By Scott Johnson
Stark contrasts were seen between the two candidates to represent the 5th Congressional District in Washington, D.C., during a Candidates Forum Tuesday night, sponsored by the Christian Coalition of Clinton County.
Republican incumbent Glenn "GT" Thompson of Howard faced off against Democratic challenger Michael Pipe of State College, with Pipe's low-grading of scores on a questionnaire provided to the candidates drawing the most response from the approximately 50 who attended.
Thompson received a 100 percent rating on the questions, while Pipe only drew 19 percent.
Pipe, a recent graduate of Penn State University with a B.A. in Political Science and a current restaurant assistant manager, said he entered the race to represent the sprawling 5th Congressional District for those living paycheck to paycheck.
He said many people he knows have to work two jobs, had to drop out of college or have no health insurance because they can't afford it.
"I listen to their stories on a day-to-day basis and I listen to their struggles," Pipe said. "I think nobody in Washington really knows how it is to struggle from pay check to pay check and what that means. In this race for Congress, I'm trying to be somebody who will be a champion for working, middle-class families, and when I go to Washington, I want to be able to hang my hat as a champion for the working class."
Thompson said it is important that Christians play a large role in government, because the nation was founded by those with strong faith.
"I only made one promise when I ran for Congress two years ago ... to each and every day always do my best for the people I serve and that's a promise I work hard to maintain," he said.
Thompson noted the nation is facing "significant challenges," especially with a nationwide 9.7 percent unemployment rate, with an unofficial unemployment number of 16 percent including those who have given up looking for work, and 25 to 30 percent for those in the construction industry. Also, he said the national debt is approximately $14 trillion, or $43,000 for every person in the country.
"That is a threat to our national security and our personal security," he said. "There is much left that we absolutely have to do. We have to put the wheels back on this economy. That means we have to get off the backs of the job creators, the small businesses. There are over 2.1 million small businesses in this country that create jobs for over 70 percent of our workers. But I just see over the last two years just layers and layers of taxes and more taxes, health care has been increased and regulations have increased to the point where it cost a small business $1,000 per employee. That's no way to create jobs.
Thompson said the federal government has to downsize, given the state of the economy, noting the Environmental Protection Agency has tripled in its employees in the last several years.
"You can't have it both ways," Pipe responded, noting Thompson recently sent out a press release touting large grants recently awarded to communities in his district from that agency.
The questions then quickly turned toward the Obama administration, with members asking whether Pipe believes in Socialism (he does not) and a progressive tax.
Pipe said he does believe in a progressive tax, that those who make more should give back more.
He added the Tax Policy Center at the Brookings Institute showed taxes for Americans are the lowest they have been in 60 years, but only 10 percent of the public knew their taxes actually went down during the first two years of the Obama administration. In addition, he said, the federal stimulus package gave tax breaks to 95 percent of the citizens.
"I do support those who make a little bit more and give back to those who don't," he said. "I think that's actually a tenant of Christianity that if you have more, you should give more. I don't think everyone should give the same amount."
Thompson disagreed, saying the United States has the second largest corporate tax rate in the world, next to China, and should soon be number one.
"I think the tax is progressive. It progressively punishes you and it punishes you for working hard and being successful," he said, adding this year marked the first year less than 50 percent of Americans paid a federal income tax. "That means the financing of this country is coming down on the backs of a smaller and smaller number."
Concerning the nation's security versus the amount of money spent overseas, Thompson said he supported sanctions against Iran and spent time in both Iraq and Afghanistan to make sure the troops have what they need to keep the nation secure.
Pipe said he recently talked to two former generals who told him the best way to keep the nation secure is to close Guantanamo Bay because al-Quada is using the prison as a recruiting tool. Instead, he said, those prisoners should be housed in vacant federal penitentiaries in the United States.
Regarding the answers to the questions posed to them by the Christian Coalition, Thompson said his answers, and his following in life and in Congress, were based on duty to God, duty to country, duty to others and duty to self.
"God answers prayers and I think that will come Nov. 2," he said to the applause of many.
Pipe said he answered the questions by putting himself in another person's shoes. For example, he said he answered "oppose" to parental notification and consent for abortions by minors because he put himself in the place of a 16-year-old girl who became pregnant and feared for her life because of having to notify her mother or father.
He said the real issue is preventing the teen from getting pregnant in the first place. To do so, he said, age-appropriate sex education classes should be taught in public schools.
"Christ has an unlimited amount of forgiveness for those who do wrong," he said. "This is the beauty of Christ. If a person would answer 0 percent (on the questionnaire), Christ would still love him ultimately."
However, several in the crowd said Pipe's answers contradicted his statement that he is a "born-again Christian."
Both said immigration is a concern in the country.
Pipe said he believes the federal government has "failed" in that area, but he said those who have entered the country illegally should be welcomed, if they learn to read and write English and if they agree to take a citizenship test.
"To the folks from other countries who have come here illegally, we, as Christians, have the duty to have compassion on these people and not treat them as outcasts," he said. "We should treat them as our brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of the anti-immigrant things that I have seen throughout this nation are disgusting."
Thompson, however, said those who have entered illegally are criminals and should be deported, saying many bring drugs and arms from Mexico.
"We should secure our borders; improve the efficiency of our current illegal immigration system it should be a legal process, and enforce the rule of law," he said. "If you're here illegally, you broke a law. That means you go home.
"There's no lack of compassion for that," Thompson continued. "There are people who have been waiting for years to get in here legally. Those coming in the back door that's not compassionate."
Regarding health care, Thompson said he's hopeful the House will be able to repeal and replace the health care legislation recently enacted.
He said whatever the government does for health care it should decrease the costs of health care for every American, increase access, maintain innovation and the patient and doctor should make the final decision, not health insurance people.
"This health care breaks all four of those principles. We have to reform it," he said, predicting the bill will, at some point, be repealed and replaced. "We need to provide affordable insurance for those with pre-existing conditions, but we have to do it right, not the flawed way that this bill was constructed."
Pipe responded any move toward repealing the bill likely won't happen until 2012, adding the current plan should be "re-tinkered" instead of repealed.
"I do support the health care bill because we have tens of millions of people in this country who do not have health care and I believe it will get more people covered, especially the folks who have pre-existing conditions who have been kicked off their plan, or for the young people who can stay on their parents' plan until they're 26," he said. "These are good things the health care bill will do. It will also reduce the national deficit over $1 trillion over the next 20 years."
Pipe is climbing a huge hill to try to unseat the incumbent Thompson, with 47 percent of those on the 5th District registered at Republicans, 40 percent as Democrats and 13 percent as independent.