Taking time from canvassing Philadelphia and neighboring Bucks County, Democratic senatorial candidate Joe Sestak made time to speak to the New Pittsburgh Courier.
Sestak said people should vote for him because he believes in working for race, gender and ethnic equality. He said he did it in the military as a rear admiral, and the service was better for it.
“I’m a public servant. My priorities are job creation, education, health care, continuing financial reform and giving everyone a fair chance,” he said. “As (U.S. rep.) Mike Doyle said, ‘Joe, you’re a crummy politician, but you’re a good public servant.’ I’ll take that.
“Only 28 percent of Blacks in Philly are graduating from high school, more than 30 percent here living in poverty, and it’s almost as bad in Pittsburgh,” he said. “So, I’m pushing for the same things I have been—job creation and education.”
Sestak reiterated his plans to provide more small business tax credits, establish new minority business enterprises centers associated with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and remove caps on Small Business Administration express loans along with the $3,000 filing fee.
“I also want to increase Pell grants, add more funding for Head Start, focus funding on Title 1 schools, and get more college loans for vo-tech schools,” he said. “I just want everyone to have a fair opportunity. And frankly, people—especially minorities and those living in our cities—are not getting them.”
While he still stands by his votes for the stimulus package and nationalized health care, Sestak is not as exuberant about them as he was when he spoke to the Courier just prior to defeating Arlen Specter in the May primary.
“Yeah, real unemployment is above 17 percent because of all the people they stopped counting. I know that. The Democratic leadership oversold the stimulus and it went to the wrong places,” he said. “One-third went to tax cuts, a third to unemployment and a third went to construction for ‘shovel-ready jobs.’ There’s no such thing as a ‘shovel-ready job.’”
And while Sestak is still an advocate for government-paid health care, he is already working on amending parts of the national health care bill, which he and the Democratic leadership now admit will increase costs for some consumers. However, he said they really didn’t get what they wanted because of Republicans voting against any health care reform.
“We need to make it more affordable,” he said. “If we don’t it will take up 33 percent of our economy in 10 years.”
As for the issue of Black-on-Black violence, Sestak again touts job creation and education as the solution.
“I mean 80 percent of us still live in an urban county, or city. We need equality in our urban environments,” he said. “I want a ban on assault weapons.”
Sestak was also less exuberant about President Obama than in past interviews. Previously, said he wanted “to be this president’s closest ally,” but this time, only mentioned the president when asked about other candidates trying to distance themselves. However, he has made it very clear that he is in full support of the president, but will not hesitate to speak out when he thinks he’s wrong.
“President Obama’s approval rate in the state is about 35 percent, but I’ll work with anyone,” he said. “Because it’s not about them, it’s about us. We have to do what’s right and when the Democratic Party is wrong, I’ll say so.”
As an example, Sestak said it was wrong of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to cast the deciding vote to send everyone home rather than vote to extend Bush-era income tax cuts.
“I voted to extend the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit,” he said. “I voted to extend all the Bush tax cuts except for the top 2 percent for the rich. She cast the deciding vote, and it was wrong.”
Regardless, he said, his opponent’s tax policies would favor large corporations instead of the small businesses that generate the bulk—80 percent—of jobs in the country. Toomey also favors keeping the 2 percent tax for the rich.
“He believes that representing Wall Street interests will benefit everyone because it will trickle down,” said Sestak. “We tried it and it doesn’t work.”
After a summer of Toomey dominating the advertising, Sestak has out-spent and out-advertised his opponent in recent weeks and has erased most, if not all, of Toomey’s lead in the polls. His portrayal of Toomey as an extreme conservative who would send jobs to China seems to have struck a chord with voters.
He said Toomey also benefited from voter apathy resulting from a lack of leadership in the Democratic Party.
“People are thinking more locally and now at a minimum we’re even or ahead,” he said. “But Pat benefited from an environment where my party started thinking and acting tentatively, put political priorities above principle, and lacked leadership.
“But Pat has been called the intellectual leader of the Tea Party. He wants to privatize Social Security, cut school funding and roll back health care,” he added. “The danger is if the Senate is run by this extreme element, it would stop any chance we have to save the world.”
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