taxes could be lowered. What does Mayor Laffey think?
Mayor Steve Laffey says he cut local spending by firing the crossing guards. Meaningful property tax-relief will only come if unfunded mandates are done away with and management rights are restored. And tax cuts stimulate growth and make more money available.
Chafee rebuts: Crossing guards were only 1/4 of 1 percent of the Cranston budget. The Federal government has promised to fund 40% of IDEA, but hasn’t gotten to 20% yet.

Laffey asks about Senator Chafee’s vote against using the $223,000,000 appropriated for the bridge-to-nowhere funding to pay for bridges damaged by Hurricane Katrina. What good did that do for Rhode Island?
Chafee responds by defending the overall highway bill which the bridge-to-nowhere was part of. The highway bill required 3 years of delicate compromise, and brought $1 billion dollars into Rhode Island, $2.21 for every dollar we pay in gas taxes.
Laffey says he is asking about just the vote on the specific amendment, not the entire bill.
Chafee says that in practice, voting against the bridge to nowhere was impossible.

Chafee asks about Laffey’s signing an anti-tax pledge put forth by the Americans for Tax Reform. Are you bought and paid for, or does your signature mean nothing?
Laffey responds that he read the pledge carefully, modified it by removing portions he didn’t like, and only signed on to the provisions he agreed with.
Chafee expresses displeasure at being criticized by “a right wing organization” like the Club for Growth, then defends his record as Mayor of Warwick. Chafee says he raised taxes less in 7 years as mayor than Laffey has in 4, plus he raised investment in the city pension fund from $70 million to $225 million.
Laffey cites his own record on city pension funding, going from $9 million to $40 million, plus he inherited a city that was going bankrupt, which everyone in Rhode Island knows.

Laffey asks Chafee about a March 13, 2001 vote that allowed the government to raid social security to pay for more spending.
Chafee responds by citing the Concord Coalition citation of himself as Congress’s most fiscally responsible member.
Laffey responds that Chafee didn’t answer the question.

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I actually came into this debate undecided. Chafee lost me when he came out four square in support of the NEA and AFT with his comments about "supporting the public schools" and being against vouchers and choice. It just reinforced how out of touch he is with what is going on here in RI. Given how much we spend on schools in RI, how poorly our students perform, and how our teachers unions still complain that it isn't enough, despite having some of the best pay and benefits and one of the lowest student/teacher ratios in the nation, I cannot understand how Linc can so clearly support the teachers unions. For Pete's sake, even many leading Democrats (e.g., the Hamilton Project led by Bob Rubin) are coming out against them.

Sorry, Linc. WIth my chidrens' future at stake, you just lost my vote.

Posted by: John at August 10, 2006 7:55 PM

I completely disagree, we can't patch a quick fix on to our education problems. Chafee is right that we have to reinvest in the public schools that made America great. If we send money to private institutions we will further marginalize the poorest and most disadvantaged Americans. Steve Laffey should remember his roots and support the schools that got him out of the middle class and made him a millionaire.

Posted by: Norman at August 10, 2006 8:13 PM

I went into the debate expecting Laffey to wipe the floor with Chafee, instead I am left at a lose. Chafee was much more engaged and Laffey sounded like a mayoral candidate who could only talk about local issues indepth and had no real solutions for national problems. Seal the borders, okay, but then what? No new taxes, but what about the national debt? I too aggree that we should get rid of pork barrel spending, but the 200 million dollar bridge is a fraction of the expence of the war or medicaid. Laffy complained a lot about Chafee but offered no real solutions. I have to say I am dissapointed. I will wait to see how the rest of the debates go, but I would mark this one for Chafee.

Posted by: Miss Mae at August 10, 2006 8:19 PM

When the expectations for Chafee are set somewhat slightly above that of a retarded squirrel, it's not exactly difficult to exceed them. I suppose he was a little more "fiesty" than usual, but that didn't translate into "depth." He tended to repeat himself a lot and use talking points. I thought Laffey did well, but thought he was trying too hard to seem Senatorial, not confrontational.

Anyway, I can't say anyone really "won" the debate. There were no real gotcha moments or anything like that. For the most part, it seemed civil enough, but I would have preferred some more in depth answers on some questions. I guess the debate format didn't allow for that. I suspect that Dan Yorke will liven things up next week.

Posted by: Will at August 10, 2006 9:11 PM

All I can say is that Laffey must have really lost if even Will can't see fit to say he won. I thought Chafee was much more agressive than I thought he would be and I thought that Laffey was clearly out of his depth. Laffey looked like a Mayor while Senator Chafee looked like a senator -- Also Laffey seemed so petty when he refused to address Chafee as Senator Chafee while Chafee showed real class referring to the mayor by his title.

Posted by: beth at August 10, 2006 9:50 PM

But the whining from a US Senator - I frankly cringe when he whines. Agree it was a draw, though. I don't understand Miss Mae's point. Laffey was his usual forthright self, made analogies to his proven experience as mayor of Cranston, and commented on a number of Senatorial issues. But folks, this is just the warm up to the TV debates. Just wait.

Posted by: Chuck Nevola at August 10, 2006 9:51 PM

I'm with Miss Mae. Even Arlene was pushing Laffey to go beyond his record as mayor. He kept making parallels between what he's done as mayor of Cranston and what he'd do as Senator that just sounded naive to me. He's taken on the crossing guards in Cranston, so he'll be able to take on Big Oil when he gets to DC? He visited the US-Mexico border, therefore he's got a special insight into the plight of illegal immigrants? Come on.

Posted by: Tabby at August 10, 2006 10:29 PM

I strongly disagree with "Beth". I certainly don't think Laffey lost by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think he was holding back (perhaps trying to lull Chafee into a sense of complacency?). I can honestly say that I wasn't expecting any knock-out punches in the first debate anyway, so my expectation regarding that was clearly met. It was certainly a very good performance by Laffey by any standard, but there were no attempts at a "knock out" punch.

I'm not going to say he "won" when it didn't appear to me from what I know of him, that he was trying to "win." He tends to be very strategic, so I'm quite comfortable with how he did. Although I am a very loyal support of future Senator Laffey, I also try to be honest when I analysis something. Unlike some others, I am not a propagandist.

Posted by: Will at August 10, 2006 10:47 PM

By the way...

"Even Arlene was pushing Laffey to go beyond his record as mayor."

Laffey, as you might recall, is currently a mayor, as was Chafee before he was in the Senate, so it seems like it would be very applicable.

As much as I like Arlene's record back when she was AG, don't forget for a moment what wing of the party she comes from -- it's not the right. Arlene "Air America" Violet is hardly a conservative icon.

Posted by: Will at August 10, 2006 10:52 PM

Calling for the resignation of Rumsfeld and supporting federally funded abortions don't exactly make Steve Laffey a conservative icon either.

Posted by: cabot lodge at August 13, 2006 11:14 AM