CAIR Organizes Candidates Forum
By Ras H. Siddiqui


The Council on American Islamic Relations of the Sacramento Valley (CAIR-SV) held its first Candidates Forum at the local SALAM Hall here on Sunday, October 10, 2004. The purpose of this effort was twofold. 1) To educate local Muslim voters about the issues and candidates so that they could use their substantial voting power effectively on November 2, and 2) To give candidates and parties a chance to present themselves before the area Muslim community so that they could benefit from a large voting bank located in California s State Capital.

The formal event began with words of welcome and an introduction by Maren Shawesh of CAIR-SV as Imam Alaa Bakri was invited to the podium. Imam Bakri read verses from the Holy Qur an and proceeded to comment on the universal values of our faith. Complaining will not change reality, he said. He added that Muslims must educate others about themselves and their faith and that they must contribute to the general community and this country.

Basim ElKarra, Executive of CAIR-SV, next took the opportunity to introduce Republican Candidate Gasper Garcia and Democrat Dave Jones both of whom are vying for the California State Assembly District 9 seat.

Gasper spoke first and highlighted his 30 years of community service, his Native American roots and his priorities which include added focus on education. Gasper, who grew up speaking Navajo, explained how he once struggled to learn English. He also delved into Native American philosophy of human similarity. We believe that we all belong to the same earth, he said. He promised that if voted into office he would work hard for our interests and that of our children.

City Council Member Dave Jones brought his relative youth to the podium. He has been a strong proponent of affordable housing in Sacramento and is known for his progressive thinking. He thanked the local Muslim community for their help in the this election. Dave recalled the dark hours after the horror of 9/11 and expressed satisfaction on how the City Council of Sacramento handled concerns about the safety of the local Muslim community.

Both candidates answered questions from a panel and members of the audience pertaining to health care, housing, college affordability and health insurance affordability.

The next two candidates to speak sought the local community vote in their bid for the US House of Representatives District 3 seat. Facing former California Attorney General, Republican Dan Lungren is Democrat Gabe Castillo. And one has to add that compared to the State Assembly debate earlier the US (National) seat debate was much more spirited between the candidates and in its reaction from this predominantly Muslin gathering.

Gabe Castillo said that he was a Democrat running for Congress to be our voice in Washington. I am more concerned about what brings us together, he said. He added that we are a nation of immigrants who came here for the American dream. Gabe said that he was very concerned about what was happening in this country. We need to get our financial house in order, he said. He also spoke of his experience and knowledge of prejudice.

Dan Lungren, the Republican candidate, had a different approach. He spoke of his sense of grief and loss on 9/11. We were asleep, he said. We had a disconnect between law enforcement and the intelligence community, he added. Dan has to be commended for his candid projection of some of his views even though they may not have been popular. He said that the Patriot Act was a necessity of the times but added that he would be there in Washington (if elected) to see that it was not abused.

The Q/A session that followed included a second panel of Muslims. Some very difficult issues came up that were not easy to answer to, especially those relating to the Patriot Act.

Gabe Castillo observed that it is more difficult to retake rights after their loss.
Later after Magrib Prayers the Presidential Race got attention in a strange manner. Both the Bush and the Kerry campaigns decided not to show up, leaving the field wide open for the Nader Green Party ticket which was represented by Dr. Forrest Hill. Dr. Hill pointed to the current crisis in civil liberties in America and the Green Party stand on Iraq which amongst other issues the two major parties have not adequately addressed. But he did not get away without being questioned on whether Muslims had the luxury of voting for a platform which had no chance of winning in this election.

To conclude, it was certainly an interesting evening of electioneering and community awareness building. CAIR did a good job of arranging the event, its first Candidate Forum in this area. And win or lose candidates all over America will find out that the Muslim vote matters on November 2. SO PLEASE REMEMBER TO VOTE!
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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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