Ken Lewis | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Ken Lewis 

U.S. Senate

Name as it appears on the ballot: Ken Lewis

Full legal name, if different: Kenneth Lewis

Date of birth: N/A

Home address: N/A

Mailing address: PO Box 17976, Durham, NC 27715

Campaign website: kenlewisforsenate.com

Occupation & employer: Attorney

Home phone: N/A

Work phone: 919 683-8181

Cell phone: N/A

Email: info@kenlewisforsenate.com


1. What do you see as the most important issues facing North Carolina and the nation? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

Jobs.

The most urgent issue facing families in North Carolina and around the country today is creating jobs. We're in the worst unemployment crisis in 70 years, with 16 million Americans out of work. About a third of them have been out of work for more than six months. And almost 10 million more Americans are working part time because they can't find full-time jobs. North Carolina's jobless rate was 11.1% in January, 42nd worst in the country. It was higher than the national rate, and the highest since 1976, when the state began using its current method of calculating unemployment.

In the longer term the most important issue is reversing the sustained structural economic crisis that has gripped the middle class for years. In my detailed answer to Question 5d, I spell out exactly why I think these issues are the most important facing us, and I explain exactly what my priorities and policies will be in addressing these issues.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective in the U.S. Senate? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

I've spent more than two decades helping to create good jobs and strong communities in North Carolina. My specialty is business and community development law. I've spent my legal career helping start-up companies get off the ground, helping large companies grow, and helping local governments build the infrastructure they need to attract new businesses and new jobs. This year, in this brutal economy, I believe my proven track record of working for jobs and communities is exactly what North Carolina needs in the U. S. Senate.

The essence of my work as a transactional lawyer (whether working on an acquisition or the financing of an affordable housing project) has been to help parties find their common interests and appreciate that they can accomplish more by working together-entering the transaction-than they could by working separately. The skills necessary to do this work are exactly the skills needed in shaping and leading in public discourse around difficult and potentially divisive policy issues and in galvanizing support among fellow Senators for legislation.

My life has been a study in discovering, understanding and promoting the common interest. I've been able to live, belong and work in many different communities with a diverse set of people. I grew up in the "East Winston" section of Winston-Salem and spent my afternoons on the historically black campus of Winston-Salem State University, where my father taught. I helped pay for college at Duke and law school at Harvard by working as a dishwasher, a bus driver, a janitor, and a tobacco factory worker. These jobs taught me the value and dignity of hard work, and the obstacles and aspirations of low-wage workers and their families.

My experience has shown me, in a powerful and personal way, the shared interests and common destiny of communities and groups that often mistakenly view themselves in opposition to one another. I've seen that opportunity, justice, and progress don't have to be zero-sum games, where one person benefits at another's expense.

The big issues facing the country today are creating a low carbon economy, achieving educational and immigration reform, addressing inequality and restoring opportunity, These issues all require that we as a nation focus on our long term common interests. My personal journey has allowed me to view the world through a diverse set of perspectives. My professional work has been all about helping parties with different perspectives and goals discover their common interest and appreciate that they could achieve more by working together than by working apart. My personal and professional experience of discovering and promoting the common interest uniquely prepares me to lead in a U. S. Senate that today is focused on short-term partisan gain rather than on promoting the long-term, common interest of the people.

3. How do you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I believe that where we are today, and where we've been, should never limit where we're going. I believe in justice and opportunity. I believe in progress.

When I finished school, I came back home to make a difference for the people of North Carolina and for the communities I hoped to help grow. And for the nonprofit organizations that inspired me to join them over the years: the Center for Community Self-Help, Action for Children, Planned Parenthood, Children First, and the NC Baptist Hospital. The way I've tried to live my life and the stands I take on the issues are parts of the same whole.

4. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

Supporting the financial sector rescue plan. Backing President Obama's decision to add more troops to Afghanistan. Supporting the Recovery Act. Opposing the death penalty. Supporting the expiration of some tax cuts. Supporting the public option in health care reform. Supporting repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule. Lots of people all over the political spectrum will have problems with something I stand for. All I can do is express myself clearly, try to debate the issues in a respectful way, and let the voters decide.

5. If these issues haven't been addressed above, would you please comment on:

a. What has our nation learned from invading Iraq? How will that inform your decisions if elected? What should our policy in Iraq be today? Should we base substantial military forces there for the foreseeable future?

History has shown clearly that the Bush Administration was wrong when it tried to link Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda, and wrong to claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. In one of the most reckless and damaging mistakes since World War II, the Bush Administration decided to wage a war of choice, not of necessity, against Iraq. If I had been in the US Senate during the Iraq war vote, I would have voted not to go to war against Iraq.

The tragedy of the Iraq war decision has come in the terrible loss of many brave American military personnel, in the deaths of countless Iraqi civilians, in the waste of hundreds of billions of American taxpayer dollars, and in incalculable damage to America's position in the world. But the tragedy does not stop there. It is still unknown what the long-term consequences are of the Bush Administration's decision to take our country's focus off of Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan and to divert America's resources to Iraq instead.

During the 2008 Presidential campaign, I supported President Obama's position that the focus of American policy in Iraq going forward should be to safely and quickly draw down the American troop presence in that country and turn over the business of restoring Iraq's stability to the Iraqis. I support the safe, orderly, and swift completion of the drawdown in Iraq.

b. Evaluate the war in Afghanistan and the situation in Iran. What is our goal in those places, in your view? What should our policies be? What legislation should be introduced to address those issues?

I supported the decision to use US forces in Afghanistan to depose the Taliban regime, which had been providing a safe haven for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, and to pursue, capture, and if necessary kill bin Laden and his followers. I support President Obama's decision to provide a temporary boost in American troops in Afghanistan and to set a target for beginning the removal of US forces from that country after a brief time. I believe this policy was the least bad among several very bad policy options left to President Obama by the Bush Administration.

I believe President Obama's policy sends a wake-up call to the Karzai regime: "We have opened a brief window for you to stabilize your country and reduce the rampant corruption there. Then we will close the window, bring home our forces, and leave it to the Afghan people and their leaders to decide the country's long-term direction." Given our investment in Afghanistan to date, we owe it to ourselves, and to our brave troops still searching for bin Laden there, to give President Obama's policy a chance to succeed.

It is important to see Pakistan as an integral part of the Afghan-Pakistani strategic equation. The rugged tribal areas in which bin Laden and Al Qaeda may be hiding lie on both sides of the border. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed nation with a weak civilian government and a military with a long history of supporting armed Islamic groups. I support President Obama's policy of helping Pakistan secure its nuclear arsenal, strengthen its civilian government, and step up its efforts to dismantle Al Qaeda safe havens in the tribal areas on its side of the border.

I also support President Obama's approach toward Iran, which is to show a new willingness to engage in dialogue coupled with a steady and sustained campaign to unite the international community in general, and the UN Security Council in particular, in insisting that Iran fully open its nuclear program to international inspections and abandon its effort to develop nuclear weapons. I support President Obama's policy of insisting that Iran's failure to do so will result in very tough new sanctions directed against key elements of the Iranian regime, such as the Revolutionary Guards. I further support the President's policy of making sure that the US does nothing to jeopardize the growing internal Iranian movement in opposition to the current regime.

c. Universal health care: Why don't we have it? What have you learned from the current health care debate? What specific reforms do you support, and what will you do to get them passed? What has this process told us not only about health care but about the way that politics work?

We do have comprehensive health care reform now, thanks to the decisive actions of the House of Representatives and the enormous and sustained hard work of President Obama and his Administration. But for many months, the health care bill was stalled in the Senate. Today, other key bills remain bottled up in the Senate, including climate-change legislation that would set the country on the path to a low-carbon economy and create good new jobs, and a comprehensive financial reform bill with an independent consumer protection agency.

The Senate today is gridlocked by partisan politics. The founders intended for the Senate to further the shared long-term interests of the people. That's why they provided that Senators serve 6-year terms. Partisan obstructionism and abuse of the filibuster rule are just symptoms of the larger problem: a Senate that is no longer focused on the long-term common interests of the people.

I would support modification of the filibuster rule to require actual filibustering, and am interested in proposals that would step down the 60-vote cloture rule to, for example, 55 and later to 51 upon certain time intervals of debate. However, I do not believe that such procedural changes alone will fix the broken Senate. Unless the Senate itself changes, and restores its focus on the shared long-term interests of the people, it cannot fulfill its crucial role in our democracy. I'm not running for the Senate to occupy a seat in a broken institution. I'm running to change the Senate, and restore it to its original purpose.

d. What do you see as the primary sources of our current economic problems? What measures should Congress use to resolve address them? How would you begin to reduce the federal deficit? Is this an issue of not enough revenue or of overspending? What are some of the possible negative consequences of your proposed solutions?

That's a lot of questions, and a thoughtful answer requires a detailed response. To begin with, we have to understand that today's economic problems are the result of many years of misguided economic policies. For middle class families in North Carolina and across the country, this is a long-term economic crisis. Yes, we all know about the current economic mess: the Great Recession, record unemployment, and the tidal wave of home foreclosures. But the crisis for the middle class is much deeper and long-lasting. It is a fundamental, structural issue, and addressing it will be the centerpiece of my service in the US Senate.

Over the last 20 years, income for middle class families -- more than half of all American families -- fell by 13.2% in inflation-adjusted dollars, while real incomes for the top 20% of families has risen 7.4%. That's while the typical American middle-income family was putting in an average of 11 more working hours per week in 2006 than it did in 1979. So middle class families are working harder and making less. Health care is more expensive or not available at all. Families have less in savings. The cost of higher education is rising faster than inflation. The dream of a secure retirement is fading. And everywhere we look, jobs are disappearing -- many of them for good.

Short-term solutions. As I point out in my answer to Question 5e, the first step in turning our economy around was passage of the stimulus bill, which I would have voted for if I had been in the Senate. It is now cutting taxes for working families and creating jobs. Other short-term steps include the jobs bill President Obama recently signed, and new measures to stop the tidal wave of mortgage foreclosures sweeping across the country.

I also support the following short-term measures:

Extending unemployment benefits.

Expanding the COBRA health insurance program.

Allowing the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy to expire, while renewing the cuts for the rest of us.

Creating a 2-year temporary tax credit for companies that create new jobs.

Long-term solutions. Short-term measures are needed to get us through the current crisis. But real, sustained economic progress for the middle class will come from a long-term restructuring of our system. We must encourage savings, end tax policies that reward the wealthiest at the expense of the rest of us, make health insurance more affordable and much more stable, make education more accessible, and strongly support the development in the US of new industries with good new jobs based on clean energy and green technology.

In addition, we must create a culture of entrepreneurship and provide the educational reform and infrastructure to support and sustain it. In the new economy that is to come, the skills of the entrepreneur: innovation, creativity, measured risk taking, problem solving and collaboration will be essential for all workers, whether or not they own their own business.

Below I've listed some of the long-term proposals I've already announced. I will be discussing more in the days ahead.

Educational reform that teaches entrepreneurial skills.

Establishing Universal Savings Accounts for every working American, so employees can make voluntary contributions for education and retirement.

Opposing new taxes on the middle class.

Implementing all the provisions of the new comprehensive health care reform legislation.

Increasing funding for Pell Grants.

Increasing the Recovery Act College Tax Credit (American Opportunity Tax Credit) from $2,500 to $4,000 and making the credit permanent.

Supporting new policies to make technology transfer from basic research to business easier and faster in the US.

Providing Sustainability Tax Credits for firms that achieve "triple bottom line" milestones (profits, people, planet), such as reducing carbon emissions and adopting sustainable environmental management systems.

Creating a new R & D tax credit to encourage companies to innovate in clean and green technologies.

Increased funding for basic and applied scientific research.

Deficit reduction. At the end of the Clinton administration in 2001, the federal government had historic budget surpluses (a projected $5.6 trillion over ten years) and had made the largest reduction in the federal debt in our nation's history ($453 billion). The Bush Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress destroyed our country's strong fiscal position. Their lax attitude toward fiscal responsibility included tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans and budgetary gimmicks that failed even to pay for the Iraq War.

I am committed to restoring fiscal responsibility in Washington. No matter what the Bush years bequeathed us, I'll work to put in place long-term debt-reduction policies that will produce balanced budgets of the kind we saw a decade ago. I support closing corporate tax loopholes and shutting down offshore tax havens, which will produce an estimated $200 billion in revenue over 5 years. I support allowing the Bush-era tax cuts on the very wealthiest Americans to expire. I support smart public policies like health care reform that will substantially lower the federal debt. And I support putting a tax on the small handful of the biggest banks and Wall Street firms which needed the largest infusions of bailout money, so we can get more of our tax dollars back now that these companies are again making enormous profits.

e. The stimulus legislation and the bailout: What worked and what didn't? What would have done differently in hindsight? How will that inform your opinion in the future? Under what circumstances would you advocate for such legislation?

If I had been in the US Senate, I would have voted for the economic stimulus plan that is now pumping approximately $6.9 billion into North Carolina's economy. It's a package that's cutting taxes for working families, extending unemployment benefits, and creating jobs through infrastructure improvements and green technology. It's terrifying to think how much worse this brutal recession would be for our families, companies, and communities if the plan had not become law. But in the Senate, Richard Burr voted against the recovery bill. He put Republican party politics ahead of the interests of the people of our state. In the Senate, I'll fight for policies like the Recovery Act that put the interests of the people first.

The Wall Street and banking crisis largely resulted from a failed philosophy of deregulation so extreme that even Alan Greenspan now admits it was wrong. Had I been in the Senate I would have opposed repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and other hyperaggressive deregulation legislation that left all of us vulnerable. The financial sector rescue plan was necessary to contain the damage caused by reckless deregulation. I supported it. The alternative was to risk a second Great Depression. To head off a future meltdown, I favor passage of a strong, comprehensive new financial regulatory structure, including the creation of a robust, independent financial consumer protection agency.

f. Education: What should classrooms of the future look like? What will you do about the dropout rate, the achievement gap and the lack of students excelling in math and science? What can be done to attract and retain better teachers in American schools?

Classrooms of the future. First and foremost, federal law must be revised to enable the classrooms of the future to flourish. The No Child Left Behind law (also called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) has properly focused on improving student learning and closing achievement gaps. But years of experience has proved that the law, with its rigid measurement of student performance and its emphasis on punishment, is deeply flawed. I support fundamental reform. First, the law's approach to measuring student performance must be changed to emphasize student progress, rather than just annual test scores. Second, the law should be revised to emphasize rewards for success, rather than punishment for failure. Third, the law must provide more flexibility for local schools and educators. Fourth, funding for the law, which has never been adequate, should be increased.

Next, we have to actually build and maintain the classrooms of the future. Almost $300 billion of required maintenance in our country's public schools has been neglected. Inadequate facilities spending does more than hamper the ability of teachers and students to achieve their educational goals. It can also result in very real physical danger from unsafe food storage, inoperable door locks and alarm systems, and unsafe drinking water. To address this issue, I support the creation of a new $30 billion Public School Investment Fund to repair and maintain our nation's schools and equip them with green infrastructure. Even an investment fund this modest -- amounting to only 10% of the most badly-needed maintenance and repair -- would improve the educational environment for our state's students and teachers while quickly creating thousands of construction jobs in North Carolina.

In addition to reforming the law and maintaining our schools, I believe cutting-edge technology can help classrooms become more productive. I support putting computers and other technology in the hands of teachers and students to help them in a variety of subjects.

Finally, we must reform our educational system so that it teaches entrepreneurial skills such as innovation, creativity, measured risk taking, problem solving and collaboration.

Dropout rate, achievement gap, math and science. I believe smaller class sizes are of key importance in addressing these issues. A great deal of research demonstrates that students learn better when pupil-teacher ratios are reduced and teachers can provide individual attention to students. Providing a safe and secure learning environment is also vital. Every student and teacher performs better in an environment that is secure and free from gang activity and other unsafe conditions. In addition, the measures I describe elsewhere in this answer -- better use of instructional technology, better paid and prepared teachers, and changes in the law -- will also help us deal with these issues.

I want to say a special word about the achievement gap. Minority populations in schools across America continue to perform at lower levels than others do. This achievement gap hurts not only minority communities, it hampers our national economic competitiveness, weakens our social institutions, and undermines our efforts to promote a just, diverse society. I support federal policies that help our schools close the achievement gap. To that end, I support increased funding for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left Behind), including funding for Title I, and a strengthened partnership between federal and state governments to identify and address disparities among school districts in educational tools, services, opportunities, and resources.

Attract and retain teachers. Teachers are the key to student success. We must raise teacher pay and compensate teachers as the professionals they are. My mother was a public school teacher for 30 years, as my wife Holly's was. We know first-hand that attracting and retaining good teachers starts with paying them appropriately. Providing professional development for teachers is also vital for recruitment and retention. Continuing professional development is important for helping teachers grow and improve as educators.

7. What is your position on capital punishment?

I am opposed to the death penalty. I do not believe the criminal justice system, which has a principal objective of protecting life, should be taking life. In instances where convicted criminals have committed particularly heinous acts, our system is fully capable of permanently removing them from any further contact with society through the imposition of life in prison without parole.

8. What is your position regarding LGBT rights and Don't Ask Don't Tell?

I am opposed to discrimination in any form. That includes discrimination against persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered. In addition, I support full and equal legal rights for same-sex couples -- all the same rights afforded heterosexual couples today. I support President Obama's call for an end to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy prohibiting lesbians and gay men from serving openly in the military. I think Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen was right when he testified recently before Congress, "No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."

9. Do you support women's reproductive rights, including the "right to choose" as set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade?

Yes. I support women's reproductive rights, including the right to choose set out in the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade. I believe the Court's decision properly balanced the interests of individuals and the interests of the state.

10. What changes, if any, do you support in federal entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans programs, etc.)?

In my answer to Question 5d, I spell out in detail my approach to deficit reduction. Cutting benefits under Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans programs are not part of my approach, and I oppose them. Instead, I support the approach that the new comprehensive health care legislation takes toward cost control in entitlement programs: eliminating duplicative services, attacking waste, fraud, and abuse, and finding innovative ways to deliver services more efficiently.

11. What should Congress do to prevent banking disasters like the one that nearly plunged this country into a second Depression two years ago?

As I point out in my answer to Question 5e, the Wall Street and banking crisis largely resulted from a failed philosophy of deregulation so extreme that even Alan Greenspan now admits it was wrong. Had I been in the Senate I would have opposed repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and other hyperaggressive deregulation legislation that left all of us vulnerable. Regarding the prevention of banking disasters going forward, I favor passage of a strong, comprehensive new financial regulatory structure, including the creation of a robust, independent financial consumer protection agency.

12. What's your take on the Obama Administration so far: Too aggressive? Too cautious? Or about right? (Choose one, please.)

President Obama has been incredibly tenacious in his pursuit of health care reform. I admire that tremendously. He's also been strong in his pursuit of climate change legislation. I'm very disappointed that the Senate version of the health care bill did not contain a robust public option, and that the Senate hasn't passed the climate bill. The Senate track record of putting partisan politics ahead of the interests of the people is why I'm running. On economic stimulus and jobs, President Obama has been strong as well, and with passage of health care reform I hope he'll redouble his efforts on jobs. I'm hoping President Obama can now move more quickly on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and I'm pleased to see him sticking with his plan for a swift and orderly drawdown of American forces in Iraq.

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