Grilling the Democratic Candidates

News Team: Amy Ding, 16; Tiffany Engh, 16; Eric Halperin, 17; Natasha Kirtchuk, 12; and Nily Rozic, 17

At the recent Democratic debate at Pace University, Children's PressLine caught up with all 10 candidates to discuss education, homelessness and other national issues that affect kids.

* * * * * *

If you were called to take office, what issues that affect children would you make a priority?

John Edwards

Senator John Edwards
North Carolina

Education and healthcare. I want to make healthcare coverage a priority for every child in America. I also want to make sure that every child gets a quality education no matter where they live.

Dick Gephardt

Representative Dick Gephardt

My first priority is jobs. I don't think you can solve the economic problems we have without solving the healthcare problem. I would bring in a universal pension program where you would move your pension credits from job to job so that at the end of your working time you'd at least have one good pension.

Dennis Kucinich

Congressman Dennis Kucinich

First, the Department of Peace. We want to work to make non-violence an organizing principle in our society, and the way to do that is education. We go to the schools, and we teach our children, peace giving and peace sharing and mutuality, seeing the other person as an aspect of one's self, working to deal with the issues of violence in the schools and violence in our communities. The Department of Peace would deal with issues with child abuse. How many of your friends would tell you that they get beat up at home? I mean, it happens, children get beat. We don't need to have a society like that, we can do better.

Carol Moseley-Braun

Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun

Education is the first priority of course. I'm concerned that every child have a quality education and make for certain that our national government does more to relieve the property tax burden, because right now your parents are paying taxes on your house that are out of line, quite frankly, and I think that we ought to use national money to help provide a quality education.

Bob Graham

Senator Bob Graham

Throughout my political career, one of my passions has been education. That would be one of my priorities as president. I would also want to see that the health insurance programs that are available today to some American children are expanded to include all children who don't have coverage somewhere else.

Wesley Clark

General Wesley Clark

I would push as a priority fixing our security so we're safe at home in American so you and all the other kids like you could grow up and have happy lives in American.

* * * * * *

What are your thoughts on lowering the voting age on a national level?

General Clark
I think we sure ought to look at it. I think the other thing is when I see kids like you and you're out here talking about politics and citizenship and making our country better, it sure gives me a lot of hope for the future. Thanks a lot for doing this.

Senator Edwards
I think what we ought to do is get young people involved so they see what's happening.

Representative Gephardt
We had the big fight, not many years ago to get it to 18. Before we talk about further changes, I think we need to get more 18-year-olds to vote. And that's what I'm going to work on, I'm going to get more Americans to vote; I think it's atrocious that in our best elections, only half [of] the people show up and vote and I want to change that.

Congressman Kucinich
Sure, I think young people, age 16, today have the kind of education, which would make it possible for them to make solid decisions. After all, many of them are only a few years away from serving in the military, from going to college, from being able to execute contracts. They should have the chance to participate in the life of this nation at 16 years, and I support that. It's time to introduce legislation into the Congress for that. It's a good idea, thanks!

Ambassador Moseley-Braun
It took a constitutional amendment to lower the voting age to 18, and frankly I don't know if I want to open the Constitution up again right now, because there's so many people who would do really horrible things, if we did that. I think the real answer is for A) the people who can vote, the 18 year olds to participate more, and for younger people to help participate in the debate, just like you're doing now. Look at you -- you're interviewing a presidential candidate! You're here with all these people asking me hard questions about what they would do, and that's the absolute right approach. Because our democracy depends on informed citizens knowing how government should work and asking the right questions.

Senator Graham
The answer is… at this time… no. We haven't had 18 very long. We ought to review how well 18 is going. Frankly we have a lot of groundwork to pickup to get the 18-year-olds participating. I want to see that young people have an opportunity to be full participants in this process and the federal government should have a special outreach [effort].

* * * * * *

How would you change President's Bush's education bill "No Child Left Behind?"

Congressman Dennis Kucinich

Well, the first thing we have to do is have a focus on education that's quantitative, not qualitative. The idea of a test-base approach, over and over in education, creates a whole different mentality. We need to focus on quality, helping each child unfold to the fullest. When [President Bush] cut the program by $10 billion, at the same time he's saying, "Let's leave everyone behind." We have to make sure teachers get the kind of help they need for professional development. We have to make sure the Individuals with Disabilities Act is fully funded. We have to make sure that Title I disadvantaged children have the opportunity to grow. We have to fully fund Head Start. I have a program, that everyone in this country -- ages 3, 4, 5 -- [receive] universal kindergarten, so parents would have a chance for fully funded daycare for their children. We have the money for war, for tax cuts, and for some reason we don't have money for education? I'm going to change that.

* * * * * *

Families with kids make up the largest segment of the nation's homeless population. How would you fix that?

Al Sharpton

Rev. Al Sharpton
New York

You have to have a public affordable housing program. The cost [of shelter] is important. [It] destabilizes families and leads to children and homelessness.

Joe Lieberman

Senator Joe Lieberman

The biggest scandal is the scandal of poverty. We've got to provide public shelters. We've got to provide an economy in which their parents can get jobs again. We've got to provide subsidies from the government for housing. Franklin D. Roosevelt said this in the 1930s is that one of freedoms that we want to provide was the freedom from want of shelter and it's outrageous that it is still there.

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