Sunday, December 04, 2005

Cegelis on Iraq & IL-06

This past Thursday, local bloggers held a conference call with Christine Cegelis. Below are some of the notes I took from the call typed while listening to the conversation between the candidate and bloggers on the line. I've summarized the 35-minute conversation for this post, and tried to group the responses by topic:

On the President's Plan for Iraq:
Cegelis was disappointed, as were we, in the President's "Plan for Victory" in Iraq and his 'major' speech on the plan. She noted that she was optimistic about Rep. Murtha's plan for withdrawal, and thought that this indicated that the tide had truly changed in Washington. She was in DC recently for a National Security Briefing where all indications were that the troops were overstretched and can't sustain another year at the status quo. She was confident the Democrats in Congress would keep the withdrawal in the public's attention and bring the troops home, and hopes that saner people prevail on Iraq policy.

Cegelis felt the President's plan seemed not to be based on reality, but on political posturing. She noted that Rep. Murtha had said on Russert's show that is would take 25 years to adequately train the Iraqi troops. Both Cheney and Ruslfeld have already said we'd be in Iraq for decades. Perhaps the plan was intentionally being vague on just what "training" the Iraqis meant.

Comparisons to Duckworth on Iraq:
When asked how her approach to Iraq would differ from a candidate like Duckworth, Cegelis noted that the military is the best at what they do. She commended Duckworth for her bravery and her service. But then noted that the military is under the guidance of civilian officials. As a civilian, she will look to experts like Rep. Murtha, as he is seen as the military go-to person who's opinions should be respected.

Her style was to listen to many viewpoints with an open mind, give respect to the opinions of people who are the experts, then synthesize what was felt to be the best course of action. Cegelis felt this was Bush's weakness as a president. He seems to surrounding himself with yes men, and not want to here opinions that differed from his own. Her style would be to surround herself with people who will tell her the truth regardless of what that truth may be.

Iraq's Future
For the future stabilization of Iraq, Cegelis noted the variety of unknowns. She noted her agreement with Rep. Murtha's assessment from the consensus of people on that ground that the large US troop prescience in Iraq is making the situation less stable and making the situation worse.

She felt that the US must begin to take a less visible support roll, such as air support, allowing the Iraqi's to regain control of their own country. Internationalizing the efforts to rebuild Iraq were just as important. If Iraqis can't get clean water and have poor electrical function, and 40% unemployment, the efforts of our troops would be made even more difficult. Making life better for the Iraqi citizen would help lead towards greater stabilization. Cegelis felt the best way to insure peace was to employ men and educate women.

The Iraq Issue in IL-06
When asked how much an issue Iraq would be in the district, Cegelis felt that although there was a strong anti-war presence in the IL-06, that almost all people she talked to felt Iraq was not much of an issue for the race. In talking to residents at her many coffees and public events, people from the district seemed to universally realize that no freshman Congressperson was going to single handedly solve the Iraq issue.

Instead, she noted that resident's concerns where much closer to home. They wanted a Congress person who understood the district and its issues. They were concerned about NCLB, O'Hare expansion, United workers losing their pensions. Residents understood the importance of these economic quality of life issues and realized that these were where she could make a difference in their lives for the better.

Cegelis used DuPage schools as an example. She cited how the Glenbard school system, due to budget cuts, had to cut from seven to six classes, hurting student's education. Since people move to DuPage for the quality of the schools, she saw this as having a direct impact on the quality of life for district residents. Cegelis also noted how in the global picture, such cuts as these hurt students' futures by providing them with a lesser education. This is very concerning as in the EU, India, and China their governments understood that education was key to competing in the global economy, and yet the US seemed to be going in the opposite direction, for example, with a budget bill that cuts student loans and child support enforcement.

Personality vs. Issue
Cegelis was adamant that she was running for Congress because from the heart she felt that issues that were important to residents of the district were not being discussed. The focus seemed to be choosing candidates based on personality instead of what the candidate would do for the residents of the district. This, Cegelis felt, was why we have the government we've got. She hoped to keep the race for IL-06 focused on the issues that mattered to district residents.

She hoped voters would focus on how a candidate is going to vote on issues that matter to IL-06 For example, how is Roskam going to vote? Returning dog tags is a lovely thing to do. But how is her going to vote on issues that matter in Il-06?

Cegelis wanted a campaign that highlighted opposing points of view, not just stories. She felt one of her strengths was being open opposing points of view which made her understanding of issues stronger.

Blogs and the Future:
Cegelis felt the beauty of blogs was to develop a clear idea of what needs to change. What direction do we need to go. What is politician's vision. In DuPage she saw this as a key function as the Republican machine has been in place for 30-plus years. Every local Republican meeting gets 200-300 people in attendance. Democratic organization are just beginning to build, but they are decades behind. She felt blogs where a way to speed this process and help organize locally. She felt this was part of the importance of her run against Hyde in 2004 - the process. An Democratic organization needs to be built to beat the Republicans. This wasn't going to happen overnight, let alone one election cycle. Cegelis thought being a part of this process was one of the most important parts of her campaign.

Bloggers on the call raised the issue that blogs tend to be read most when they hit topics of high passion or controversy. Issues like education, healthcare and pensions might be lost to more hot button issues. Cegelis emphasized that at some point everything has to stop being entertainment, and serious issues need to be discussed. Controversial issues may get attention, but issues like the budget bill that affect our daily lives need to get more than a ho-hum response. She felt the Blogosphere was key to keeping the focus on where a candidate stood on the issues rather than the main stream media's tendency to focus on personalities.

One Reason
Cegelis closed our conference call by emphasizing that we are all in this for one reason: "We all love our country enough to be here talking about this late on a Thursday night." It was her greatest hope that people both on the blogs in in their communities would continue to get involved to make their government and their country a better place. That was the key reason for her run for Congress.