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Before you vote!: A Q/A with your 2018 congressional candidates

The District 27 race for U.S. Congress is a hotly contested one. The area that falls within the district includes Coral Gables, making the choice of a representative that much more meaningful to our school.

November 19, 2018


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Donna Shalala

On the Democratic side is Donna Shalala, the former president of the University of Miami and one-time Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. She spoke recently with highlights about her campaign and the issues she would champion if elected.

Education is mostly handled at the state and local levels, but what would you try to do to bolster public education and make it better for students and teachers?

The federal government does have monies. It has been switching away from city schools to charter schools. So it’s been taking money away from public schools, and particularly from low-income kids, and giving it to charter schools. So it’s been literally taking federal money and privatizing it, so we have to stop that. We need a lot more subsidies for kids that want to go to college. There’s no question about that. Particularly for people who want to go to public colleges, there ought to be a lot more subsidies. And we’ve got to stop all these fly-by-night schools that rip students off and by which they acquire a huge amount of debt and don’t get a good degree. In fact, they never finish their degree.”

Would you support something like what we have here in Florida, Bright Futures, on the federal level?

“Sure, I would support Bright Futures on the federal level, but first the states have to fulfill their responsibility. States like Florida have been pulling money out of higher education. So the states have to do their fair share before we expect federal tax payers to put a lot more money in.”

Do you think there should be equal allocation of funding for different majors? I know that on the state level we have a governor and administration which is more toward the STEM and not favoring so much the humanities. On the federal level, should there be equal representation?

“There absolutely should be equal representation. Look, when I ask CEOs of major corporations of America what they majored in, most of them weren’t in STEM. They were in anthropology or history or psychology, and then they went and got a graduate degree of some kind. So we’ve got to be extremely careful that we teach people how to learn. That’s far more important than anything else we can do.”

What would you do about gun safety and making schools safer and preventing the kind of tragedy that happened in Parkland?

“We can’t make them safer by giving guns to teachers. We don’t hire teachers because they have skills in terms of protecting students by learning how to shoot. That’s not the characteristics of a great teacher. I am opposed to arming civilians. I am in favor of arming law enforcement officers.”

What is your position on teacher pay?

“I would double every teacher’s salary in the country. We really do not pay teachers enough and we don’t pay them enough to be competitive in terms of attracting great teachers in the future, so we need to do much better. The average teacher’s salary in this country is under $50,000. That is ridiculous. If we paid teachers more, there’d be a number of changes, including our ability to keep teachers so they wouldn’t retire so early. We’ve got to lift teachers out of poverty into the middle class. That requires that we seriously think about doubling their salaries.”

Why do you think this race in District 27 is so important?

“It’s a race about life and death because it involves whether we’re going to get healthcare for everyone. It’s a race about the quality of education because we have Republicans who would take money away from public education where the vast majority of students are and give it to charter schools, to businesses. Basically, they’re taking money from public schools and giving it to businesses and that just shouldn’t happen. And it’s a race about climate change and whether we’re going to make decisions in this country based on scientific evidence and whether we’re going to make investments in our infrastructure to control sea level rise. Those things are really fundamental to what Democrats believe, and Republicans are on the other side. And it’s also about immigration reform. I saw my opponent the other day. She said she’d give them a piece of paper so they could work and pay taxes, but they could never be voting citizens. That’s outrageous. There’s got to be a pathway for citizenship for people. If you work in this country and you pay taxes for years and years, you ought to become a citizen. And she refuses to think about either the DACA kids or their parents, the people that are here who work hard and get up every day, they ought to be able to get citizenship.”

What concrete actions do you think Congress should be taking with regard to immigration that you would champion?

“First of all, we have to get an immigration bill. Second, we have to change the culture and leadership of ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. But to do that, we probably have to change the presidency, and that will take a couple of years. But the most important thing is to change the policies and not to fund terrible policies, like taking kids away from their parents.”

What would you do on the federal level to make sure the government is not allowing businesses to pollute our air? Would you support going back to the Paris Climate Agreement?

“I certainly support going back to the Paris Climate Agreement. More importantly, EPA [the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] has become anti-everything-that-has-to-do-with-science. And we need to follow the science. More importantly for our community, we need to get a big infrastructure bill that will help us to build the walls, raise the streets, get the pumps, and we need to take plastics out of the water. And as a community, there are lots of things we can do, but we ought to get some of our money back. Now where is that money? We just gave it away to the rich in a tax bill. If you divide by 50 what we just gave away in the tax bill, we’d probably have 300 or 400 billion dollars to spend on infrastructure.”

What would you say to students who want to get active in politics, or just become more informed, more civically engaged even if we can’t vote yet?

“My advice is ‘Be impatient. Don’t listen to older people.’ The only way you’re going to make change is to be impatient and keep pushing.”

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Big Speak

Maria Elvira Salazar

On the Republican side is Maria Elvira Salazar, a journalist and Senior Political Correspondent who worked for the Spanish-language network Telemundo for three decades. She spoke recently with highlights about her campaign and the issues she would champion if elected.

Education is most handled at the state and local levels, but what would you try to do to bolster public education and make it better for students and teachers?

“I think we have to bring more federal dollars to the public school system. One of the things that I would like to do is bring together companies, corporations with high schools. That’s one of my ideas, and I’m putting together that new plan that I’m going to present to Congress. Definitely we need to strengthen the funds that the public school system is receiving right now.”

What would you do about gun safety and making schools safer and preventing the kind of tragedy that happened in Parkland?

“We have to create early intervention centers. That’s a pilot program that I want to present to different high schools that fall into my district. If a teacher considers that a child is going through some emotional disturbances, then he or she can refer them to that early intervention center. That way that child will receive the help he or she needs. The early intervention centers are one of my most important projects, and I would like to make Coral Gables High School and the other high schools in my district part of this pilot program. It’s not a difficult or complicated concept. It’s just having trauma therapists ready to talk to those children and neutralize or minimize their emotional problems and give them a solution so they will be able to graduate high school and avoid the possibility of falling through the cracks.”

That deals with the human side of school shootings. But what about the gun side?

“I don’t like to take rights away from people. I don’t like to change the Constitution. I believe we need to follow the laws that are on the books and close the loopholes. The loopholes are the big villains here. In this country, if you own an assault weapon and you want to sell it to me, from private to private, we don’t need to leave a trace. You don’t even need to give me a receipt. I can pay you in cash and you give me the gun. That’s a loophole. That means I could be selling to you or the bad guys or the gangsters who could be selling a lot of guns. Also when you go to a gun show, if I’m a private [citizen], I can rent a table and I can put out whatever firearm that I want to sell. I think that’s a mistake. Every transaction done in this country that involves a firearm needs to have a background check and needs to go through an authorized dealer. I think that would really minimize the buying and selling of firearms from the bad guys because the law-abiding citizens who are gun owners, they could have whatever guns they want. That’s what the Constitution says.”

State legislation passed soon after the Parkland shooting allows school districts to train teachers to bring firearms into the classroom. Do you have a position on that?

“Should teachers have guns? I don’t think so. There are other people who could be trained that are not necessarily teachers. Teachers are there to teach. They don’t need to be equipped with a firearm to protect a classroom. That’s why we have metal detectors and that’s why I want “mental” detectors, which are the early intervention centers. So now you have both: the mental and the metal.”

What is your position on teacher pay?

“I think we should treat teachers better than anybody else in society. If a teacher has proven that she can teach well, then that person needs to be rewarded, not only with a good salary but with good benefits. Teachers are the soul of society because sometimes they spend more time with you than your own parents. Nothing buys giving love and knowledge to our children. Nothing buys that.”

A big issue for Miami is sea level rise and climate change. What would you do if you got into Congress to address specifically sea level rise?

“We have to bring a major infrastructure bill so we can help Miami Beach and Key Biscayne. So what we need is federal money to help Miami Beach and the coastal areas because we cannot just keep pumping water. We need to find other technology. I believe in giving incentives to companies, have them come up with ideas. How do you incentivize them to come up with new technology? By giving them grants, by giving them tax incentives. Give people incentives for ways to solve problems. That’s how capitalism works.”

What is your position on immigration and immigration reform? What would you do to bolster the immigrants who live in this district and this country?

“You have, according to statistics, 11 million undocumented. Of those 11 million, 7.2 million people have lived here more than 15 years. Those people deserve some type of legality. I’m not talking about citizenship. I’m talking about legality. Because if you’ve been for 15 years in a country, you have kids and cars and homes and friends and churches and neighbors. If they don’t have a criminal record, those people deserve some type of legality. Give them a permit, whatever you want to call it and let them stay and keep on working and paying taxes and let them be part of the economic society. And I would give a lot more visas to those people who need to work I the agricultural sector, the construction sector and the hospitality, which are the three that are most affected. We need to fix our immigration system, which is a major mess, and create and immigration reform law.”

What would you say to students who want to get active in politics, or just become more informed, more civically engaged even if we can’t vote yet?

“If you don’t do politics, politics will do you. Yes, do get involved. Be informed. Understand what a great country we have. And inform yourself and defend what we have built for more than 300 years. Because there is no other better system than this one so we need to preserve it and keep it because this is the last frontier. There is not a better system than this one. And if we lose it, everything else will be a lot worse.”

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