Interview with candidate for U.S. Congress Richard Auman (D)

(This interview was conducted with candidate Auman by staff writer Stuart Wahlin and Editor and Publisher Frank Schier.)

Stuart Wahlin (SW): You can briefly summarize the issues that are most important to you.

Richard Auman (RA): Well, I think this election is a referendum on three or four things. It’s a referendum on the Bush administration’s foreign policies and Congressman Manzullo’s support for those policies. It’s a referendum on the lack of domestic policies designed to meet the needs of the American people and Congressman Manzullo’s indifference to those needs. And I think it’s a referendum on the corruption of our political system that Mr. Anderson touched on. And it’s a referendum on the Bush administration with the acquiescence of the Republican-controlled Congress and assault on the Constitution. I think the Bush administration and Congressman Manzullo have a lot to answer for.

The Bush administration’s regime changed foreign policy with the countries that he identified in his “Axis of Evil” speech have been a disaster. Iraq has now cost us more American lives than were lost Sept. 11. We’ve lost over 2,700 military personnel; we have lost over 500 civilian security personnel; we have lost tens of —well, tens of thousands of Iraqis have died. If you discount the Johns Hopkins study that says 655,000 Iraqis died by a factor of 10, that’s 65,000 human beings whose lives were lost. And those lives count. We are creating more terrorists every day. Their recruitment is going well; ours is not going so well. It is costing us perhaps $1.5 billion a week to wage this effort in Iraq on top of spending $1.2 billion every day—365 days a year, on our military. It’s responsible, to a great degree, for our quarter of a trillion dollar deficits, and by the way, the deficit reduction that the president is bragging about, getting it down to $200-some billion, if you listen to those who argue that that number is based on the cash-accounting method, which takes into account only what you spend today. But if you use the cash-accrual accounting method as all businesses are required to do and as many governments do, the deficit is almost double that. So the Republicans and the Bush administration and Don Manzullo have some explaining to do to defend that policy, especially for a fiscal conservative as Congressman Manzullo portrayed himself. He ran as part of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” and part of that was fighting for a balanced budget, and incidentally, it was for term limits, and the Congressman said he would serve for six—he is serving seven and running for an eighth.

Frank Schier: I thought he said he only served two.

RA: Two terms? I don’t think so. I think he said six. It’s like football—a small number. Domestically, the Congressman opposed the minimum wage at a time when 47 million Americans are living below the poverty line. He is indifferent to the 46 million Americans who don’t have health insurance, as is the Republican-controlled Congress. He talks a lot about preserving manufacturing jobs, but, in fact, we have no economic policy that is designed to meet the needs of American families who are being negatively impacted by globalization. We’re losing—manufacturing jobs are being shipped overseas, and we need to begin talking about that as a national security issue. Right now in Rockford, jobs are being outsourced to Singapore that involve the manufacturing of parts for fighter planes. That’s a national security issue that we should be talking about and addressing. The corruption of the system—the Congressman, when he ran against John Cox in 1994, was against earmarks. Now, in the face of the Abramoff scandal, the Congressman said we have to be careful as we look at reforming our ethics standards and rules in Congress, that we protect earmarks. And he wants to protect earmarks, in my judgment, because that’s about all he has to talk about, is his ability to bring money back to the district. And I think he needs to explain to the voters in the 16th District why he thinks earmarks are so important.

FS: May I interrupt on that note, just for a moment? We’ve discovered that he has essentially $5,000 of Abramoff money. Are you aware of that?

RA: I thought he had $6 [thousand], from four Indian tribes, three in California, and I think one in Mississippi, but that he returned $5,500. I don’t know what the discrepancy is.

John B. Anderson (JBA): He returned most of it, in other words?

RA: Yes. I think $5,500 he returned, and I don’t know—

JBA: After the scandal vote?

RA: Yes. Yes.

JBA: And it’s curious why those Indian tribes’ versions are not too convincing.

RA: No, they are not. And finally, that the assault on the Constitution that the Congress has permitted, as Mr. Anderson pointed out, it’s quite amazing that our Founding Fathers had the vision to see the assaults on the Constitution could happen if people who get some power are hungry for more, and they [Founding Fathers] wrote into the Constitution Article I, a check on that impulse. But as great as their vision was, I don’t think they anticipated that in the House of Representatives, we would have men like Tom DeLay and Dennis Hastert, and John Beynor, who would prostrate themselves before the Executive Branch and allow the president to do whatever he wanted; and a man like Bill Frist in the Senate, who does the same.

I think I agree with Mr. Anderson that Congress abdicated its work, making powers to the Executive Branch which are clearly spelled out in the Constitution as belonging to the Congress. And I think it—you know, I reject the notion that Congress is unable to respond to emergencies such as occurred on 9/11. When I think about Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and on Dec. 8, Congress declared war. It didn’t take them very long. So I think our Constitution is perfectly capable of meeting our needs in a time of crisis. And the assaults, you know, by the president—his far-reaching use of spying on Americans, checking our financial records—just intolerable. And we need a Congress, people in Congress who will stand up for and live up to their responsibilities to protect the Constitution, and live up to their responsibilities to place a check on the authority of the president of the United States.

And I’ve been struggling to get the Congressman to engage in a debate about these issues, to defend his positions and his votes, and give me an opportunity to challenge him, and he’s too busy to do that. And I think that’s a disservice to the voters of the 16th District.

SW: As a Marine, one of your things you’re wanting is an immediate troop withdrawal. Now, explain how your military service legitimizes this position.

RA: Well, at least I served in the military, unlike some of those who have sent other people’s children to carry out their misguided foreign policies. And I think that gives me some insight into what young people think when they are persuaded to join the military and serve their country. But I don’t think my being in the Marine Corps gives me any more legitimacy to criticize the policies of the United States government than anybody else. But I do think it’s interesting that so few of those who want to put American lives at risk, have not done that themselves [sic], have not been willing to serve in the military. But I think, as I mentioned earlier, that our policy in Iraq is a disaster, and it’s creating more terrorists, and it’s not protecting us. It’s not making us more secure. What the Congress needs to do is act on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission by securing our ports by inspecting the cargo containers that come into this country. I think Congress in the last budget allocated $5 billion for cargo inspection and port security, and that is a trivial amount of money. I mean, that’s a couple weeks of spending in Iraq, and it just makes no sense.

So we need to do that, we need to make sure, we need to appropriate money to
make sure police can talk to firemen, who can talk to emergency medical personnel all across this country, because most people believe there will be another terrorist event, and we should be prepared to respond to it. Katrina demonstrated very clearly that we’re not ready to respond to national emergencies or those created by a terrorist attack. So we really need to think about it and have a debate. You know, there is no political debate in Washington, D.C. That’s been drowned out by the neo-conservatives; their ideology prevents any discussion. The tight control of the Republican Party by the leaders of the Republicans in Congress makes it impossible for even Republicans to raise questions about what we’re doing. And if you stand up and say, “What we’re doing in Iraq is a mistake; it’s not getting us where we need to be; we’re not safer,” then people stand up and call people like John Murtha a coward. Which–the president talks about cutting and running, which is a meaningless phrase, and it’s so frustrating that the people elected to represent us can’t stand up and discuss these issues with each side respecting the other. It’s just—

FS: The (Roby???) tactic of short phraseologies are easily solved by (turning out?) hypnotic phrases. This has been pretty well studied by a lot of people. But nonetheless, the cut-and-run philosophy accordingly is having its effect. Many people have discussed at this point, there is, you know, a time line to begin withdrawing troops would be at the end of the year—to begin it with no set time line. Other people also (think??) that I’m arguing, it’s kind of amazing that General Borling agreed with it, too. The only thing that seems to be logistically possible at this time, and because of the tribal nature of essentially Iraq over there, which was one of my areas of studies when I was in school, you’ve got the (Suspiciates???), the Shiites, you’ve got the Sunnis, and you’ve got the Kurds as the partitioning of Iraq. And then, accordingly, sharing the oil revenues. How do you look at the question of (a) time lines withdrawal; (b) the partitioning of Iraq? Do you think that’s a feasible structure?

RA: No. Dealing with the time line first, I’m saying, taking the position that we need to announce now that we are leaving. And of course, I don’t mean that tomorrow everybody leaves. But I think we need to tell the Iraqi government we’re leaving; we’re pulling out our troops. We’re going to do it as quickly as we safely can do that. And simultaneously, we need to engage the international community in a process that will lead toward a political settlement. I think everybody agrees that a military settlement is not going to happen. It’s going to be a political settlement. At some point, you know, when enough people die, there will be a political settlement, and I think we ought to have it now rather than experience the loss of tens of thousands of more Iraqis and who knows how many Americans. So I think–I’m nervous about even talking about a time line because I think that can be–we say we’re going to do it within six months, and then it doesn’t happen in six months–that is problematic, and I think we just need to do it in a rational, timely fashion, but we need to be very clear that we’re leaving, we’re withdrawing our troops.

I think George McGovern laid out excellent ideas in Harper’s magazine, the latest issue, on how we can do that, how we can use the money that we would save by doing that to help the Iraqi people rebuild their country, to pay–I don’t know if reparations is the right word–but to compensate those who have lost loved ones, who have been wounded and need, you know, rehabilitation, need assistance. He’s made a case that should be debated in the halls of Congress. And, you know, from that kind of debate will come some sort of consensus that will enable us to extricate ourselves and help the Iraqi people. I think when we leave, it’s going to be chaotic. A lot of lives will be lost, but a lot of lives are being lost every day. I think there were 2,600 lost in September and 2,200 Iraqis died in August, and we had 40 U.S. military personnel killed in 11 days recently. That has–we’ve got to stop that.

FS: It’s a slaughter.

RA: It is. It’s just–well, it’s a fiasco, and we need to change course. And we need to do it now.

FS: What about the idea of partition? Do you think that’s feasible, or do you think it’s not feasible? Of course, we ended up with the British partition (unclear???) of Iraq. In its current form now, and Syria, etc., but they–you know (have almost made a vow???) but essentially the tribal nature, not only tribal, but the vision of the Muslim religion is really already set up. It’s the sectors within the country, and the Shiites are close to Iran; the Sunnis are close to their Saudi friends. A lot of people say that this makes sense, that the Saudis and Iranians could perhaps even help us solve the problem, if we did set up those partitions. Do you agree with that, or are you—?

RA: I don’t know if that’s feasible. I don’t know if it’s the best solution. I think the Iraqis, the Sunnis and the Shiites and the Kurds have to figure that out. But I think the Iranians could be part of the solution. I think all the neighbors of Iraq should be part of the solution. I think we should engage, you know, the Syrians, the Lebanese and the Palestinians and Israelis and the Egyptians and the Saudis, can all play a role in this. And you know, the Sunnis are concerned that they’re going to be left without any–the benefits of the natural resources of Iraq. And that certainly is a legitimate concern, but I think that there are certainly ways that their needs can be met. But I think the Iraqi people have to, you know, be engaged in that process. I don’t think people in the United States can tell them. We certainly can play a role in facilitating that, but–

SW: I think the current administration’s approach to Iraq can be summed up by Henry Kissinger’s theory that victory is the only feasible active strategy. Murtha is really polarized over the war. Now, is there a way for us to withdraw and save face and have America be united and how to do that?

RA: No, I don’t think saving face is the issue. People dying is more important than saving face. And I don’t think there is victory in Iraq. It’s a mess. It was a mistake, and I don’t see any–

JBA: You can’t rewrite history.

RA: No. And I have read that there is a ratio 10 to 1–regular troops to insurgents to suppress an insurgency. If there are 100,000 insurgents in Iraq, that means it takes a million regular troops. They’re not going to do that. President Bush knows that he can’t do that, and he’s not even willing to define an end game, or victory. He’s just saying the next president is going to deal with that. And yesterday I read that, you know, the generals are now saying we need to maintain our troop levels at 141,000 troops into 2010. And they’re saying, you know, that doesn’t mean anything other than we need to be prepared for that eventuality. But, you know, a few months ago, they were predicting, the generals were, that they would begin to reduce troops. And–which, incidentally, when I think about the president of the United States standing before the Congress when he gave his State of the Union address, and he said to them, all these 435 elected representatives and 100 senators, he told them that they didn’t count. He said that the withdrawal, the troop reductions in Iraq would be made by the generals in the field. And when you think about that, he’s just saying, “You guys don’t count. You were elected by the American people, but you don’t count.” Military bureaucrats are going to determine our policy in Iraq, and that is backwards. They carry out policy. So does the president, and the Congress make it? It’s just–it’s unbelievable for me to witness that and see these 535 men and women just sit there and not object very strenuously. It’s pretty amazing.

SW: How
might the war on terror be better directed or approached?

RA: Well, my feeling is that–and I think events demonstrate that this is correct–that intelligence, law enforcement, protecting our ports and our border and our infrastructure is the only way that we can protect Americans. And if you look at–President Bush and Dick Cheney will say there hasn’t been an attack in five years–well, it’s not because of Iraq. That hasn’t prevented any attacks. It’s because if there have been potential attacks, they’ve been prevented by law enforcement techniques such as that occurred in Great Britain. I mean, fighting terrorists in Iraq had nothing to do with that, and that’s, you know, never going to make us safe. And I think we need to focus our energy on that.a The whole idea that we should fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here, I think is absurd. Those people dying in Iraq count. And it’s just–

SW: Some of the materials I’m researching preparing for this interview mention about the patriotic motion and how it’s being employed by the administration. Your comments on that?

RA: I think patriots stand up and express their views in an environment that they know will be OK, if we have patriots who serve in government who recognize that that’s what being an American is all about. I think it’s unconscionable for, I think the behavior of many of our elected officials is unconscionable. The way they are using patriotism–misusing it. Being patriotic is speaking out and standing up for what you believe. It’s really pretty amazing when you think about the marketing techniques that the Bush administration uses. Just coming up with a law that’s called “the Patriot Act.” I mean, that’s a marketing tool.

FS: Who said patriotism is the first refuge of scoundrels?

RA: Samuel Johnson. (Voices of agreement: Samuel Johnson, that’s right.)

Editor’s note: Johnson’s actual quotation was, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”’

RA: The Congress of the United States is wasting its time thinking about french fries and, you know, the cafeteria, now that they call them Liberty fries–what a waste of time and money. But I think it’s an affront on us as Americans to misuse patriotism the way it’s being misused.

SW: Bringing things a little closer to home here in District 16, what would you consider Manzullo’s biggest legislative failures to be, and how would you have voted differently, or–?

RA: Well, I would not–I don’t support the war in Iraq. I would not have voted to authorize the president to do that. I was opposed to the first Gulf War and came to Rockford with a busload of people to protest that war. I would certainly vote to increase the minimum wage. I would join with others who want to address the need for every American to have health insurance and adequate health care. I would not waste my time as the Congressman has introducing resolutions such as point out or acknowledging or setting aside one month as “Indoor Comfort Month” or one week as “Life Insurance Week.” And if you look at, you know, his contributors, then you understand why he does that, but that’s a total waste of time and energy. And I would certainly, you know, vote to implement the line of recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. And I would hope that I would exercise some independent judgment in my votes, and not be, you know, placing my loyalty in the Democratic Party above the needs of the American people and of both my principles. I think Congressman Manzullo and I would probably disagree on most anything that–

FS: Can we run down his voting record quickly?

RA: Sure.

FS: This is from Project Smart Vote. How would you differ with him on the, for instance, he’s voted against the overseas military facilities, abortion amendment, for the interstate notification act; he’s voted against partial-birth abortion; he’s voted against family planning; he’s voted, I guess, for the contraception amendment, that’s kind of amazing. But all in all, essentially, with a few exceptions here, his position is pretty strongly anti-abortion. How do you stand on that?

RA: Yes, I’m pro-choice. I think abortion is a tragedy for everybody involved, but I think if a woman doesn’t have the right to choose, she is really a second-class citizen. So I think the right to choose has to be preserved.

FS: Agricultural issues. He’s been pretty strong on those. It’s everything except for the–it has to do with genetics. He seems to be voting against it, which I think may be a good thing. But how do you stand on–however, he did vote for all the entitlements, subsidies for the dairy program, the peanut program, the sugar program. How do you feel about those?

RA: I have tried to understand the farm bill, the last farm bill, and I’ve talked to farmers. I’ve talked to dairy farmers; I’ve talked to farmers who raise beef and grain, and I can’t get any sense of agreement among those various groups, and small operators have told me that they thought the farm bill was skewed toward benefiting big operators, and they would like to see–I talked to a dairy farmer in Jo Daviess County not too long ago, who told me he would like just to see all the subsidies gone. I try to understand on milk prices, why it makes a difference whether you sell your milk to a cheese plant or you sell it to a dairy that’s going to bottle it and sell it. It just–I’m struggling to understand how–what all that means. And I think–I certainly would like to see the small operator encouraged and protected. I think that I’m not in favor of these policies that benefit big business at the expense of smaller operations, and that would be true in agriculture as well.

FS: There’s one… This has remained high, and several of those which essentially go from the middle of Stephenson County all the way down to Kane, are now being used for horse trails, and for a lot of folks that are using them for hunts and horse riding and that sort of thing. So there’s a lot of the farmers over there are (a) concerned with the land being out of production, when they would like to especially see there is a grant now for ethanol–like to see that go into corn and soybean production; and at the same time, too, it seems the federal government is subsidizing hunt clubs. How do you feel about that issue?

RA: I didn’t realize the federal government was subsidizing hunt clubs. Is that right?

FS: Yeah, because essentially, that’s what they’re using. It’s land (unclear) indirectly.

RA: Oh, indirectly. That seems questionable use of public funds. That doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.

FS: I’ll get you some information on that so you can look at it. We’re just about running out of time here.

RA: We have to be out at Channel 23, I think in 20 minutes.

SW: OK. Just one quick question. You brought up the contributions made in this country (unclear) foreign. The money he has to work with outweighs your campaign by, I think, about 14 to 1. How do you compete with that to get your message out?

RA: Well, it’s difficult. I mean, television is expensive. Media is expensive, and it’s difficult to compete with that. I don’t think there is any way to compete. If I had twice as much money, he could still outspend me, so money is not going to be the answer, but I think having men like John Anderson and Adlai Stevenson and John Cox joining, you know, with me and saying to the public that here’s a candidate you ought to look at and seriously consider. It’s going to be very beneficial. My only hope is that we, through the efforts of (Lukavac??) here, we have enough people out there canvassing, identifying people who will support me and that we get them to the polls on Election Day, and people’s dissatisfaction with the Bush administration and, I certainly think, Congressman Manzullo has to take responsibility for his support of those–the Bush administration’s policies, and he

has to stand up and explain why, for example, he is supporting Dennis Hastert and even indicating that the speaker didn’t have any knowledge of what was going on regarding the Mark Foley episode. I think a lot of people are concerned about that, that–and I’m a former teacher, as is Dennis Hastert, and we both know what our responsibilities were as teachers to act on any knowledge of potential abuse of a minor by an adult. And that situation–and I’ve been in this situation and done it–I’ve reported suspected abuse when it turned out after investigation that there was no abuse, and I’ve had to deal with that. But you have no obligation to the adults. You have no obligation to talk to an adult, to ask them if it’s true. Your obligation is to the minor, to report it and have an investigation, and the leaders in the House of Representatives who knew about this and didn’t take appropriate action, need to step aside, and Congressman Manzullo needs to explain why he doesn’t think they should.

FS: Ending on a perhaps positive note, The Rock River Times has always been very concerned with the arts, supporting the arts. Congressman Manzullo voted against the National Endowment for the Arts amendment. How do you feel about that, and what would be your position?

RA: I think there should be public funds spent to support the arts. My wife is a former art teacher, very involved in theater, and my daughter is the general manager of a theater company in Chicago. I don’t think the arts should be supported because my daughter works at a theater, but I am very supportive to the values of the arts. For without art humanizing us, where would we be? And support for National Public Radio is a good thing, and I think it should be increased and continued. They provide a real service to our country.

FS: Very good. Well, gentleman, if you’re going out to television here, we’d better let you go.

From the Nov. 1-7, 2006, issue

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