Locals debate the issues at library forum

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 31, 2004

NATCHEZ &045; Agreeing to disagree was the name of the game.

Four Democratic panelists and four Republican panelists fielded questions about the two presidential candidates from an audience which seemed to already have its mind made up one way or the other Tuesday night at the Armstrong Library’s presidential forum.

War, healthcare and the economy dominated the discussions.

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Republican panelist Johnny Junkin said the war in Iraq was not a mistake based on intelligence provided since the Clinton administration.

&uot;It wasn’t a mistake,&uot; Junkin said. &uot;If you think it’s a mistake to get rid of Saddam Hussein then we just disagree and you need to vote for John Kerry.&uot;

Dr. Kenneth Stubbs, also a Republican panelist, said there were connections between Iraq and terrorism.

&uot;There have been numerous top terrorists captured in Iraq,&uot; Stubbs said. &uot;They were people Saddam was sheltering and funding.

&uot;There is clearly a network for terrorists. They were there already and he was funding them.&uot;

Democratic panelists Jim Wiggins said there are two types of terrorists out there.

&uot;Terrorists in general aren’t even the problem,&uot; Wiggins said. &uot;We aren’t at war with terrorists. We are at war with Al-Qaeda and similar groups.

&uot;There was no collaborative relation between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. If someone could show me the evidence for that, I would stand up and change my mind right now, but that hasn’t happened.&uot;

Wiggins compared Hussein to a hornets’ nest, illustrating there are consequences to removing a vicious dictator.

&uot;Saddam was certainly a problem. A hornets’ nest hanging on the edge of your yard is a problem. Should you really go whack it with a baseball bat?&uot;

Democratic panelist Darryl Grennell said Kerry’s vote in support of the Iraqi war was based on a faSade presented to him by the president.

The panelists also debated whose role footing the healthcare bill should be.

Stubbs said Bush’s plan was to make healthcare an industry where the people were responsible for their own insurance through using health savings accounts.

The Democratic table said Kerry would keep healthcare at the federal level and pointed out flaws in the savings account system, saying consumers would not take preventative healthcare measures. The table also acknowledged the issue of medical malpractice and the effect it has on the country.

&uot;Kerry understands there is a medical malpractice problem in this country,&uot; panelist Robert Johnson said. &uot;We need some restraint without the loss of rights to file lawsuits.&uot;

Democratic panelist Casey Hughes charged that malpractice wasn’t as big of an issue as Republicans tend to make it out to be.

&uot;Calling it a minor issues is in line with calling terrorism a nuisance,&uot; Stubbs responded. &uot;Malpractice has driven 30 percent of physicians out of Natchez alone.&uot;

Stubbs also said suggestions from both candidates on the issue were lacking.

The panelists also shifted blame for high medication prices, but agreed that one of the problems was with the public.

&uot;It’s nobody’s fault per say,&uot; Stubbs said. &uot;You can’t sit here and blame Bush who’s been in office for three years about a problem that evolved over many years. It’s going to take time and it’s going to cost a lot of money.&uot;

Stubbs said the quickness of the American people to want an antibiotic for everything was an issue and Johnson agreed.

&uot;The public demands new drugs,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;As long as you continue to want a pill for everything it’s going to cost you.&uot;

The audience also questioned the national debt and Bush’s tax cuts.

Johnson said the idea that the tax cut was working was absurd.

&uot;It’s not helping the working man and woman in this country,&uot; he said. &uot;The tax cut is not working. Do tax cuts work, of course they do. But the one the president has is not working.&uot;

Republican panelist Kirk Bartley said cutting taxes for the poor was not an option.

&uot;The bottom poor don’t pay taxes, they are 3.5 percent of all taxes,&uot; he said. &uot;The top wage earners are 56.5 percent of all taxes. That’s who’s paying the taxes.&uot;