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Historic Precedent or Footnote? Laura Wells Debates Barbara Lee

On October 5, for the first time, a Democratic Party congressional candidate will debate a Green Party candidate one-on-one. California’s Thirteenth District incumbent, Barbara Lee, who is widely perceived as the most progressive member of the House, has agreed to debate Green Party candidate Laura Wells in a League of Women Voters (LVW) forum at Oakland City Hall on Friday evening, right after the Oakland mayoral forum.

Attendance in City Hall chambers is already oversubscribed, but the event will be livestreamed in City Hall Hearing Room 1 and on KTOP, Oakland’s government cable TV station. The Oakland LWV will then make it available on demand on their website and YouTube channel.

Wells is one of three Green California congressional candidates going head-to-head against incumbent Democrats, with neither Republicans nor anyone else in sight. Their names will appear alongside the Democrats’ on the November ballot, thanks to the state’s top-two primary, which I explained in When Democrats Aren’t the Least Worst. Kenneth Mejia is challenging incumbent Democrat Jimmy Gomez in Los Angeles’s District 34, and Rodolfo Cortes Barragon is challenging incumbent Democrat Lucille Roybal-Allard in Los Angeles’s District 40.

Gomez and Roybal-Allard both disdain their Green challengers. According to Mejia, “Here in my district election, we can’t even get Jimmy Gomez to respond at all to our request that he join in a candidate forum or debate.” Barragon says, “To date my incumbent opponent has refused to even acknowledge that our challenge to her seat exists, let alone to join us in a forum. To my knowledge, my opponent has never debated anyone while running for her seat, in all of the decades that she has held it.” Since Trump’s election, Roybal-Allard has voted for the $700 billion for Pentagon funding, for reauthorizing the Department of Homeland Security, and for the Blue Lives Matter bill that made police a special, federally protected class.

Ignoring the existence of Green candidates in federal elections has been the Democratic Party’s modus operandi ever since the US Green Party was founded in the mid-1990s. San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, failed to acknowledge Green challenger Krissy Keefer in 2004, and in 2008 she told Charlie Rose that she couldn’t make time to debate Cindy Sheehan because “I have a day job.” Cindy ran as an independent and won over 16% of the vote with a platform very much in line with Green Party values: ending US wars, single-payer health care, FCC reform, overturning all free trade agreements, repealing the Patriot Act, renewable energy, nationalizing oil and electricity, ending the “War on Drugs,” legalizing cannabis, ending torture, closing Guantanamo Bay detention camp, cleaning up Superfund sites at home and abroad, ending deregulation, ending the privatization of education, and legalizing same-sex marriage. Why would Nancy want to talk about any of that besides same-sex marriage?

Barbara Lee’s record is of course far more defensible and is often glorified by progressives. “Barbara Lee speaks for me” became a popular slogan both in and outside California’s District 13 after she voted against the Patriot Act and the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in the “War on Terror,” right after 9/11. We can count on her to demand a new AUMF every time the US starts a new war, and she votes against military budgets year after year, as her constituents demand.

Her voice, like that of Laura Wells, is often heard on Pacifica Radio’s KPFA-Berkeley. After she became the hero of the post-9/11 antiwar movement, KPFA listeners often heard her recorded shout out: “This is Congresswoman Barbara Lee. When I’m not throwin’ down in the halls of Congress, I’m kickin’ it with Davey D on Hard Knock Radio KPFA.”

And now Barbara Lee has done what no other Democratic congressional candidate has ever done—agreed to a one-on-one debate with a Green. “This is a much more democratic process than eight years ago when I was running for Governor of California,” said Laura Wells. “I was arrested and put in handcuffs for just trying to be in the audience of a debate in which I rightly should have been one of the candidates on the stage. So this is an important change.”

The debate will be only a half an hour long, but even that seems better than handcuffs. Question is, will it be a historic precedent or a historic footnote?

How do Barbara and Laura differ?

The Oakland League of Women Voters will choose from questions submitted live at Friday’s forum. These are the four questions I’d most like to hear asked:

1) Shouldn’t our D13 rep have voted against the 2009 “too big to fail” bank bailout (unlike Barbara Lee)? How will either candidate respond to the inevitable crash caused by the next round of reckless, casino-style financialization and speculation?

2) Shouldn’t our D13 rep demand that the US comply with international law, which criminalizes military intervention unless one sovereign nation has invaded another, and then only as approved and organized by the UN Security Council, (unlike Barbara Lee)?

3) Shouldn’t our D13 rep stand for Palestinian rights and refuse to vote for billions of dollars in military aid to Israel (unlike Barbara Lee)?

4) Shouldn’t our D13 rep refuse to participate in the Russia baiting, scaremongering, and military escalation that risks World War IIIand maybe even a nuclear exchange, (unlike Barbara Lee)?

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Ann Garrison is an independent journalist who also contributes to the San Francisco Bay View, Global Research, the Black Agenda Report and the Black Star News, and produces radio for KPFA-Berkeley and WBAI-New York City.  In 2014, she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize by the Womens International Network for Democracy and Peace.  She can be reached at ann@afrobeatradio.com.

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