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. Evaluating legislative performance so far in 2007, Andrews awarded Congress an F and marked the Colorado General Assembly at no better than C. Other topics this month include the Virginia Tech shootings, fallout from the Imus affair, and the woes of Denver's mass transit project. 1. CONGRESS AFTER 100 DAYS
Susan: After the first 100 days, I give the Dem-controlled Congress a solid B. They’re addressing Iraq – the reason they won control last November. They are responding to tax cuts for rich people and higher taxes for the middle class. And they’re working to restore voter confidence in government.
John: Voters didn’t elect Majority Leader Harry Reid to declare the war is lost against a radical Islamist enemy bent on destroying us. They didn’t elect Speaker Nancy Pelosi to junket overseas kissing up to dictators. None of the Democrats’ campaign promises are anywhere close to becoming law. This Congress deserves an F so far.
Susan: The F goes to attorney general Alberto Gonzales for his pitiful performance before Congress. This scandal continues to unravel and Gonzales irritated Dems and Republicans alike in his feckless testimony. At least Harry Reid had the courage to speak the truth about a war that cannot be won.
John: Cabinet officers come and go, but national security is forever. If Reid and Pelosi have their way, Democrats will be shamefully remembered as Defeatocrats when the US attorney dispute is forgotten. Islamic fascists don’t just want Iraq, they want our destruction. For Congress to ignore that would be a terrible betrayal.
2. GRADING THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION
John: For the legislative session ending in May, I can’t give Ritter and the Democrats anything higher than a C. They set the stage for all sorts of local tax increases, and for higher prices on housing, health care, energy. Trial lawyers and enviros may like that, but it’s tough on working families.
Susan: Voters throughout Colorado will have the opportunity to vote tax increases up or down. The gov and the Dem-controlled legislature are responding to the demands of Coloradans who want quality higher ed; a quality transportation system and accessible health care. They’re headed in the right direction.
John: I’m flagging you for grade inflation, Susan. The session was cluttered with fringy social issues and a pointless Iraq debate. Senator Fitz-Gerald’s congressional ambitions gummed up the ethics amendment. Ritter’s Colorado Promise mostly led to study groups – more like the Colorado Postponement. These fumblers are lucky to get a C.
Susan: I don’t think Colorado voters agree with you John. Bill Ritter and the Democratic legislature have responded to concerns about the environment, higher education, transportation and health care. The whining – on both sides of the aisle – about ethics reform is unseemly.
3. VIRGINIA TECH SHOOTINGS
Susan: Less than a decade after the tragedy of Columbine, the country is again experiencing shock, outrage and horror at a school massacre – this time in Blacksburg at Virginia Tech. There are no easy answers but rigorous gun control – hand guns in particular – is part of the answer.
John: This monstrous madman could have been stopped before he took up his videocam, his weapons, and began killing. The evil Cho – let’s never speak of him without that adjective – sent plenty of signals that were inexcusably ignored. The evil Cho did not deserve the national audience posthumously given him by mainstream media.
Susan: If Cho’s stalking and subsequent court ordered mental health treatments had been properly recorded, he wouldn’t have been able to buy a gun in Virginia. Failure to implement existing laws is part of the problem. In fact, Cho should have been institutionalized years ago. He was a very sick boy.
John: The evil Cho was a man, not a boy, and he wasn’t just sick, he was coldly bent on violence, hate, murder and mayhem. Such evildoers will break any law. More laws won’t help. To head off such heinous crimes we need greater community vigilance and tougher individual resistance.
4. LESSONS OF THE IMUS AFFAIR
John: Radio host Don Imus, with his long history of trash talk, is out of a job after crudely insulting some black women basketball stars. The lesson is not that talk radio is bad or that Al Sharpton is good. The lesson is that America needs a higher standard of decency – a colorblind standard.
Susan: No surprise, we agree on this one. We probably don’t agree that now is a good time to lose O’Reilley, Limbaugh and Boyles. Imus gained credibility because so many powerful people were on his speed dial – on both sides of the aisle.
John: Imus and his ignorant insults are a distraction here. The bigger concern is hip hop culture with its degradation of women and glorification of violence. The racial victim mentality as exploited by shakedown artists like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson is a tragedy for Americans of all colors.
Susan: A lack of civility across the board – whether hip hop culture, talk radio, cable news rants or internet blogs – symbolizes the breakdown of a culture that’s moving too fast in high-speed lanes, plugged into ipods, cell phones and crackberries. Human connection’s been lost in the noise.
5. FASTRACKS IN TROUBLE
John: Susan, I told you so. Fastracks is going nowhere fast. The expensive government rail system that metro Denver voted to build is in deep trouble. According to RTD, the board that can’t shoot straight, revenues are a billion dollars short and costs are two billion over. Once again, mass transit flunks the test.
Susan: A successful and full buildout of FasTracks is as important to the future of this metro region as snowpack running into reservoirs. If community and political leaders don’t figure out how to finance a comprehensive system – gird lock will reign and job growth will disappear.
John: Your mass transit “reservoir” is going dry unless taxpayers fork over another three billion “snowflakes.” I’ll contribute one, but where will you find the others? Voters should cancel this bankrupt boondoggle with the trolley cars and start building bus rapid transit, a far better value for the dollar.
Susan: A comprehensive multi-modal transit system must include dedicated bus lane – along with light and heavy rail. The political and civic leaders of this region must figure out how to build and pay for it. Finger pointing is not a solution.