Watching a Political Process Evolve, But Backwards



By Angela Millan Epstein
Opinion Column
Perhaps, the most telling moment of last night’s U.S. Senate debate were the answers to the opening question sent in from WTNH viewer Julia Rodriguez. Correspondent Mark Davis combined it a bit with his inquiry, but essentially Julia wanted to know, “What makes you think you would be able to get your own jobs bill passed in a Senate where you’d be a rookie?”  It was evident right away; viewers were in for Linda vs. Chris:  Same Ads, Longer Time.   No real answers, just well-rehearsed talking points.  GOP candidate Linda McMahon responded to Julia’s question out of context, touting her six-point plan but avoiding the question and Democrat candidate Chris Murphy acknowledged you can’t just get a bill passed “word for word.” “You have to work with Democrats and Republicans.  Huh?
Debate # Three – and other than the hecklers – no real news came from the event.  Leaving the state’s Latinos along with other voters in Connecticut still trying to figure out which of the two candidates would be the “real” advocate in Congress.  Even though both political parties in our state are shrinking in numbers, candidates continue to forget that most voters are tired of both parties representing their own interests in Washington rather than the interests of the folks back home. The pattern has been, once the candidates is elected, they quickly fall into line with party mandates instead of becoming the independent thinkers they tell us they are on the campaign trail.  Murphy has followed this formula, will McMahon?
In years past, it was easy to view this system in Washington as just the way it’s done and not expect much. But for a segment of the state’s Latinos, who becomes the next U.S. Senator from Connecticut and how they conduct business is even more critical than ever.  At stake are many real issues that can make or break the lives of too many here in the state. While more than the half of the state’s Latinos are in the workforce and struggle with the same issues as the general population – jobs, education, mortgages, and paying for college loans – a disproportionate number of Latinos in Connecticut, 31% still live in poverty.  This means about 165,000 (documented) Latinos are barely surviving the current economic conditions, a chance of working their way out of poverty doesn’t seem to be within their reach.
Last night’s answers from the candidates, contrasted at times, were somewhat ambiguous and shed little light on what they would really do once in office. With respect to education, with Latino children at the dangerous bottom end of the educational gap, I did not see clear direction from either one. McMahon threw a couple of cliche lines “one-size doesn’t fit all” “teachers should get paid more, and bad teachers should be pushed out” and called for the Federal Department of Education to be reduced. On the other hand Murphy said, “No Child Left Behind” program is creating “test takers,” not “creative thinkers,” and it’s “sucking the joy out of learning” and teaching. Murphy added that the tax cuts that McMahon advocates for would hurt education in the state. These “sound bites” did not tell me what are they thinking to make Connecticut schools more competitive, and in sync with the times and technologies that are affecting the ways to teach and the ways to learn. To their defense, the moderators did not show much interest in the topic.
Both candidates repeated their positions on taxes, Murphy advocates for higher taxes for the richer and McMahon cuts for the middle class. McMahon did not offer a clear picture of how the money cut would not translate into cuts of social service programs – critical lifelines for Latino families living in poverty.
The topic of creation of jobs brought more mutual accusations. It was overall difficult to get direct answers to the questions, especially from McMahon whose responses were clearly too prepared, as if they came out of a teleprompter, and in some cases out of context.  One would argue that after almost 100 million dollars and two campaigns she would know the issues by heart.
While it was particularly refreshing to see a woman in the race, and if it were not for her there would have been no diversity on the stage last night, it was somewhat disturbing to see her rejecting a constitutional amendment overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, in the Citizens United case, which defined corporations as people in terms of free speech. This decision opened the door to unlimited corporate cash in this year’s election.
Coming from a country where votes are bought, literally, McMahon’s response made me feel as though I was back in Colombia. It didn’t sound as though her  position is  aligned with the interest of the “little people” as a once rich Leona Helmsley referred to those not in her league of wealth.
McMahon’s pro-choice position, albeit selective and circumstantial, because she supports Catholic Hospitals denying care to women victims of rape, is none less interesting. It takes courage to be able to depart from her party’s view and it is a good way to attract voters. I do think she will succumb to her party’s pressure in the Senate floor, especially because the ambivalence of her position, presented in the name of separation of church and state.
Angela Millan Epstein is a former News Correspondent and Anchor for Univision and NBC’s Canal de Noticias’, she writes for several publications in the US and the Americas, and she worked in content and technology with IBM and ScreamingMedia.