The Clear Lake Tea Party and the Alliance of Constitutional Patriots sponsored a candidate forum for candidates seeking the senate seat currently held by Sen. Kay Baily Hutchison last night on the University of Houston-Clear Lake campus. State Rep. John Davis (R-129) paid for the facility rental. The forum was well attended, it started at 6:30 pm and at 7 pm I did a head count, coming up with 257. A staff member for one of the candidates had a count of 217, so maybe I doubled a row? It isn't the easiest thing to count people in a big auditorium!
Six of the declared candidates on the Republican Party side were in attendance, listed in order of appearance: Ted Cruz, Tom Leppert, Lela Pittenger, Glenn Addison, Andrew Castanuela, and Elizabeth Ames Jones. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has announced his entry into the campaign but declined the invitation to the event, as did each of the declared Democratic Party candidates.
The format was the same as the "Job Interview" that the CLTP held for CD-22 candidates in 2010 but, fortunately, was much, much better. Most likely it was because of the quality of the candidates but I'm sure that the first experience helped the organizers as well. One thing that remained the same was an outstanding rendition of the National Anthem:
Wow. That was awesome. I wish I had written down her name but alas, I didn't. I don't know if it was the same young lady that sang at the first job interview or not.
The format went as follows. The first candidate, Ted Cruz, took the stage while the other five candidates were escorted out and into a "green room". This was done to prevent the candidates from hearing the questions or answers before it was their turn on the stage. It was pretty effective in that you didn't have the typical repeating of answers that you always find in a traditional debate format. The candidates had to think on their feet, which was easier for some than others.
Each candidate opened with a one minute spiel about who they were. Then they were asked a total of eight questions. The first seven were common to all of the candidates and the last question was specific to a candidate and was said to be based upon something the candidate had said or written publicly. The first five questions had a two minute response period, questions six and seven a thirty-second response period, and the last question reverted to a two minute response. The candidate then had two minutes to give their stump speech or closing argument. In total, each candidate was allotted sixteen minutes of speaking time. Believe it or not, they pretty much held to that.
Here are the common questions, which you can also see in the slideshow at the bottom of the page:
- For a long time Congress and many Presidents and Courts have ignored or circumvented the Constitution. If you are elected, how will you stop this abuse and will you do anything to reverse past violations?
- Elected officials seem to have a compelling desire to tweak the capitalistic economy to make it "better and fairer for everyone." They only make it worse with the lower income citizens suffering more because of the tweaking. What can be done to let the free enterprise capitalistic system work as intended, allowing all to benefit according to their individual abilities?
- Why should US citizens be required by force through taxation, to pay for the healthcare, education, incarceration, and housing of persons who entered the country illegally?
- America was clearly founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs yet today we see a constant assault on those beliefs. We also see a "politically correct" approach to the Islamic faith, refusing to speak to the truths of its beliefs. What can be done to level the playing field?
- Our porous borders are a cultural, financial, and security threat to our country. all elected officials talk of securing the borders yet nothing significant gets done. If elected, what will you do to force the President to honor his obligation to secure our borders?
- Should every bill passed by the Senate contain a reference to the Constitution that justifies its constitutionality?
- Based on the recent events in Washington, will you support any action that increases the national debt?
And here are the questions specific to each candidate:
- Ted Cruz: You have chosen to champion the 10th Amendment. Why did you choose that one above all the others?
- Tom Leppert: When running for Mayor of Dallas in 2007, you signed an ACORN pledge that said the following: "IMMIGRATION: If elected, I will respect the fact that immigration policy is a federal issue and does not fall under the city's domain." Is that not effectively endorsing the Sanctuary City policy? Please explain.
- Lela Pittenger: On your web site you use the term "over-federalization." Can you tell us what you mean, and if elected, what action this calls for on your part.
- Glenn Addison: Certainly no one can argue with your desire to securing the border, but how would you handle the problem posed by millions of people already here illegally?
- Andrew Castanuela: In interviews you have said that your first priority if elected will be to reform the Tax System. Exactly what would you do and in what sequence would you do it?
- Elizabeth Ames Jones: You are considered by many to be an "energy expert." Can you tell us what you'd do as a Senator to make us more energy independent and less vulnerable to the whims of foreign dictators?
One of those "specific" questions is not like the others. I'll let you decide which one.
I picked Question 2 because it was the closest to being about the economic problems we have today and cropped each candidate's answer so that you could compare them directly if you choose.
I think if you do bother to listen, you'll find clear differences between the candidates. At the very least you should compare Mr. Cruz and Mr. Leppert as they are the most serious challengers. You can also listen to each candidate's entire question and answer session by clicking on these links:
And just to make sure you don't accuse me of cutting something out, click here to download the entire 100 megabyte file from the evening. Not sure who would bother but you can't say I didn't give you the opportunity.
Okay, we got the basics out of the way. So how did the candidates do? And what about the format?
First the format. Like I said, it was better this time and it prevented candidates from copying each other's answers. The downside is that there were no follow-up questions or challenges from the question reader, so some candidates were able to obfuscate and ignore the question asked. But that is nitpicking, I think that the organizers had to be pleased with the outcome.
So who "won"? I suspect that is a matter of (a) who you favored walking in the door and (b) what you wanted to hear when you walked in the door. They did have a straw poll and a scorecard – when they publish those results, I'll link to them. I'm guessing that Ted Cruz and Glenn Addison will be the leaders in the straw poll if past experience with Tea Party straw polls is an indicator.
In my mind, Ted Cruz "stole" the win with his energy. He was first up and he was fired up. This was his crowd and he knew it. He was the only candidate to get up out of his chair for each question and talk directly to the audience. He was typically rapid fire in his answers and his answers reflected that he knew who he was speaking to and what they wanted to hear. So, if I had to declare a "winner", it would be Mr. Cruz.
Mr. Leppert came across as a calm, competent businessman. Great for people like me who prefer substance over style but not particularly effective in front of a hard core tea party crowd. Bullet points are the life blood of a tea party meeting and Mr. Leppert's style is not bullet points and over-the-top rhetoric. Listen to the recordings and you'll see what I'm talking about. And it didn't help that he was up directly after Mr. Cruz, who had that "fire in the belly" look in his eyes last night.
Lela? What can I say? Her campaign is based on her age, which is 32. She wants to bring a youthful voice to the Senate. All I can say is that experience matters and Ted Cruz is not much older than she is, completely negating her theme. She will not be a factor in this race.
Glenn Addison makes me laugh. His campaign theme is that he is the "common man" and he carries that shtick off very well. He is forthright and plain spoken in his answers and likes to talk about his faith. That style will play well at all tea party events, which is why he has been scoring well in the straw poll department. He wants to get low-skilled jobs back from China because, as he put it, not all of us have high level thinking skills. He does have a few well thought out positions but without the money to get that message out, he won't be a factor on March 6th (assuming that date holds).
This was the first time for me to see Andrew "Cas" Castanuela in person. He played a variation of Addison's "common man" theme – he's the "poor common man". He's proud of his working man's heritage. Lacking money, he will not be a factor in this race.
And last up was Elizabeth Ames Jones. I'll be blunt – this format was not kind to her. And I don't say that to be mean, it just wasn't. She is an old-school politician, even though she did beat an incumbent Republican in 2000. She has a message and bullet points and if the question isn't directly related to those, she talks about one of them anyway. A debate style forum in which she could listen to the answers of her competitors would help her focus. She did mention that no elected official in America today knows more about energy than she does. I guess that is why she mentioned B.T.U.'s and then told us that the term meant British Themal Unit. Know your audience, candidates – most of us in the Clear Lake area grew up around and work in the chemical industry and NASA – we pretty much know what B.T.U. means. She is not going to be a factor in this race.
If you haven't been getting out to these events, get up off the couch and come on out. Lots of good people to hang out with and you can learn a lot about a politician when you look them in the eye and shake their hands. If you're like me, you'll find out that you like and respect them and their staff. They are hard working people trying to make a difference just like you and me.
UPDATE 8/15: Click here to review the results of the straw poll – once again, Ted Cruz was the winner.