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All-American Presidential Forum on PBS
September 27, 2007
Baltimore, Maryland

(Excerpts of the debate)

[Question #1]

MODERATOR TAVIS SMILEY: The podium order was determined by a random drawing that included all 10 announced GOP candidates.

Those candidates not here tonight are represented by an empty podium. Each candidate will have one minute to answer all questions until we get a little short on time later, and then we'll use moderator's prerogative to advance the conversation.

Before we get to the first question tonight, from our radio contest winner at, let me throw this out to each of you candidates who are here tonight, starting with you, Governor Mike Huckabee.

Please tell me and this audience, in your own words, why you chose to be here tonight and what you say to those who chose not to be here tonight.


Now, I wouldn't want to seem to be the fellow who's going to speak up in defense of our absent colleagues here.

But I think it is a little unfair to assume that they didn't show up tonight because they were sending a message of some negative kind to the Black community, for the very obvious reason that they didn't show up at the Values Voters Debate, either — which, of course, sent a very negative message to the people who are interested in the issues that were discussed there.

Do you know what these two debates do have in common though? The Values Voters Debate was the first debate I was included in. And this is the second debate I'm included in.

I've been barred from the debate in Michigan, for reasons best known to the party there. And what do you want to make a bet, the other guys will show up there?

Now, that suggests that they may or may not be afraid of all Black people, but there seems to be at least one Black person they're afraid of.

And I think the reason — the reason that they have this fear is pretty evident. They don't believe that it's possible to address a significant portion of the Black community . . .

SMILEY: Mr. Ambassador?

KEYES: ... on the basis of solid Republican principles, and I do.

SMILEY: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for being here.

[Question #2]

Even though a majority of individuals who have served as president since Abraham Lincoln have been Republican, I believe that most Black Americans who will vote in the year 2008 are not able to name even one Republican president in the 142 years since Lincoln's death who have left a positive and significant legacy for Black Americans.

If you are elected president in 2008, what positive and significant legacy, if any, will you leave for Black Americans?


I would hope that the most important legacy of my administration would be to remind people that in spite of all the talk, I don't believe there is this deep divide between Blacks and whites in America.

I believe that we are, in fact, part of one nation and one community, and that we stand together right now in danger of our rights, because the core of that community is not race; the core of that community is not money. The core of that community is the moral consensus that we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator, God, with our unalienable rights, that we have the right in our policies and in our laws to honor and respect the Creator, God.

And as a practical matter, I would want to see that unity, that moral understanding restored where it is most important — in the education of our young — by adopting an approach to education that empowers every parent in this country to send their children to schools that reflect their faith and values...

SMILEY: Ambassador...

KEYES: that the Black community can rebuild moral, community-based schools that reflect . . .

SMILEY: I appreciate it.

KEYES: ...their Christian beliefs.

SMILEY: Lucille, thank you very much.

[Question #3]

Governor, I want to ask about race and unemployment.

In 2006, the unemployment rate of Black high school graduates — that's high school graduates — was 33 percent higher than the unemployment rate for white high school drop outs. What do you think accounts for that inequity?


I have to say I think the most important factor in all of this does have something to do with policies that had an impact on race, but it was the disproportionately destructive impact that a lot of government programs had on the moral foundations and family structure in the Black community.

You talk about folks finding job opportunities. You know where a lot of Black men find job opportunities these days? In prison.

And that is something that reflects the reality that when you allow the family to break down, when you have government regulations that drive the father from the home, you have established the conditions for the upbringing of children to be nonproductive, to be violent, to be turned in directions that will be destructive of their economic future.

And when you add to that the promotion of a culture of promiscuity, a culture of selfish hedonism, that leads people not to understand that that marriage partnership is the most important foundation of any real economic life, then you have especially destroyed the Black community.

And I believe the disproportionate impact of these negative things . . .

SMILEY: Ambassador Keyes, thank you sir.

KEYES: ... has accounted for a lot of these bad results.

SMILEY: Ambassador Keyes, thank you.

[Question #4]

Congressman Paul, the most commonly cited statistic for the number of illegal immigrants living in the United States is 12 million people. Is it desirable, is it even practical to try to send them all home?

If the next Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, will you sign it, or will you support sending the 12 million home?


Well, I think, especially in this context, it's important to remember a number of things. The border is a matter of security, first of all. And we have to make sure that we control it, or no laws we pass have any significance. People will still cross on their own terms.

So the very first priority has to be to get back control. But we also have to remember why we lost control: because these elites who have been under the thumb of certain corporate interests have an interest in cheapening the price of labor in America.

Do you want to know who's first hurt by that cheapened price of labor?

Black folks are first hurt, as they've been hurt in the rebuilding of New Orleans, in the rebuilding of other parts of the United States that were affected by those hurricanes. It's time we stopped fooling around with this issue.

I see people, including a lot of the Black liberals, more worried about what we do with illegal immigrants than they've ever been about the impact of illegal immigration on Black Americans who have been in this country all along. And I'm sick of seeing it.

[Question #5]

Senator Brownback, tonight, as young Black and Latino Americans are watching this debate, they often feel quite alienated from the Republican Party, a party that does not seem to respond to their issues.

You realize about 50 percent of young Black and Latino people dropping out of high school, 35 percent poverty rate, nearly 60 percent of America's prison population Black and brown.

The one area of these problems touching on federal government policy has to do with criminal justice. Today, in Jena, Louisiana, it was announced that one of the Jena 6, originally convicted as an adult, will be tried now as a juvenile.

Name one reform, Senator, that you would endorse to assure young Black and Latino people in America that they will have equal justice in America's courts.


Well, I've always favored, and if you look at a book I wrote some years back called Masters of the Dream, there was a proposal in it that was part of a package of what we need to do to restore real local self-government, which in our case would be neighborhood self-government in a lot of our urban areas.

One of the features of that neighborhood government would be the reinstitution of what were called in the old days things like justices of the peace.

They were people who lived in the community, came out of the community, were empowered to judge offenses committed by folks who were in and lived in that community so that there would be sensitivity to the truth that you're not just dealing with crooks.

Sometimes you're dealing with young people who, if you treat them in the right way, can be put on a path that will be constructive instead of destructive.

But only the people who live in the community would understand that. So they need to have justices of the peace. They need to have judges who come from amongst them.

The other thing I would do is I would make sure when people were in prison and they were being paroled, that you had to consult the community and make a deal. The community would agree to receive that person back, but they would also promise to help that person to establish a decent life.

So, that community partnership would be restored.

SMILEY: Thank you, sir.

[Question #6]

Congressman, recently a push to give the District of Columbia voting representation was defeated because of heavy Republican opposition. In addition, many voting rights advocates are worried about rigid voter ID laws, which require photo ID, like a driver's license.

Are you concerned that some eligible voters will be denied the right to vote simply because they don't have a driver's license?


I think the most important thing to remember about Washington, D.C., is that it was established to be a unique representation of the whole people of the United States.

That's a city that's supposed to belong to the nation, not to any one group and not to any one region. That's why it was put together in the first place.

I think it's terribly important to maintain that symbol of the unity of our country. We're a free people. If folks don't want to live in the conditions that prevail in Washington because of its unique status, they can go to Maryland. A whole bunch of folks have done so.

They can go to Virginia. A whole bunch of folks have done so. Some of the biggest churches and everything else now exist in Prince George's County, because people left the District.

They have that right, and I think that they can exercise it. But I think that the country is entitled to have this possession that symbolizes our whole united people, standing together as one community. I think it's terribly important that we sustain it.

[Question #7]

Congressman Hunter, the Federal Agency for Health Care Research and Quality recently reported that both Latinos and Blacks receive "significantly worse," in their words, medical care than whites in the United States.

One out of three Hispanics, one out of five Black Americans is uninsured. Hispanics are 2.5 times as likely as non-Hispanic, white Americans to be uninsured. One of three Hispanics hasn't been to the doctor in more than a year. And as has already been mentioned, diabetes, asthma, hypertension are untreated or under-treated in communities across America.

What does your health care plan contain to address some of these disparities in access to care and access to quality health care?


I think two things are important, very briefly.

First, before I would think about bringing back the family doctor, particularly where the Black community is concerned, it might be helpful to bring back the family.

And that would mean that you are going to do what is necessary to support married couples, to encourage marriage, to encourage the rearing of children in the context of a two-parent household.

Not because one is disparaging one-parent households, but because the statistics show that people are more likely to sustain their education, to be in better health, both mentally and physically, if they are raised in that environment.

That's step number one, and I think it's vitally important.

The second step is we all know that in America these days, your ability to have access to health care depends on — what, primarily? — your job and whether or not you're able to get that insurance at your job.

So the first thing we need to take care of is to make sure that in areas where Black folks and Hispanics and others are living, you are encouraging the kind of entrepreneurship that will create jobs in those areas...

SMILEY: Congressman Keyes, thank you, sir.

KEYES: ... to give people that foundation of health care access.

[Question #8]

Ambassador Keyes, I think you're familiar with the fact that America has a tradition of Black military heroes, going from Crispus Attucks in the Revolutionary War, to the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, to General Colin Powell.

And tonight, Tavis, I'd just like to take a moment to acknowledge one of those heroes who's here with us in the audience. We have with us Vernice Armour. She's the first African American combat pilot in U.S. history — I should say, first female African American combat pilot. And she served two tours of duty with distinction in Iraq.

Today we see a decline in Black and Latino enlistment because of one reason: the war in Iraq.

What do you say to the one-third of the nation that's minority and overwhelmingly opposed to the continuation of this war, even as the GOP in Congress continues to block attempts to set a deadline to end this war?


I think the most important thing to remember is that our efforts in Iraq and elsewhere right now that followed in the wake of September 11th aren't an effort to defend Black people, white people, Jewish people, Christian people, et cetera.

They're an effort to defend the United States of America from a deep and terrible threat that came against us in disregard of the fundamental moral principle that is supposed to govern all international affairs, all wars that are conducted by countries, and that is that you do not consciously target innocent human life.

My father was a soldier — fought in Korea and Vietnam and World War II, did not stand in defense of this race or that, but stood in defense of the common principles of moral decency and justice that are derived from that premise that I talked about, that our rights come from God.

I don't think it's hard to ask anybody in this country to stand in defense of those principles.

My one criticism? I think unfortunately, President G.W. Bush put a lot of emphasis on democracy for people in Iraq, when our real goal is security for people in America.

[Question #9]

Governor, does the U.S. have a role to play in ending the genocide in Darfur? And, if so, what should that role be?


Ambassador Keyes?

KEYES: I have to say I'm appalled by the suggestion that we retreat into some kind of "fortress America" and forget who we are. We are a nation of nations, a people of many peoples. We are in touch with every people on the face of the Earth. If somebody is being hurt somewhere in the world, somebody in America grieves for them.

And I don't believe we can turn our backs on that universal significance, that universal mission.

I think a lot of suggestions made here in terms of how we get involved are good ones. We don't have to send troops, but we need to support and reinforce the sense of local, regional responsibility...

SMILEY: Ambassador Keyes...

KEYES: ... for both humanitarian and military order in that region.

SMILEY: Thank you, sir.

[Question #10]

Congressman Paul, support has gradually been slipping for the death penalty among all Americans. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports a large minority of whites still support capital punishment, while Blacks and Latinos do not.

Now, I know this is mostly a state function, but the president does appoint appellate judges, and of course, the highest appellate judges in the land, the Supreme Court justices, who often review death penalty cases.

Do you think the death penalty is carried out justly in the United States? And do you want to see it continued during your presidency?


I support the death penalty. I think it has a basis in universal justice that isn't just about deterrence and all that, it's about respect for life. It's about making sure that we don't send the signal, especially where Black killers are concerned, because we do understand, don't we, that they mostly kill Black folks.

And I wouldn't want to send the message that when you kill another Black human being, we somehow don't take that seriously. We'll cheapen the significance of that by not applying the understanding that when you cold-bloodedly and calculatedly take another human life, more is thy due than more than all can pay.

We can only dispatch you to the Ruler of us all so that He may ultimately judge you for your misdeeds.

[Question #11]


The Supreme Court, gentlemen, recently ruled that even voluntary integration in America's public schools is unconstitutional and illegal. That comes even as two-thirds of Black and Latino students go to schools that are so-called minority majority and disproportionately poor.

We all know of a tremendous achievement gap between Black and white students in America.

Is the Supreme Court right to say that school integration is no longer key to the promise of equal educational opportunity for all?

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