The “Head On” debate between former state Sen. John Andrews (R) and former Denver councilwoman Susan Barnes-Gelt (D), seen daily on Colorado Public Television since 1997, began its April series this week. Andrews sharply took issue with the recent wave of demonstrations by illegal aliens, calling them offensive to all Americans who value the rule of law. Other topics this month include Colorado's troubled pension system, the University of Colorado, lessons of the RTD strike, and Iran's nuclear threat. 1. IMMIGRATION REFORM HEATS UP
John: Americans who believe in the rule of law are offended at massive street demonstrations, complete with Mexican flags, by foreigners who broke the law to enter our country. Congress should legislate strict enforcement at the border and in the workplace. Foreigner lawbreakers wishing to stay here should return home and apply to re-enter legally.
Susan: Immigration reform is a federal issue. Political posturing by both parties in this election year has resulted in a congressional stalemate. Until all parties are held accountable - including employers – and until a rational, informed dialogue occurs – we are all swimming against the tide.
John: Against the flood, you mean. Twelve million illegal aliens nationwide, 400,000 right here, constitute an invasion that must be halted. Democrats and Republicans are spineless on the issue. Neither Congress nor the legislature will act. Colorado voters can at least act to cut off welfare for these trespassers.
Susan: Illegal immigrants are not eligible to receive welfare. Federal law requires the states to provide two services only: emergency medical care and K-12 public education and that’s all. The useless constitutional amendment on November’s ballot changes nothing. Immigration is a federal issue. Period, the end.
2. PERA DEEP IN DEFICIT
John: The state pension plan, PERA, is drowning in red ink. Colorado taxpayers are on the hook for billions. Benefits are too high. Employee contributions are too low. Most legislators are PERA members, creating a conflict of interest on pension reform. We need full disclosure by legislators, and a solution that protects the taxpayer.
Susan: PERA mismanagement, from administrative day-to-day policies overseen by the executive director and his staff, to the legislature’s failure to rein in benefits, and the careless oversight of investment activity during the go-go 1990’s – has created the perfect storm. It’s time for radical change. Let’s see who has the backbone.
John: It will take backbone for this Democratic legislature to clean up the pension mess despite union pressure. 401-style personal accounts must replace guaranteed benefits for all new hires. Insider dominance of the PERA board must end. And any legislator with a personal stake in PERA should immediately disclose in full.
Susan: Amen! Addressing the PERA mess will test the resolve of all parties involved. A public pension program that replaces Social Security is a recipe for disaster and a complete anachronism in the 21st Century. All pension programs must be portable – public and private.
3. HANK BROWN’S CHALLENGE
Susan: University of Colorado Regents did well to select Hank Brown to continue as president. Brown decision to move the President’s Office to Denver acknowledges the breadth of the system. Public higher ed faces huge challenges: money, politics, policy and credibility. Brown’s record of work with diverse interests will be tested.
John: The CU system is academically mushy, athletically muscle-bound, and fiscally flabby. It needs more emphasis on scholarly excellence and merit, less on racial symbolism and political correctness. Hank Brown is the man to accomplish all that, provided the regents stand with him and don’t let the faculty run amok as happened at Harvard.
Susan: Wow! We fully agree. Tenured, myopic, politically correct faculty caused the demise of the perhaps too straight-talking Larry Summers. Hank Brown is far more politically adept. The taxpayers of Colorado will soon learn whether he can cut through the university’s infatuation with football and correct the status quo.
John: CU Prof. Ward Churchill, a Marxist who wants America erased from the map, recently asserted on national television that his political propaganda is appropriate in classrooms, regardless of what regents or taxpayers say. That radical mentality, shared by many faculty, is President Brown’s biggest challenge.
4. LESSONS OF RTD STRIKE
Susan: Lessons from the recent RTD strike: 1. Without mass transit – the region is in gridlock. 2. The dilemma of rising health care, fuel and operating costs – for both employer and worker – are bound to result in a clash. 3. RTD workers wages have been frozen since 2002 while administrative salaries have increased substantially.
John: Steady there, driver. There was no gridlock, just a few days of commuter inconvenience. Strikers only shut down half the RTD system, thanks to competitive contracting of the other half. The union soon faced up to market realities and settled. Metro Denver, thankfully, just isn’t that dependent on government-run buses and trains.
Susan: John, maybe you should check with your friends with 9 to 5 jobs, more than five miles from home! I think you’ll find the RTD strike had a huge impact. Besides, taxpayers subsidize SUV’s, gasoline and road building. Public support of transit doesn’t make a dent in that public subsidy.
John: Gov. Owens did the right thing by letting RTD’s elected board stare down the strikers’ unreasonable wage demands. Our legislature did the right thing by partly privatizing the system years ago. Better service, lower cost. Huge bureaucratic monopolies are so 20th century.
5. IRAN CLOSER TO NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Susan: Bush included Iran in his axis of evil speech nearly 4 years ago. Can you spell oil? Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and other senior officials have been intent on re-shaping the Mideast since taking office in 2000. Can you spell oil? Americans’ confidence in Bush’s leadership is plummeting. Spell trouble!
John: Please, stop with the Bush-bashing. The problem with Iran isn’t our leaders, it’s theirs. Ahmadinejad is a religious fanatic who foams about using violence to usher in the end times and wipe out Israel. US concerns about letting his bloodthirsty regime get nuclear weapons are shared by even Russia and China.
Susan: The issue is not whether the Bushies are responsible for Iran’s nuclear ambitions – although it was Papa Bush’s administration that supported their desire to develop nuclear power for energy. The question is – given their dismal record – whether White House can summon the judgment to react appropriately.
John: A fickle public, not a poor record, accounts for the President’s low polls. Afghanistan, Libya, and Iraq were all ticking bombs when Clinton left. With Bush’s leadership the first two have been stabilized, the third is well on the way. Now we face the Iranian fanatics. Hang tough, Uncle Sam.