Five citizens of Connecticut faced their peers last night in what was billed as the first Republican Candidate debate in their quest for a party endorsement seeking the office of United States Senator. Sitting listening to the candidates discuss domestic affairs, foreign policy and personal differences one could visualize our founding fathers seated in the back with a smile of satisfaction watching their vision of democracy and freedom unfold before them.
The Norwich Bulletin sponsored the debate and should be commended for their excellence in providing an atmosphere and opportunity for each candidate to have an equal opportunity to present their ideas. Bulletin columnist Ray Hackett acted as moderator in what was more like a round table discussion group than public debate. Hackett moved rapidly with a series of questions; however each candidate was timed during their response and allotted only a total of 15 minutes for responding on this night.
Every candidate managed to elicit a spontaneous response from the audience despite the warning and admonition that the audience should remain silent. Clearly there were moments when this crowd of politically active citizens felt the emotion of the evening and had to respond briefly. To the surprise of many the first and perhaps loudest outburst of the night was for Brian K Hill when he said, “any of the Republican candidates are better than any Democrat”.
For much of the evening there was an air of commonality you would expect at a Republican gathering with calls for less government intrusion into our lives, lower taxes, and fewer mandates. The complexity of the federal tax code was universally trashed with proposals for reform coming from different perspectives. The concept of a flat tax in some form seemed to unify all of the proposals.
As expected personal attacks were in the spotlight at times but were not dominate in this issue oriented affair. Chris Shays led in an attack on Linda McMahon when he referred to her last self-funded campaign and position with World Wresting Entertainment saying, “She is not conservative in spending and not conservative in the type of business she has”. Shays became a target himself when Kie Westby claimed the only difference between Chris Shays and Chris Murphy was their last names.
The most defining moment of the evening was the exchange of views on the question of working with Democrats in the Senate. The question seemed to raise the emotions of Peter Lumaj and he became a rock hard, unyielding figure opposed to compromise. He went on to say it was his goal “to make Washington irrelevant in your life”. For Mr. Lumaj it was his American Idol moment when viewers dropped him from the bottom two and sent him home.
This was the first debate but not the last as the candidates will face off again on June 14th at the University of Connecticut’s von der Mehden Recital Hall. The founding fathers never viewed American Idol but vetting of candidates today has a strange similarity to reality television. Mark your calendar and spend some time in the spirit of the founding fathers viewing the American dream of democracy in action as the candidates once again debate in June.