english iraq

U.S. Rep. Phil English discusses his views on the Iraq war Saturday in Jamestown.

Republican Congressman Phil English and his 3rd District Democratic challenger Dr. Steven Porter might not like each other very much, but at least they shook hands before leaving a debate Thursday afternoon.

The event, held in the studios of WJET Radio in Erie, featured English, Porter and Constitution Party candidate Tim Hagberg. Candidates answered questions for an hour. Rebuttal wasn’t provided for in the format, although English and Porter rebutted when necessary while answering an ensuing question.

The debate was mostly uneventful, but did feature the usual sniping that has come to mark gatherings involving English, a six-term incumbent, and Porter in the last two elections. Porter lost to English in 2004.

The debate’s end brought a handshake and thank-you from English to Hagberg for “bringing civility” to the event, but no public acknowledgment for Porter. Prompted by a reporter’s question after the debate about the apparent bad blood that continues to simmer between the two in the wake of no shake, Porter promptly said, “Let’s go and shake hands with him.” Porter then chased after English as he headed toward the door where he extended his hand and wished English good luck.

Asked about their simmering feud, English emphasized he’s never been bitter coming out of a debate.

“I’m the candidate that doesn’t have the problem with anger management, so I feel pretty good about things,” English said. “Obviously based on the results I’m pretty happy how it worked out. Maybe if the roles were reversed, I might feel a little worse.”

Porter was glad the candidates had an opportunity to debate, but wished there had been more scheduled.

“I also wish it would have reached a wider audience,” Porter said. “I’m just sorry that Mr. English has ducked so many of them that we haven’t given the voting public a chance to really understand our views.”

English skipped the League of Women Voters of Mercer County candidates’ night earlier this week in Sharon and also didn’t appear at a handful of other forums over the last month or so throughout the district. The candidates, however, are scheduled to meet for a second and final time at 4:30 p.m. today for another radio debate at WPIC and WLLF in Hermitage.

In Erie, candidates were given two minutes each for opening and closing statements, as well as for each question. Topics discussed included: China, illegal immigration, health care, tax cuts and reform, domestic drilling for oil and natural gas, reducing the size of government, tort reform and the war in Iraq.

According to recent national surveys, the war has become the most important issue among voters across the country and it provided some clear differences of opinion among the candidates.

Hagberg said what’s happening in Iraq is a direct result of the administration’s failed foreign policy. He said American soldiers are fighting to establish an “Islamic Socialist state,” not a democracy, and that isn’t worth one drop of American blood.

Porter believes American troops should be immediately deployed to a safe perimeter. He would also like to see the United States strengthen its international alliances and help broker a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Porter suggested a “three-state solution” in Iraq with separate geographic entities for the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites. Baghdad could be a fourth state or shared among all three groups.

English acknowledged a crisis point has been reached in Iraq, but doesn’t believe in writing a blank check for the administration or setting artificial timetables for the withdrawal of American troops.

Because fighting appears to be closer and closer to a civil war, however, he would like to see the troops pulled back. The question, he added, is how to do it.

Local voters who had hoped for a more public venue Thursday might be thankful it wasn’t, as a lake-effect storm that was expected to dump up to 4 inches of snow on Erie overnight created near white-out conditions on Interstate 79 in Erie County.

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