OH-14 Katz plays David to LaTourette's Goliath

Timothy Smith

Lewis KatzePluribus Media: We're here with Lewis Katz, who's running in Ohio's 14th District against the moderately conservative Steve LaTourette, one of the members of the GOP class of 1994 that took control of the House of Representatives from the Democrats. Lewis Katz, tell us, first off, why on earth would you run against Steve LaTourette?

Lewis Katz: Because I think he's let the people of the 14th District down. He's tied in to every wrong vote in Congress in the last six years, he's linked to all of the special interests, and he's broken his promises to the people of the 14th. He promised he'd serve four terms, eight years. Five years ago he promised 2000 would be his last term. It wasn't. He promised he'd vote against CAFTA, up to and during the day of the vote and they twisted his arm, and he lined up with the Republicans, just the way he did on the Budget bill last December. On both of those he was the deciding vote.

ePMedia: Let's talk about the CAFTA vote. How did that impact the people of the 14th?

LK: I think the CAFTA vote will impact the district for years to come. I think that it will end up costing jobs in the district and the state, and Ohio leads the way in losing jobs in this country. Our manufacturing base is being destroyed, and the Free Trade agreements are playing a big part in that. You know, there's another one making the rounds with Thailand.

ePMedia: They haven't voted on it yet?

LK: No, it won't come up until after the election. But if it passes, it'll end up with cheap pickup trucks being dumped on the US Market.

We can't reverse the tide on globalization, but we can at least make sure that these so-called free trade agreements include fair trade provisions. What you have are American companies out-sourcing jobs to countries like China, where wage scales are terrible, where workers do not have the right to organize, there are no environmental restrictions -- and turning their backs on the people who built those companies. Delphi is a prime example. They exacted a wage concession from the Union. It was the best deal they could get, reducing well-paying jobs with benefits to Burger King wages. And Delphi eventually will outsource those jobs anyway.

ePMedia: What is your base?

LK: I think we've got strong support from senior citizens concerned about keeping their Social Security, concerned about fixing Medicare D. I think we've got a lot of teachers in our corner, even though we don't have the NEA endorsement, and I think we have a lot of mothers concerned about healthcare, education and jobs for their families, if that's what you mean by a base.

ePMedia: Yes, and you are working that group I'm sure. But who is your biggest target in terms of people you are trying to reach in order to get them to come to your side?

LK: You know, there are a large number of independent, unaffiliated voters in the 14th district. We're addressing them all the time. I've had a lot of former Republicans -- people who identify themselves as such. We'll see how deep that runs in November.

ePMedia: There have been some really hard hitting ads that link Republican candidates across the country to the Bush administration, especially on Iraq. Have you done anything in that regard? I haven't seen anything from you yet...

LK: Well, chances are we won't be doing any television. We won't be able to afford it. (LaTourette's) raised nearly a million dollars, most of it from special interests. I've been raising it from Democrats, former students of mine, and I don't have nearly that kind of bankroll.

ePMedia: What about help from the DCCC?

LK: I don't expect it. Yeah. The D-Trip is focusing on races that they consider "Red-to-Blue," where they think they can flip the district. This should be one of those races, but they don't think so. So I'm going to do this the old-fashioned way. Grassroots. We're out there every day, meeting with people every day.

ePMedia: Knocking on doors?

LK: Yep, we're doing that.

ePMedia: (laughs) Shaking babies and kissing hands?

LK: I wouldn't want a stranger kissing my baby, or grandchildren, so I wouldn't presume to do that, but yes, we are getting out there and meeting with people.

ePMedia: What is your position on Iraq?

LK: My take on Iraq is that we've learned nothing from Vietnam. The Republicans told us in the '60s that you don't commit American forces without a plan to exit, and that's exactly what the Republicans have done in Iraq. They have no plan to exit.

ePMedia: Do they want to exit? It would seem to me that their plan is to stay and create a permanent presence there.

LK: Certainly one could reach that conclusion considering we're building a 100 acre embassy, and it's the largest in the world, and it's the only construction project on time in Iraq, but I think we need a plan to exit Iraq. We have a plan. We've issued a plan that's been endorsed by retired four-star marine general Joe Moore, You can pick it up off of our website.

ePMedia: So you're for a strategic withdrawal?

LK: Yes, with an emphasis on the strategic part. Our plan talks in terms of announcing that we're not staying. We've got to make that clear to the rest of the world. We've got to start drawing down and reducing the number of American troops instead of committing more and putting more troops in harms way in Baghdad, and our plan is to replace the American troops with Muslim troops from surrounding countries -- Pakistan, India and Egypt -- who wouldn't have the same targets on their backs as our troops have.

ePMedia: Do you think that would really reduce hostilities?

LK: I think so. But ultimately Iraqi's have to decide what kind of country they want, and whether they are going to be able to live together

ePMedia: Do you think it's a civil war right now? Many say it is, while the Administration says it isn't yet...

LK: Oh, I do think it is one, and that puts our troops in the worst situation. Because they're trying to keep two warring factions apart. The majority Shi'a Government really hasn't committed to making peace with the Sunnis or the Kurds and those three groups are going to decide the future of Iraq. We can't, and we shouldn't ask our troops to be in the middle of that.

ePMedia: There are those who advocate breaking the country into three parts creating a Kurdistan and a Sunnistan or whatever

LK: I think that's for the Iraqis to decide, not for us to decide. The Shi'a majority won't agree to that, but eventually they may have to. But I don't think it's up for us to decide.

ePMedia: What do you think about what happened in Lebanon?

LK: I think it was a real tragedy. I think that Hezbollah and Israel both miscalculated. I think Hezbollah wanted to attack Israel, while also attacking the Lebanese government, and I think we have to find a way to help Lebanon, through the UN, to disarm Hezbollah.

ePMedia: There are those who say that it was a test run for a possible strike against Iran, and that now the US is changing its plans now that Hezbollah, Syria and Iran responded the way that they did.

LK: I don't think it was a test for the area. Obviously we can't commit ground forces to fighting Iran, because we're stretched too thin fighting Iraq. They've got their nuclear facilities so spread out that you just can't take them out from the air. I think we've got to start negotiating with Iran, and not taking any option off the table, while making clear that nuclear weapons are unacceptable.

ePMedia: Does the same go for North Korea?

LK: Absolutely. Listen, the Russians and the Chinese are not going to negotiate in our best interest. We have to be involved in that directly.

ePMedia: You were talking about seniors and Medicare earlier. Where do you stand on their issues?

LK: Let's talk about healthcare. That's the issue that is on most peoples minds these days. It keeps coming up all the time as I campaign. We now have 46.8 million people without healthcare insurance. And those who do have healthcare insurance are really hurting because of the costs -- the premiums, the deductibles, the co-payments. I think we have to come up with affordable healthcare for every American, And I think there are a several ways we can get there.

I think number one we have to expand Medicare as a first step to allow people who are 50 to 55 who lose their insurance to buy into Medicare. I also think we should allow small businesses to buy into Medicare, for themselves, the owners, and their employees. It's far more economical. Medicare Prescription D as an abstract notion is a great idea, because senior citizens are really hurting without it. But the way this administration came up with it -- just take a program that works, Medicare, and to privatize it, so it became a windfall for private insurance companies...

ePMedia: ... and prescription drug companies...

LK: ...well I haven't even gotten into that. And then it became an even bigger windfall for the pharmaceutical companies because Bush and the Republican Congress, including Steve LaTourette, prohibited Medicare from negotiating favorable drug prices. So the taxpayers under the Medicare Prescription D plan and seniors are now paying the highest prices for drugs, and many seniors now are hitting the donut hole. There are a lot of people who have already hit the hole, and they're spending $800 a month on prescriptions at the top price that they've been forced into, plus continuing to pay the premiums to the private insurance companies for the prescription D insurance in the possibility that they might spend enough eventually to get back into the coverage of the catastrophic coverage plan. It's the single issue that troubles more people than any other issue perhaps besides the war in this country, and I think the American people want a healthcare system that works, and is affordable.

The expansion of Medicare by letting people buy into it would also be good for Medicare because it would bring in a younger population without the same medical costs as senior citizens, plus they would be able to benefit from the low administrative costs. Medicare spends two to three percent per year on administration while private insurance companies spend twenty to thirty percent each year on administration and profit. Ultimately, I think we need to think in terms of a single-payer plan, which isn't socialized medicine, because under a single payer plan, people still get to choose their doctors, doctors are still working on their own, hospitals are not working for the government, but we have to focus on how to make it affordable, and how to make it available for all Americans.

ePMedia: Let's talk about you for a minute

LK: Sure.

ePMedia: You're a law professor here at Case Western Reserve University, pretty darn good law school, frankly. What do you think you bring to the table that Congress could take advantage of?

LK: That's a good question. I appreciate the question. Number one, I've been a law professor here for forty years, teaching criminal law and criminal procedures and writing books that judges and prosecutors and police departments use on Ohio Criminal Law. I was involved in Ohio's sentencing reform legislation in 1995 which was adopted by the state legislature and signed by Governor Voinovich, I believe, and so I've learned through that process how to work with Democrats and Republicans and get things done. It's been the greatest job in the world, I've been very lucky and I've loved it almost every day. I'm not looking for a new job -- that's not why I'm running for Congress.

ePMedia: Yeah, it doesn't seem like you'd be looking to leave.

LK: I've also been married for forty two years, we raised our children here, and their families remain in Cleveland. I'm 67 years old and I know what I believe in. I'm well-grounded, and I have a strong belief in what's right and what's wrong. I'm not going to sacrifice principle for party, nor will I ever sacrifice the people of the 14th district for special interests or party. I think that the voters of the 14th District will be getting someone who will be working every day for them, and only them, I'm not beholden to any special interest, and I will work for them every day that I'm in Congress.

ePMedia: So let's say you've been elected and it's the day they start handing out Committee assignments. Where would you want to fall?

LK: I'd like to be on Armed Service -- I've been in both the Army and the Navy...

ePMedia: So does that make you a Fighting Dem? Are you part of that crew?

LK: No, I was fortunate, I was never in a war. I'd also like to work on the committee that works on healthcare policy in this country, and my third choice as a freshman Congressman, since you don't necessarily get your first choice as a freshman, would be the Judiciary Committee, because I think I understand those issues very, very well.

ePMedia: Forty years at a law school might help push you in that direction.

LK: Yes, sir.

ePMedia: We've been talking a lot about things that are broken. Is there anything that you like about what our country is doing these days?

LK: I think our government's been going in the wrong direction for the last six years. I think our government is totally beholden to special interests, to the wealthiest Americans, I think that's got to change. Congress has not been exercising its constitutional obligation of checks and balances. What I like is, well, I was raised by two fiercely loyal Americans who believed that any time Americans really set their minds to doing something, we could solve any problem, and I believe that. I think we as a people have to address those problems. What I like is the people of the United States. I don't like our current government.

ePMedia: Okay...

LK: You know, there are other things that need fixing. We keep losing jobs in Northeast Ohio. We've got to find a way to develop new jobs here and keep jobs here. We need an energy policy -- you know gas prices had fallen over the last month...

ePMedia: How surprising was that?

LK: And it's gotten people to start thinking that oh, $2.39 isn't that bad. But it is bad. If someone who is making minimum wage has to fill up their tank every week to get to and from work every day, then they're working four to five hours just to buy the 10 gallons of gas, and when it gets up to $3 per gallon, it really starts to hurt them. I think the oil companies are manipulating the price...

ePMedia: Do you think?

LK: ... And I think we need a real energy independence program for Northeast Ohio. We need to invest in wind power to provide much of our electricity. We could put it off the shore of Ashtabula County -- Sherrod Brown and I have talked about that already and we're committed to working together to do that -- and wind power could provide 21,000 well paying jobs to this area.

I also think we need to direct a program similar to President Kennedy's Man on the Moon project, to say that within 10 years, we will develop alternative energy to wean us off of Middle East oil. It would save jobs and create new jobs for this country. You know that fuel cell research is being done here at Case Western and at the University of Akron. We need a federal push to make fuel cells powered by hydrogen, or biomass, long life and to reduce the cost. But within 10 years we can get off that foreign oil and we can save our own society and re-energize the automobile industry and the parts industry here in Northeast Ohio.

ePMedia: Anything else you'd like to add?

LK: I guess I'd just like to have you remind your readers to check out my website at katzforCongress.com, and if you know anyone living in the 14th District, urge them to consider me as their choice for Congress. Steve LaTourette is part of a government that has caused nothing but problems for the people of the 14th District, and that, together, we can bring new leadership to northeast Ohio.

ePluribus Media contributors: Aaron, wanderindiana, Jeninri, roxy and Cho