The Huntsville Times - Battle Lines Drawn on Jobs
By CHALLEN STEPHENS
Threat of defense, NASA cuts arises in 5th District race
Then-Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, seated in front of an American flag, looks into the camera and promises: "I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending. I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of future combat systems."
In Huntsville hotel and board rooms, Wayne Parker, the Republican running to represent the 5th Congressional District, has gathered defense contractors for private screenings of snippets of Obama's early pledge to an Iowa political group.
"Some jaws hit the floor," recounted Parker. "This is what we do here."
About 4,000 people in Huntsville hold jobs related to major missile defense programs.
Parker's four-minute video, much of it set to dance beats, seeks to link his congressional opponent, Dr. Parker Griffith, to Obama and other top Democrats, and by extension, to their promises to reduce missile defense.
Griffith, a state senator for Huntsville, said he first saw the video last week and that Parker ought to quit "campaigning in the shadows."
Parker, he said, is an "empty suit" whose broad attack on Democratic leaders, such as now-party nominee Obama, will hurt his ability to sustain growth in North Alabama if Parker is elected.
"We are very pro-missile defense here and feel it is a non-partisan issue," said Griffith. "It's not productive for anyone to draw a line in the dirt and say I'm only going to work with this party."
In fact, a national Democratic group is now running TV ads arguing that Parker is the one who would consider cutting Tennessee Valley Authority and NASA jobs. Griffith isn't mentioned in the Democrats' ad, and he doesn't claim Parker would intentionally eliminate Alabama jobs.
Likewise, Parker doesn't claim Griffith would intentionally cut defense work here. But at one point in Parker's video, a black screen replaces Obama's image and is filled with the question: "Will Research Park and North Alabama continue to receive sufficient funding?"
Neil Forbes, Parker's campaign manager, said Parker has not raised any money from defense contractors who have seen the video. "It's just informational."
Parker said he held two private screenings of the video at the Embassy Suites during the Space and Missile Defense Conference in Huntsville last month. He also showed the video twice this summer to executives and contractors at Cummings Research Park.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also is quoted in Parker's video. Nine years ago, she said the country needs a strong non-proliferation policy rather than a missile defense system. In July, Pelosi, D-Calif., held a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., for Griffith and other Democratic candidates.
The video also mentions Griffith's campaign contributions from Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee; Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., House Democratic caucus chairman; and House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md. All are presented as favoring some cuts to missile defense spending.
"We're not making things up," said Parker. "This is a real threat to missile defense and future combat systems. How much leeway do you think the Democratic leadership is going to give (Griffith) when they funded his campaign?"
Griffith has not said who he supports for president. He said last week that either Republican nominee John McCain or Obama could be bad for the 5th Congressional District. "I think we need to be prepared for that," he said.
Griffith on Wednesday said Parker lacks professional accomplishments and that has left him with no alternative than to attack politicians who aren't even running in this race.
"He realizes he can't stand the light of day as far as comparing his life record to mine," said Griffith, mentioning his business experience, career as a cancer specialist, time in the Alabama Legislature and short stint as a classroom teacher.
"My opponent is an empty suit and if he can prove me different I welcome it," said Griffith, who was elected to the state Senate in 2006. He said Parker ought to move to California and run against Pelosi.
Asked about Griffith's "empty suit" comments, Parker, an insurance agent married to the daughter of former Texas Congressman Bill Archer, said: "What the leadership of the Democratic Party wants to do to national missile defense is bad for America and devastating for North Alabama."
Obama tempers view
Obama has tempered his view of missile defense since Iowa. Calls to Obama's press office were not returned last week, but his campaign Web site says: "An Obama administration will support missile defense, but ensure that it is developed in a way that is pragmatic and cost-effective; and, most importantly, does not divert resources from other national security priorities until we are positive the technology will protect the American public."
Campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show both Parker and Griffith have received donations from people who work in aerospace here.
Griffith last week said Parker employed the same tactics when running against the man they hope to replace, U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, who is retiring.
In a news story in October 1994, Parker said: "I can't tell you how many space station and defense workers I have talked to that beg me to get the message out about the cuts and the diminishing role Huntsville is playing in defense and aerospace work thanks to Bud Cramer's unwillingness to stand up to (President) Bill Clinton."
But the Democrats' new ad for Griffith also revives a campaign theme from 1994.
The ad argues that Parker "said he'd consider cutting funding" to TVA, NASA and Redstone Arsenal. The claim stems from 14-year-old comments.
During the 1994 campaign, Parker told the TimesDaily in Florence he supported legislation to cut federal spending. Parker specifically mentioned support for a bill that would allow an additional 60 hours of floor debate in Congress. Cramer argued that lawmakers would use that bill and the ensuing debate to kill TVA's Environmental Research Center and NASA's space station.
The national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee paid for the new ad, which claims Alabama "can't trust Wayne Parker to protect our jobs."
Didn't see ad
Joey Ceci, Griffith's campaign manager, said Griffith did not see the ad before it aired.
Forbes, Parker's campaign manager, said: "It's ironic that the people that are paying for that ad are the one's trying to cut defense and future combat systems."