Candidates Reveal Positions, Personality on Triad Today

by Jim Longworth

We are living in an age of the 24-hour news cycle, and that can be both good and bad for political candidates. Good if they utter a memorable sound bite. Bad if they say something stupid. As a result, politicians and their handlers have become increasingly guarded, so much so, that their televised debates have evolved into nothing but a series of thoroughly vetted (often negative) campaign talking points. That’s why when candidates appear on Triad Today, I abandon the traditional debate format, and instead, engage them in civil conversation about the issues.

Sixth District candidates Democrat Laura Fjeld and Republican Mark Walker appeared together on Triad Today this past week. The questions and answers unfolded organically without putting a stop watch on every response. The result was an exchange of ideas and problem solving. Of course, the program was not devoid of fireworks, like when Ms. Fjeld, an attorney, attacked Walker, a minister, as an extremist on women’s issues. It was a contrast in styles and beliefs from two passionate people, and I appreciated their candor. Here then, are some highlights from our discussion.


JL Did President Obama put us in danger by refusing to issue a travel ban from West Africa, and would you support a ban now?

MW I believe he did. Being married to a level one trauma nurse who helps manage the Moses Cone ER, this is certainly a personal issue with me.

LF I would vote for a travel ban, and I would base my vote on the best advice from the people who really understand this disease and how it travels. We want to know from experts across the globe who are studying Ebola, what is the best way to contain it, and then end it.

MW I’m not so concerned with positions by international healthcare providers. As your next Congressman, my oath would be first to make sure we protect the citizens of this country.

So I have no qualms about immediately establishing a travel ban.


JL Though we profess to be a peace loving nation, the United States has been engaged in nearly a hundred foreign conflicts since the early 1990’s. Now we’re bombing Syria. It seems like we’re always at war. Do you support the President’s bombing strategy and should we keep intervening in the Middle East?

LF I absolutely support the military air strikes, but we’ve got to go further. am not satisfied with a trajectory that takes us out years before we can isolate or eradicate ISIS. They are terrorists, and we must do everything we can. Coming from a family of Navy men, I think boots on the ground is a last resort, but I just don’t think we can take anything off the table.

MW We are facing a clear and present danger right now. ISIS is bringing in $3 million a day, they’ve commandeered oil fields in Syria and Iraq, and they’re also profiting from the sex trafficking industry. We do have to stop them. However, you also have to look back and say, “How effective have we been in intervening in these Middle East problems which go back 2000 years?” I feel sometimes like we’re wasting resources and putting our troops in harm’s way. I’m not an isolationist, but I would have to think long and hard before we enter into some kind of conflict.

LF This is a group that’s recruiting in this country right now. This is not the war in Iraq. This is a different and new threat, and we have to look at it in that light.

MW There are times when we have to stand up, but history tells us that (our interventions) have not been effective. If you look simply at results, they’re not there, so I think we need to develop some new strategies as we move forward.


JL Do you favor deportation of un documented workers, and what about children of illegal immigrants?

LF I do not favor amnesty. We cannot reward people for breaking our laws. But I do believe that the children who came here through no fault of their own, who want to be productive citizens in this country and want to go to school here, and serve in our military, that they should have a chance to do so.

MW Securing our border is something that’s past due. Last week there were four ISIS members caught coming across the border, so who knows how many are getting across there.

LF One of the things that differentiates me from Mr. Walker is his view, which was expressed quite clearly this summer, that we should actually be bombing the border with Mexico.

JL Mark, was that said in jest?

MW The paragraph before and after that was talking about going after drug cartels. This has been a spin by their campaign to come after us. We’ve chosen not to go the negative route, but to continue to concentrate on the issues.

LF Well those are the words that Mr. Walker used to deal with our immigration crisis on the border.

MW But that statement was by no means talking about going after Mexican citizens. It was talking about going after the drug cartel.


JL Mark, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you said you favor replacing the federal income tax with a national sales tax. Laura you said you do not.

LF Well now is not the time to raise taxes on anyone, and the implementation of a national sales tax on everything we buy would hurt the middle and working class families who can least afford it.

MW Jim we never said concretely that’s the way we want to go. We said there are many options, such as a fair tax, or even a flat tax model that would also include deductions for higher education, charitable giving, as well as mortgage interest.


JL Do you support raising the minimum wage?

LF I absolutely believe we should raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. That allows individuals who are working very hard to put food on their tables, some of them working two and three jobs to do that. This is a livable wage, and more importantly it allows people to get off food stamps.

MW I don’t think it would get them off food stamps. The Congressional Budget Office has said it will cost 500,000 jobs immediately upon implementation, so the answer is no.


JL Do you favor legalization of marijuana, which would raise revenues and possibly reduce street crime?

LF I have some concerns about legalization, but I certainly favor looking at it for medicinal uses.

MW I agree, but I would add to that.

The Governor of Colorado just said it might have been a little reckless to approve that legislation. There’s still some studies coming in, and I’d like to see those before we make any long term decisions.


JL In light of recent court rulings, do you support gay marriage, or would you join with those who seek to repeal those rulings?

LF I do support marriage equality and I don’t believe government should tell people who they can love.

MW From an equal rights standpoint, our Constitution should allow any two people to enter into any kind of civil agreement. However, I want to make sure our State’s constitution is being implemented to its fullest.


JL Laura you’ve referred to Mark as an extremist on women’s issues. I want to know why, and Mark I want to know why women should vote for you.

LF I believe strongly that a woman’s healthcare decisions should be left to that woman in consultation with her doctor, her family, and her faith. And that’s the way it must be. Mr. Walker’s view is that a woman should never have that option, not even in cases when she’s been the victim of a violent crime like rape or incest.

MW I want to be an advocate for all life, both the mother and the unborn baby.

I am pro life and I’m not ashamed of that, and I want to stand for the healthcare of all people involved.

LF His is an extreme view held by very few people in this country, and then to say he will work diligently to pass legislation that would result in the banning of common forms of birth control, such as the pill and IUD, the Congress shouldn’t even be dealing with contraception.

MW The last conversation I had about birth control was nine years ago when my wife came in and said we need to sit down and talk because we’re expecting our third child.


JL Mark, as a Protestant minister, what assurances can you give Jewish voters, Catholic voters, and Muslim voters that any votes you cast in Congress will reflect the views of all your constituents?

MW My oath is to the Constitution, and not to any specific denomination. That’s why we have bipartisan support across this district.

JL Laura, for conservative voters who are still undecided in this race, what assurances can you give them that you won’t vote in lock step with Obama and the Democratic party?

LF Well I never have and I never will. This race is really about issues and policy, and as a working mom, I’m the only candidate who’s actually had experience working with people of very divergent backgrounds.

If elected, both candidates feel they can help to break the gridlock in Washington. Perhaps they can. Though their views on many issues are far apart, they are alike in two regards. They are both good listeners, and they aren’t hamstrung by huge egos. That’s something Washington needs more of. !

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).