Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Congressional foes split on ideas

By Ron Liebau
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ohio's 1st District congressman, Rep. Steve Chabot, (left) and Democratic challenger Greg Harris square off before The Cincinnati Enquirer editorial board.

The Cincinnati Enquirer/JOSEPH FUQUA II

The two candidates for the 1st Congressional District outlined how they'd be two very different congressmen Monday.

Rep. Steve Chabot, the Republican first elected in 1994, promised to be a congressman who remains fixated on lowering taxes and reining in government spending. He supports President Bush's Iraq policy.

Greg Harris, the Democratic challenger on leave from Citizens for Civic Renewal, a local policy institute, said he looks for the "best practices" in governing to solve problems in community development, housing and education. He questioned Mr. Bush's Iraq policy.

The two appeared before the Enquirer's editorial board in a question-and-answer session that highlighted just how unlike the two view the purpose and role of government.

On some key issues:

Iraq: "I think Saddam Hussein is a threat not just to his region of the world but the rest of the world," said Mr. Chabot, a member of the International Relations Committee, which has received classified intelligence briefings.

He said the president is correct not to ignore Saddam and the capacity of terrorists to threaten the United States.

"If we don't take action with respect to Iraq, we'll be in greater difficulty down the road," he said.

Mr. Chabot voted to give Mr. Bush broad authority to take military action.

Mr. Harris said he is unconvinced of an immediate threat to the United States from Saddam, although he acknowledged that he does not have access to secret intelligence information.

He praised Mr. Bush for his quick action to counter Osama bin Laden, the financial underpinnings of the al-Qaida network and the terrorist camps in Afghanistan. But he wondered if the focus now on a "regime change" in Iraq is an example of "mission creep."

He prefers an aggressive diplomatic approach in concert with the United Nations.

Homeland security: Mr. Harris said he doesn't see how a new Homeland Security agency, as proposed by Mr. Bush, would address the critical issues of improving coordination among intelligence agencies.

Mr. Chabot said he supports a new Homeland Security agency to coordinate intelligence and defense in the home front, although he remains concerned about infringements on civil liberties.

"Pork-barrel" projects: Mr. Chabot defended his efforts to get more federal spending for projects in the 1st District, citing support for Mill Creek restoration and Fort Washington Way. He said he'd rather cut income taxes so that people in the region get to keep more of their money and spend it any way they want.

Mr. Harris said Cincinnati lags other metropolitan areas of the state in return on the federal tax dollar. Mr. Chabot, he argued, has an aversion to supporting local projects with federal money. "It's an honest difference of opinion. We need to do a better job of bringing federal dollars into the district," he said.

Light rail: Mr. Harris said a proposed sales tax increase for light rail is a "critical investment" in the region's future, and he shares the view of business groups that it's important for economic development.

Mr. Chabot said more buses and highway improvements are good ideas, but light rail is a waste of money. "It's too expensive, and you don't get your bang for the buck," he said.

The redrawn 1st District covers half of Cincinnati, the western suburbs of Hamilton County and four southwestern townships in Butler County.

E-mail rliebau@enquirer.com

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