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
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
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
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