11/01/06 — Weber challenges Jones for his congressional seat

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Weber challenges Jones for his congressional seat

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on November 1, 2006 1:45 PM

Democrat Craig Weber says he should be the next congressman from District 3, not just because he is qualified, but because of a pledge his opponent made in 1994.

Weber said before he took office, incumbent Republican Rep. Walter Jones signed the Contract with America, which among other provisions, included a plan to create a representative system that replaced career politicians with "citizen legislators." To that end, the signers promised they would serve no more than six terms.

Jones is running for his seventh term Nov. 7.

Weber said the congressman's own words speak for themselves.

"He said, 'If we break this contract, throw us out,'" the challenger said.

That Contract with America pledge spawned the Citizen Legislature Act, which was rejected by the House in 1995.

Jones said the people who live in each section of his 18-county congressional district have their own priorities.

He knows, he says, because he traveled more than 2,000 miles in August alone to hear what's on his constituents' minds.

And one discussion he had in nearly every county concerned illegal immigration, Jones said.

The nation has about 20 million illegal immigrants within its borders and fixing the problem will take a joint partnership with state and national officials, he said.

"If we could secure our borders and prove to the people that they are secure, we could reduce the amount of illegals crossing the border from 8,000 to 10,000 every day to a few hundred. People are concerned with national security, and I'm concerned with national security. We have many that are coming in, and we don't know who they are," Jones said.

The U.S. House, with approval from the U.S. Senate, recently appropriated $1.2 billion for a 700-mile, two-layered fence that will cover a third of the country's southern border in the most high-traffic areas.

Weber, a former Marine and a meteorologist with a Morehead City television station, said states must follow the letter of the law or create new ones to stem the illegal immigration problem. He said regulations must be mandated and enforced. Also, companies shouldn't be allowed to hire illegal immigrants, but there should be a method available so some citizens can attain citizenship and employment, he added.

"The abuse of hospitals, schools and our health system is over," Weber said.

But immigration is not the only battle the country must take a strong stand on, the candidates said.

They share the view that the war in Iraq needs a hard look -- and a strong stand.

During the past few months, coalition forces have been "taking the lead" in Afghanistan, but Jones said Iraq has become "an unstable situation."

He said he thinks about the progress of the war as he sits at his desk to personally write letters to the families of each serviceman or woman who has died for his or her country.

While some legislators have called for America to remove its troops from Iraq or to split the country into three sections for the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, Jones said the Iraqis must make the decision whether they want to be a unified country or be fragmented by their beliefs.

But at a cost of $300 billion and many lost lives, Jones said every day should be progress for American soldiers and the people of Iraq.

"I hope we can transition responsibility in due time," he said.

Weber said Jones helped draft a resolution that called for withdrawing troops this month. Although the bill for an exit strategy from Iraq picked up dozens of co-sponsors, including some Republicans, Weber said Jones didn't vote on the issue.

Jones said the bill was never brought to the House floor for a vote.

Weber said he has always been against the Iraq war. Instead, the country should have focused on the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. The perpetrators in Iraq were not responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, unlike the terrorists in Afghanistan, he added.

"Bin Laden is not in Iraq. I want him and al-Qaida. We need to get out of Iraq. We're not there to occupy. We need to shift our focus back to Afghanistan and finish the job," Weber said.

He said his opponent even stood on the floor of the Armed Services Committee and said someone should apologize to Saddam Hussein for removing him from office.

"I really think that showed our indecision in this country, and it gives the terrorists something to feed off of," Weber said.

Jones denies he asked for an apology for Hussein, but he said he did ask the administration to apologize for guiding the American military to Iraq with bad information.

The incident to which Weber occurred during a House Armed Services Committee in April 2005 when Jones told Richard Perle, former chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, that Congress was told the U.S. needed to remove Saddam Hussein from power, but were not given accurate reasons for his removal. Jones added that the Bush administration should apologize to Congress and the American people for providing misinformation on why soldiers are in Iraq, including making the public and legislators believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He also said someone should be willing to admit the administration made a mistake.

For the troops who have returned home from previous wars and those who will come back soon, Jones said citizens and the government must show their gratitude by taking care of them once their service is complete.

"As long as I have the privilege to serve, I'll make sure the promises made to those in uniform are kept," he said.

Weber said he also believes America's veterans deserve more than they are receiving.

"Our veterans are waiting for the main course (of benefits), not the appetizers," he said.

Weber added he wants to provide veterans with free medical care. He also suggested that no veteran be made to pay a deductible for health care.

If an American citizen spent 20 years in the armed forces, Weber said that person should never again be asked to pay his or her personal income tax.

"That is something we can do just out of respect," he said.

Weber said the government should also listen to its military personnel.

He said a large number of soldiers in Iraq don't believe they should be there. He said multiple tours of duty could be the reason.

"How much war can one person take?" Weber asked.

Upon their return home, as many as 60,000 soldiers have or will suffer from mental trauma that requires treatment, Weber said. Constantly sending soldiers back to the front lines hurts them and their families, he added.

And when that soldier comes home needing treatment for mental or physical trauma, that is when his or her country can help him or her the most, Jones said. He added he had the honor of helping many of North Carolina's wounded veterans during the past month.

For example, a soldier who had suffered significant brain injuries requested that he be kept on active duty so he wouldn't be transferred to Veterans Affairs and interrupt the treatments he was receiving. Jones said he helped the man and the treatment he is receiving is working.

Other service organizations and businesses, such as Helping Our Heroes, The Coalition to Salute America's Heroes and The Military Coalition, meet the needs of America's military and assist the families while the men and women are away on deployment, Jones said.

Democrats and Republicans must also be willing to work on improving the country's deficit, Jones said.

"I want to remind people that when I went into office, the deficit was $4.9 trillion. We are $8.5 trillion in debt now," Jones said. "If Uncle Sam called every citizen and asked them to help pay the debt -- even a baby who's only one minute old -- every citizen would have to pay $29,000 to pay it off."

If the country doesn't halt its spending, Jones said he was told by national comptroller David Walker that the national deficit would be $45 trillion by 2035.

"We would have to cut every federal program by 60 percent or raise our taxes two-and-a-half times just to get by," he said.

Weber said he believes the American economy is hemorrhaging and that there hasn't been enough done at the state level to energize North Carolina's economy.

More can be done for America's middle class, but Jones voted against tax breaks for middle income families, Weber said.

During his time as a legislator, Weber said Jones "goes where the wind blows." He turned his back on his former party, the Democrats, to become a Republican legislator. As the people's sentiment for the war in Iraq changed, Jones turned his back on his own party and said the country needed to get its troops out of the country, Weber added.

"I believe if we've lost our integrity, we must regain it. If we've lost our faith, we must rebuild it. If we've lost our hope, we need to inspire it. It's time to take back Congress and to take back our country," Weber said.

Jones said he wants to serve his country as he has for more than a decade by continuing to support the needs of farmers, landowners and fishermen, to protect the welfare of his constituents and to serve all of the people of District 3.