As unfocused and underattended as it was, Spokane’s CityVote debate may have made one mark on the 1996 presidential election.
It may have convinced the Rev. Jesse Jackson to enter the race.
“This debate makes me focus anew on the possibility of running for the White House,” Jackson said during the Sunday night presidential forum.
Jackson was connected by telephone from Chicago with five other candidates appearing on the Ag Trade Center stage. The forum, which was supposed to center on environmental concerns, had meandered off into discussions about taxes, drugs and urban blight.
Running for president would give him a platform to discuss urban problems, Jackson said, and to offer some of his solutions.
He suggested some for the forum: End race discrimination, stop exporting jobs and stop building so many jails. Get parents involved with schools, and ministers with the criminal justice system.
About 175 people attended the forum, co-sponsored by Cox Cable and The Spokesman-Review. It was an opportunity to see some presidential candidates who will be on the ballot Nov. 7 in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Moscow, Idaho, and 15 other cities through a new project called CityVote.
Most major candidates ignored the debate or refused to come. But Jackson wasn’t the only one offering solutions to the nation’s problems Sunday.
Five other candidates - all long shots - appeared in person and suggested everything from transcendental meditation to abolishing the income tax.
“Our problems are human problems,” said John Hagelin of the Natural Law Party. He said dissolving Americans’ individual and collective stress is a way to improve the country.
Chuck Collins, a Republican candidate, said citizens have to take responsibility and return to “family values.”
“Get federal mandates out of our lives,” Collins said. “Get rid of the income tax, the Internal Revenue System and the Federal Reserve System.”
He would replace the income tax with a 5 percent national sales tax.
“Repeal the income tax and replace it with nothing,” countered Harry Browne, Libertarian Party candidate. “Huge spending cuts now! Huge tax cuts now! Balance the budget now!”
The federal government has no business being involved in crime control, regulation of business, education and housing, he said.
“I would favor the downsizing of the federal government,” Hagelin countered. “But if we turn off government and unleash free enterprise, what tree, what mineral would remain?”
Art Fletcher, another Republican, doubted the nation would see any economic boom from proposals to abolish the income tax.
The nation has a work force with too many people who can’t read, write or reason, said Fletcher.
“If we give all that money back, I got a real problem as to whether they will know how to take care of themselves,” he said.
Lyndon LaRouche, an independent Democrat who is making his sixth run for the White House, predicted an imminent worldwide financial collapse.
“We’ve destroyed the cities,” LaRouche said. “We have become a virtual reality society in which people are no longer attuned to reality.”
Later, during the debate’s discussion of drug policy, LaRouche accused George Bush of trafficking in drugs when he was vice president.
Although the debate was originally billed as a discussion of environmental issues with some questions drawn from local backyard forums, moderator Sander Vanocur rarely broached that topic.
He did question candidates about their solutions to the cleanup at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, but with limited success.
“Privatize it, let companies make a profit selling it,” said Collins before launching into a call for more wind power, hydroelectric power and a monorail system running down the middle of the nation’s interstates.
The way to process nuclear waste has been known for years if the government would just take the political risk, said LaRouche.
Prioritize the various messes and use a “plasma torch” on non-radioactive wastes, said Hagelin. “The solution is not one of money, it’s one of creativity.”
Fletcher, who said he once worked at Hanford, argued the nuclear waste should be considered everyone’s problem, not just a federal government problem. He would “pull the finest minds in the world together” to find ways to clean up the waste.
President Clinton and the betterknown Republican candidates all refused to participate in the forum. That led sponsors to revise the format, and devote an opening session to the problems of trying to force change in the presidential campaign system.
“This is not a ‘give us a one-size-fits-all solution to urban problems,”’ said Linda Pall, a Moscow, Idaho, city councilwoman. “This is an opportunity to come clean with the public.”
Larry Agran, executive director of CityVote, said the forum was worthwhile, even if the major candidates refused to come. Whether they participated or not, he noted, their names will be on ballots in 18 cities on Nov. 7, and voters there will have a chance to choose who they think should be president.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo