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Video: Hope, Levine Get Aggressive with Beyer at Final 8th CD Democratic Debate Before Primary

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It was a packed house last night at the NRECA building in Arlington for ACDC’s 8th CD Democratic debate, the last such forum of this campaign, and it got pretty heated in there. Not because there were 300 or so people in there, or because the HVAC system failed or whatever (it worked fine), but because two of the candidates – Patrick Hope and Mark Levine – got highly aggressive with Don Beyer, the by-all-evidence frontrunner in this race. Given that this was the final debate, I wasn’t surprised that candidates would go after the frontrunner, as that’s Politics 101. If anything, I was surprised that it didn’t happen a lot earlier in the campaign. I was also surprised that other candidates – Adam Ebbin and Bill Euille in particular – chose to hold their fire. Some sort of campaign “strategery,” perhaps? (e.g., maybe they’re figuring that the candidates attacking each other will fall back in the polls, allowing Ebbin and Euille a proverbial “path to victory?”)

Anyway, I’m going to post the videos in the comments section, as usual, pointing out what I found notable. That includes Hope’s and Levine’s criticisms of Beyer on welfare reform when he was LG (see video to the right), his January 2007 comments on the estate tax (in Automotive News), his 2005 comments seemingly in support of a national sales tax (see Automotive News), his position on mandatory arbitration clauses in his auto dealerships’ contracts, whether or not he was a “lobbyist” (Beyer said he’s never been a lobbyist and noted that actually Patrick Hope’s currently a “lobbyist” – the formal title is actually “Senior Director, Legislative Policy” – at the American College of Cardiology), etc. Perhaps the most notable exchange was on the arbitration clauses in Beyer’s car dealership contracts. According to Beyer (click here to watch his answer):

Yes, it’s a good question Patrick. I would absolutely support banning mandatory arbitration contracts in employment and certainly in any sales. I was first alerted to this issue just a few months ago, back in January, when I was first a candidate actually. A lawyer came to one of our very first meet-and-greets and said, where are you on this mandatory minimum arbitration? I said, well, tell me about it. And she said, well it completely robs the consumer of the ability to sue in the short run and often delays justice. And so I said, that absolutely doesn’t seem right. I talked to my brother and my COO, and said if we have any contracts like that in the business, get rid of them, both with our employees and with our customers, and we did that immediately.

That sounds great, but what I don’t understand is that, following the debate last night, Patrick Hope campaign manager Ben Tribbett posted a photo of a March 29 Don Beyer Motors contract, with the mandatory arbitration clause still in it. I emailed the Beyer campaign for comment late last night and am awaiting a response. Perhaps there’s a good explanation for this seeming discrepancy, and I’m certainly interested in hearing it. Also note that when I asked the Beyer campaign about this issue in late March, campaign spokesperson Ann O’Hanlon sent me the short statement, “Don’s dealerships do NOT have mandatory arbitration contracts, so that’s an easy one to answer!” Except that, as Beyer explained last night, it wasn’t so easy a question to answer, as he said that even he didn’t know about these clauses being in his car dealership contracts (or what they meant, exactly) until January 2014.

Also note that Levine criticized Ebbin for voting to repeal the Virginia estate tax back in 2006 (note that this is the issue, more than any other, which started a major rift between what was then called “Raising Kaine” and Tim Kaine, as the estate tax is an absolutely core, fundamental, crucial progressive value, going back to Teddy Roosevelt’s days). While it’s true that Ebbin voted to repeal the Virginia estate tax, as I discussed several months ago, Ebbin voted AGAINST repealing it several times before ultimately voting FOR repealing it (the final vote was 91-0). It’s also interesting that Ebbin’s rationale for his vote changed dramatically last night from my previous understanding based on multiple sources (from, essentially, “it was going to pass unanimously anyway and Gov. Kaine’s folks were pressuring wayward Democrats to vote ‘yea’ (plus, don’t want our Virginia FREE scores to suffer)” to:

I have supported a cut or an elimination of a Virginia estate tax in order to remain competitive and consistent with other states that we compete with; but my policy on taxation has been consistent.

“Consistent?” Really? Hmmmm…well, alrighty then. So it’s “consistent” to vote multiple times AGAINST repealing the Virginia estate tax right before voting FOR repealing the Virginia estate tax (costing us around $140 million a year, by the way, to benefit a few hundred super-rich Virginia families, at the expense of everyone else – grrrrrr!), and then to present contradictory (and flawed – e.g., I don’t buy for a minute that this was about competitiveness with other states, as Virginia’s already super-“business friendly”) explanations as to why he voted the way he did on the final bill? Right-o, gotcha.

With that, on to the videos.

  • Beyer:

    Yes, it’s a good question Patrick. I would absolutely support banning mandatory arbitration contracts in employment and certainly in any sales. I was first alerted to this issue just a few months ago, back in January, when I was first a candidate actually. A lawyer came to one of our very first meet-and-greets and said, where are you on this mandatory minimum arbitration? I said, well, tell me about it. And she said, well it completely robs the consumer of the ability to sue in the short run and often delays justice. And so I said, that absolutely doesn’t seem right. I talked to my brother and my COO, and said if we have any contracts like that in the business, get rid of them, both with our employees and with our customers, and we did that immediately.

  • Levine:

    When you cut the estate tax — when you give these special benefits to millionaires and billionaires, as Don Beyer has, advocated for it, as Adam Ebbin has done — the question is, who pays for it? And in my question I asked, how do you deal with the shortfall? And I was disappointed that neither person   said how they would deal with it. Would it go to the deficit? Would middle class people benefit from it? When you give special benefits to millionaires and billionaires, usually it’s middle class and working class people that have to fill the slack. The other part that Don Beyer didn’t answer is why he called it the “death tax?” The “death tax” I’ve only heard from Tea Party people and from Don Beyer and Frank Luntz.” To me it’s a way to say this is a bad tax. But I think it’s a good tax, because it recognizes that we don’t have landed estates in America.

  • Beyer:

    I have been part of many associations over the years – AARP, Sierra Club, LCV, Planned Parenthood – they all employ lobbyists, as do car dealers, although I’ve certainly never been a lobbyist. Also, it’s just not true that I’ve ever advocated for a national sales tax. I’ve never written a speech, I’ve never written an essay, never introduced a piece of legislation, I’ve never had a conversation with my wife about doing away with progressive income taxes and instituting a national sales tax…

  • Yes I have worked on estate tax over the years, but I’ve never advocated its complete elimination and I’ve never been a lobbyist or advocated in Congress on this. Now I was part of business associations…that worked to try to keep the estate tax sensible…what we’ve also looked for was a reasonable compromise — $1 million, $2 million, $5 million — that allow the business to stay in the family rather than have to sell it to pay estate taxes…By the way, I’m sorry to disappoint Patrick too. But I’m proud of the way that we tried to make welfare reform better….welfare REFORM. We did so many good things. We took the 100% tax on single mothers receiving welfare away. We removed the mandate that the father couldn’t live in the home…and we funded all of it in 95 and 96…

  • as well as his experience, which he argues does NOT include being a “lobbyist.”

  • I discussed this above, but the bottom line is:

    1) Ebbin actually has NOT been consistent on the estate tax, having voted AGAINST repealing it multiple times before voting FOR repealing it.

    2) Ebbin’s explanation as to WHY he voted for repealing the estate tax makes no sense, nor is it consistent with what I’d heard previously.

    3) In no way/shape/form was eliminating Virginia’s estate tax about making Virginia more competitive with other states. That’s just…a word we can’t use here on Blue Virginia, but that rhymes with “wool snit.”

  • Hope: “I can’t believe what the debate is even about. These people that get taxed, they’re going to be ok…We do need a new American economy, we need to start taxing millionaires and billionaires more…the billionaires are going to be fine, I don’t know why we’re defending them…they’re going to be perfectly ok while everyone else is struggling…”

  • Bottom line: “Who do you trust?” There will be a “grand bargain,” “who do you trust that’s gonna stand up; I’ve done it, I’ve always done it…We need someone who’s going to be the voice for the downtrodden…It’s time for a new progressive leadership in Washington.”

  • and who stands up for progressive values. “I’m not afraid to call people out; I think we need some of that.”

  • “The difference for me in this campaign is my steadfast commitment to helping the pursuit of the most wantful [?] amongst us, to be their voice.”

  • …by wealthy interests who use their lobbyists to make them wealthier and more powerful. The foreign car dealers have lobbyists like Don Beyer. The health care providers have lobbyists like Patrick Hope…”

  • Levine says the “International Auto Dealers Association, which Don Beyer was chairman of, is considered a lobbying group by OpenSecrets.org…Don Beyer actually opposed the progressive income tax and supported Tom DeLay’s plan to replace the progressive income tax and the estate tax with a national sales tax…”

  • As I mentioned in the article, I had requested further explanation from the Don Beyer for Congress campaign on the issue of the mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts at Beyer’s automobile dealerships (and specifically why a contract from March appears to still have such a clause). I received the following statement a few minutes ago from Don Beyer, reiterating that Don Beyer and his brother “decided we should replace those contracts and ​delete​ the mandatory arbitration section, which we have done at all nine franchises, to the satisfaction ​of ​the American Association of Justice, whose PAC supports my candidacy.” Note that this statement doesn’t specifically address why the photo that Hope campaign manager Ben Tribbett posted on his Facebook page contains the mandatory arbitration clause.

    As I said in the Arlington Democrats’ debate, I first became aware of the mandatory arbitration clause in our dealerships’ contracts in January. (The contracts were not the same ones we had used before I left for our four years in Switzerland. They were, instead, a standard contract used by many auto dealers nationwide.) I discussed the mandatory arbitration clause with my brother, who ​is president of​ the business. We decided we should replace those contracts and ​delete​ the mandatory arbitration section, which we have done at all nine franchises, to the satisfaction ​of ​the American Association of Justice, whose PAC supports my candidacy. In addition, none of the dealerships has ever invoked the mandatory arbitration clause.​