Health care, immigration and the economy were hot-button issues at the Asian American Northern Virginia Candidate forum on Friday night that featured political candidates running in Virginia’s congressional and Senate races.
The event was hosted by several Virginia Asian-American organizations and focused specifically on issues that affect the Asian-American community.
Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-11th), who has received some criticism for not participating in enough debates this election season, was present, but challenger Col. Chris Perkins was absent because he was out of town for a wedding.
For the 8th district, incumbent Jim Moran (D-8th) sent a representative, Austin Durr, in his place to face off against challenger Col. Patrick Murray. Missing from the invitation list were Independent candidates running in each of the districts.
Asian American Voters Could Turn Election
Asian Americans make up a large majority of the population of Northern Virginia and comprise 17.6 percent (or 193,180 people) of Fairfax County, according to 2010 Census numbers.
According to a telephone survey conducted earlier this year, political campaigns at the presidential, congressional and senatorial levels have an opportunity to court votes in the Asian-American community that could turn the election in their favor. In Virginia, the survey estimates 26 percent of Asian Americans are currently undecided.
During the forum, Christine Chen, executive director with APIA Vote, said the survey also found that Asian American voters in Virginia favored democrats on “pocketbook issues, the economy, education, health care, and values to treat all American fairly, but are more divided on national security and the budget deficit.”
Candidates Spar Over Health Care and the Affordable Care Act
Each candidate was given one minute to answer each of the questions posed to them, and the questions were different for each district.
Connolly and Murray disagreed over whether or not the Affordable Care Act, which became law in 2010, helps Medicare with Murray stating that the act takes $716 billion out of Medicare and calling it an “incontrovertible fact” (see video attached to this article). Murray’s comment drew strong, negative reaction from Connolly and the audience.
“That is a bogus $700 billion claim, Mr. Murray. Not a dime will be cut to benefits and the same $700 billion savings is in [Republican Vice President nominee] Paul Ryan’s budget,” said Connolly.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Affordable Care Act reduces future growth in Medicare costs by $716 billion over 10 years. Both the Republican and Democratic parties have criticized the other over Medicare cuts or savings. Connolly said he “proudly supports” the Affordable Care Act.
“It will help, especially our Asian community, but also 30 million Americans who are now uninsured and do not have regular access to health care…. The Affordable Health Care Act is one of the most profound, positive pieces of legislation in the history of the United States Congress,” said Connolly.
Durr told the audience Moran strongly supports Social Security and Medicare, but said the programs are not perfect.
“There need to be some reforms to Medicare obviously, but the proposal that our opponent and the Republicans with the Ryan budget would turn Medicare into a voucher system, that’s not good for anybody. Moran opposes that and wants to keep Medicare operating as it currently is, but there are going to have to be changes to the program to ensure its fiscal stability in the long run,” Durr said.
Connolly Discusses Immigration, Voter ID Laws
Only two of the questions touched briefly on the topic of immigration, both of which were directed at Connolly. Regarding immigration, Connolly said he thinks some of the Republican measures in regards to immigration lead to racial profiling and as a result, could lead to a “disruption [of] police cooperation in our ethnic communities”.
“I think it presents serious problems. [Police cooperation] is essential if we’re going to have proper notification and solve crimes,” said Connolly.
Connolly also said he wouldn’t support legislation that would require children to report their parents immigration status to their school.
“The U.S. is not a police state. We’re a country that celebrates freedom,” said Connolly. “The idea that children would report on their parents is something that comes out of authoritarian regimes like North Korea.”
With so many Asian American undecided, organizations like APIA Vote are working to encourage Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders to vote. Connolly told the audience it’s important that all Americans have the right to vote.
“A number of laws championed by Republicans in various states are targeted at minority voters and it’s designed to make it more difficult to exercise the most sacred privilege Americans have, whether you were born here or naturalized, and that is the right to vote,” said Connolly. “Men and women have died to protect that right and it’s wrong to pass laws and let alone enforce them that would do anything to put a barrier between you and that vote. Let’s make it easier for people to vote.”
[Watch the videos above to hear Connolly discuss education, taxes, gun control and more.]
Following the congressional forum, Virginia senatorial candidates Gov. George Allen (R) and Gov. Tim Kaine (D) were expected to speak. However, both Allen and Kaine could not attend and were represented by Del. Jim LeMunyon (R-67th) and Del. Mark Keam (D-35th), respectively.
Watch videos from Keam and LeMunyon at the forum here.