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MARCH 2006

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An Interview with U.S. Senate Candidate Alan Sandals 
Alan Sandals
Alan Sandals

Alan Sandals is running against Bob Casey and Chuck Pennacchio in the Democratic primary May 16 for the U.S. Senate. He is an attorney specializing in pensions and medical benefits. A graduate of University of Pennsylvania Law School, Sandals has filed cases for his clients in Pennsylvania and numerous other states, and prosecuted them at the trial, appeals court and U.S. Supreme Court levels. He is president of the Support Center for Child Advocates and is a board and executive committee member of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel in Center City. The following are excerpts from an interview with Alan Sandals that took place on February 17, 2006.

PJV: Given the fact that many Pennsylvania Democrats share your views on a range of issues, from the environment to reproductive rights, why has the party endorsed Bob Casey, Jr., who is pro-life and who supported the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court?

I think the party was running scared last winter and thought the only way to win was to take on as many Republicans as possible. There is also the theory that defeating Santorum will be payback for the defeat of Tom Daschle. They rally want to beat him. So if you want to win at all costs, I guess their thought was "let's put up a candidate who's almost as Republican as Santorum, but at least we'll have a win in the Democratic column."

PJV: Are you saying you think the party underestimated Santorum's vulnerability?

Absolutely — and Republican vulnerability in general. It was a bad year for the GOP, and many regard Katrina as a symbolic breakpoint for them. Of course, there was also twelve more months of death and maiming of both U.S. soldiers and civilians in Iraq, which now is the number one or two issue in the minds of most Americans.

PJV: There are many frustrated Democrats who don't think the party is focused enough to fully exploit a weakened GOP next fall. What's your view?

I think those people are right. Everything is designed by committee and when you have that you end up with lowest common denominator type messages. For example, we heard that the national party was working on the messaging for the 2006 campaign and that they would roll in out this January. We're still waiting.

PJV: That's what Howard Dean told me in an interview last fall.

Right. Dean's presidential campaign was really based on opposition or reaction to the current administration, rather than being proactive and solution-oriented. And we now know, and even the Democratic pundits say, it's not enough to be critical of the Bush administration. We have to offer real and clear solutions for what's on Americans' minds. I'm the father of a 20 year-old and an 18 year-old, and when you see all the bad decisions that have been made in Washington with respect to so many issues, it's clear we're failing our kids so miserably. Whether it's the challenges of a global economy, the piling up of deficits, global warming, the shock to our economy by rising energy costs, the war in Iraq - these are all things that are going to have major consequences - both for you and I in our retirement years and for our children. The Democrats have been whistling in the dark, they're not taking stands, they're not offering ideas or demonstrating imagination or courage. 

PJV: So what's the problem with the Democratic Party?

Democrats don't seem to be able to take a firm position on anything. They apparently think that taking a firm stand will have negative repercussions with voters. I think the opposite is true. The firmer or clearer we are, the better we are. I think the people who live in the so-called "T" of Pennsylvania have the same concerns of those in the southeast corner of the state: Iraq, healthcare, the challenges of a global marketplace, the environment, energy prices. These are all issues that Democrats can speak to. We have so much ammunition to use against Republicans on these issues, but no one is stepping to address these issues. I'm trying to remedy that.

PJV: Let's talk about one of those issues: healthcare. Millions of Americans don't have any. What's your solution?

We need a single-payer health system. We have 40 years of experience with Medicare as an effective administrative mechanism. It has very low overhead. The estimates are that you could save 20% by moving from a commercial model of delivering benefits to a Medicare administrative model. I'm talking about Medicare as the delivery system, not as the source of the benefits. You could do so much with that 20%. You could cover the uninsured. You could allow employers, who would continue to fund the program for their employees at least for a while, to create more jobs, fund their pension plans more effectively, or offer higher wages and better benefits. Employers, especially large ones, would be happy to find their costs rolled back by 20% because year after year we've seen increases in premiums that are twice as high as the increase in medical costs. The Republicans are offering Health Savings Accounts, but most people recognize that they really only benefit those in higher tax brackets. The Republicans say we should rely on the market to solve these problems, but we've tried that for 20 years and it hasn't worked. 

PJV: Besides reproductive rights, what other differences are there between you and Casey?

Being a city person, I think I'm much more sensitive to the problem of gun violence. Bob Casey has never been very strong on advocating reasonable gun controls. I'm in favor of the bill in Harrisburg that would limit gun purchases to one a month. I'm in favor of stem cell research and Casey is in line with Bush administration position. On Iraq, I think most voters from both parties want to see an end to the occupation of Iraq in the short term. Casey continues to waffle on that — part of that syndrome of Democrats running scared, even though most voters want their candidates to take firm stands. On healthcare, I have a Casey brochure here that I picked up at an event last week. I can read you 3 sentences and then I'll comment on them: "Bob Casey thinks more Pennsylvanians should have access to affordable healthcare and prescriptions drugs. He will work to increase access to health insurance by allowing individuals and small businesses to band together into purchasing pools. And he will work to expand the successful Children's Health Insurance Program, (CHIP), to provide coverage to more children and their families." That is so timid and so weak and so completely ineffective to say that you're going to cover the uninsured by allowing them to purchase through purchasing pools. What world are you living in? The whole point is that healthcare is unaffordable and purchasing pools are not going to make it that more affordable. I spoke to a woman in Wyoming County recently, who talked about losing her job and her health insurance and how expensive it would be to pick up individual coverage. Offering someone like that the right to join a purchasing tool is just a pipe dream. If Casey is representative of where Democratic thinking is on how to win over hearts and minds of voters on healthcare, we're going to be striking out all over the place. There is no courage or imagination there. 

PJV:  In Iraq, the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) recently nominated Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari to retain his position in the incoming government. It's been said he's beholden to Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who seeks to gain more power. What are the implications?

There's growing awareness that Iraqi Shiites are allied with Iran and with the radical views that are popular there. The Iraqi police and intelligence forces have been infiltrated by elements of the Badr Brigades, and key leadership positions are now in the hands of Iranian sympathizers. It's a situation that people were worried about before the invasion of Iraq — that the invasion would drive Iraq, or at least the Shiites, into the arms of Iran. It's a major problem when you have the administration in Washington dominated by neocons who thought the Iraqis would throw flowers at the feet of our soldiers. If you "invite democracy" you may get extremists in power. That doesn't mean I'm against democracy, but it's a manifestation of the nave thinking of the neocons that everything would turn out just fine. Colin Powel said that "if you break it you own it." Well, we definitely own it. 

PJV: Speaking of extremists, should Israel and/or the US put the financial squeeze on Hamas?

They have to stand firm on the idea of Hamas renouncing terrorism, renouncing its goal of destroying Israel. Until that happens, aid should not be running full force through the spigots. But I think we can perhaps find a way to use third parties to deliver minimum forms of humanitarian aid. 

PJV: What about the report in the New York Times that Israel and the U.S. were working together to destabilize Hamas and force new elections later this year?

I don't know if there's any truth to that report. But I'm sure people have considered it as an option of how to react to Hamas's victory. If it is true, I don't know the reason behind it. It reminds me of the CIA destabilizing governments in the 1950s. The idea that the Palestinian people are going to rise up and throw out Hamas because there are economic difficulties is wrong. In fact, I think such a move is more likely to strengthen Hamas and embolden the radicals.

PJV: What significance, if any, is there to the fact that the Intelligent Design (ID) movement has suffered some recent setbacks, here in Pennsylvania and more recently in Ohio?

I think that it shows that a lot of these kinds of initiatives are pushed by a minority of voters. When the issue came front and center here in Dover (PA), the people on school board who pushed for ID were all defeated in the subsequent election. These groups have the power to succeed temporarily, but in the long run they can be defeated. The ironic thing about the whole ID issue is that we're having enough trouble in our schools teaching real science to our kids. And now you've got people who want to teach fake science.

PJV: Is Washington a corrupt town and, if so, how would you clean it up?

I think it is corrupt in the fundamental sense that once you get in power all that matters is staying in power, and that it doesn't matter what you do in office as long as you do enough to get reelected. Also, the idea of public service as true service has disappeared - the idea that a compete unknown could become a politician after a life experience in some other field. People have remarked to me that you have to be the son or daughter of a politician, like Bob Casey or our president, or you have to be a millionaire like John Corzine to get elected. That's very bad, because those aren't necessary the most qualified, capable or inspiring candidates. Another aspect of the problem is that it lowers expectations. When you have a political structure that's chiefly concerned with perpetuating itself, self perpetuation is all that matters. Ideas stop mattering. In the long run, that kind of corruption is more dangerous or insidious than the Abramoff-type scandals.

Interview by Charles Smolover

Publisher's Note

Please read the letter Alan Sandals wrote Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett calling for an investigation into the Operation Good Neighbor Foundation, a charity founded and led by incumbent Senator Rick Santorum. Following the publication this morning of an investigative report in the Philadelphia Daily News, the letter provided additional evidence and raised additional questions that the Santorum charity made improper use of charitable contributions. 

Previous Interviews

  • July 2005:  Chuck Pennacchio candidate in the Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate.
  • August 2005: Lois Murphy who is running for Congress in Pennsylvania's 6th district.
  • September 2005: Pennsylvania State Representative Daylin Leach.
  • October 2005: Bob Casey candidate in the Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate.
  • November 2005: Gov. Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee
  • December 2005: Rep. Jim Gerlach who is running for reelection in Pennsylvania's 6th district.
  • January 2006: Rep. Chaka Fattah from Pennsylvania's 2nd district
  • February 2006: Matthew Brooks, Executive Director of the Republican Jewish Coalition