County Democrats rally for Kerry

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  While research groups report President Bush now leading Democratic nominee John Kerry in many presidential election polls, local Democrats believe the race for the White House is too close to call.
  County Democratic Party Chairman Sid Davidson said he puts little stock in polls until he sees the final one on Nov. 2.
  "It is the November vote that counts," said Davidson.
  The county Democratic Party held a fundraising event at the city park near the Covered Bridge on Saturday morning. Local citizens attending the rally were treated to free refreshments, bluegrass music, and a speech from candidate Graham Leonard who won the party's nomination for the 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He will face incumbent Rep. William Jenkins in November.
  A Kingsport native with a Ph.D. in education from Harvard University, Graham said he was an avowed fiscal conservative who wanted a balanced federal budget and a reduction in the U.S. debt. Referring to the present Republican leadership as "the Cheney gang," Leonard said the Bush administration had pursued domestic and foreign policies that were inconsistent with democratic government.
  "They don't think they are governing," he said. "They think they are ruling."
  A Middle Eastern scholar who spent six weeks briefing the Tennessee National Guard's 278th Division on Arab culture and language, Graham spent years living in the Middle East and relating American culture to Muslims. He said the educational work done in the Middle East through secular and religious schools during the early 20th century had effectively been undone in recent years as Islam was increasingly named as the enemy of Western civilization. He said a steady diet of Western culture told through television and movies to Islamic countries since the 1990s had further alienated many Muslims who saw the civilization as corrupt.
  "They think we are Sodom and Gomorrah," said Graham.
  A poll of all registered voters by The Associated Press and Ipsos found Republican ticket of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney led the Democratic ticket of Kerry and Sen. John Edwards by 51 percent to 43 percent, a bounce in support since early August, when Kerry-Edwards led 48-45 percent.
  Ray Lyons of Elizabethton said he attended the event to show his support for the Kerry-Edwards ticket. He felt the sitting administration had effectively abandoned the poor and working-class citizens and tarnished the nation's image around the world.
  "I think (Leonard) was right on target," said Lyons, a U.S. Navy veteran of the Vietnam era. "We must ask, 'Are you better off now than you were four years ago?'"
  Democrats have chastised President Bush's handling of the War on Terrorism and domestic issues such as the U.S. economy and a federal deficit that topped $50 billion in July according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Davidson said the president had endorsed the implementation of higher co-payments in health plans for veterans and pushed the closure of 10 VA hospitals in the United States. Democrats have questioned Bush's military record with the Texas Air National Guard and alleged discrepancies in his service time.
  Republicans have also questioned Kerry's military record during his service in the Vietnam War and accused him of "flip-flopping" on issues. Davidson said the public debate on the candidates military records had drawn the public's attention away from issues such as veterans' affairs, the ongoing War on Terror, and domestic issues. He also scoffed at the notion that Kerry's ambiguous voting reflected indecision.
  "I can change my mind tomorrow if I feel it is the wrong decision," Davidson said.
  Davidson also took aim at the Republican-dominated Carter County Commission and its inability to pass a county budget. The commission has deadlocked over how to fund an expansion of the Carter County Jail under the county's 2005 fiscal year budget. A federal court earlier this year mandated the county construct temporary housing to relieve overcrowding at the jail.
  Twenty of 24 county commissioners were elected either as independent or Republican candidates.
  "It appears the Republicans have quite a grip on the County Commission," said Davidson. "It also appears our county is in as bad a shape financially as our country is."
  The commission's Budget Committee has met 11 times this year trying to form a funding plan that will almost inevitably include a property tax raise of at least 30 cents to the existing $2.22 rate. Davidson said if Republican rhetoric touting the party as wise stewards of public money was legitimate, the commission would be more united on funding the county's needs.
  "If they are going to make hay," said Davidson, "they ought to act together as a party."