Harold opposes U.S. involvement in Syria

Harold opposes U.S. involvement in Syria

CHAMPAIGN — Republican congressional candidate Erika Harold said Monday that she opposes U.S. military involvement in Syria.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, already has said that "99 percent" of his 13th Congressional District constituents oppose military intervention in Syria and he is a likely "no" vote on the issue.

Harold, an Urbana attorney and former Miss American who will challenge Davis in the March 2014 GOP primary election, said, "If I was in Congress, I would vote no."

"For me, I would not vote to authorize any sort of military strike pre-emptively unless there were concrete U.S. military interests that were identified, and unless there were clear U.S. military objectives that could be articulated," Harold said in a Monday morning presentation to the Champaign County Active Senior Republicans group. "In this case, I have not seen either. And I have great fear in terms of retaliation and disturbing that region of the world."

She said she would not be persuaded by anything President Barack Obama says in his speech to the nation Tuesday night.

"It wouldn't matter what the president said tomorrow night, because if he hasn't made the case now, there's not a case to be made," Harold added.

She called the use of chemical weapons in Syria "unconscionable," but added, "if you are going to authorize war, there has to be a very high barrier, a high bar to meet, because you are talking about the lives of your fellow citizens. And for me the criteria that I've set — those clear national interests and those clear military objectives — I don't see them being met."

A military solution to resolving the chemical weapons issue is not "appropriate or effective under these circumstances," she said.

Once Congress defeats Obama's request for military intervention, Harold said, "we have to see if there's a political or diplomatic solution. It's not that our country just says that we think it's acceptable for those international norms to be violated. There have to be more tools within our toolkit, other than just a military strike."

Also Monday, Harold said she favored term limits on senators and representatives, and decried the influence of lobbyists and political action committees on Washington politics.

She doesn't yet favor a specific term limit proposal, she said, although "the one I'm most closely looking into is 12 years in the House and 12 years in the Senate. I don't know that the amount matters so much as there is a limitation. It's a step toward returning it toward citizen government."

Responding to a question from the audience, the 33-year-old University of Illinois and Harvard Law School graduate said she planned to speak later on a number of government reforms, including "limitations on lobbying," including by past members of Congress.

"What we have right now is an entire political culture, a political class of people who spend time in Washington serving, then they leave office, become a lobbyist, family members become lobbyists and basically its a small group of people who kind of hold the power and hold the rest of us captive," she said without citing and specific former lawmakers or family members.

"I think there are places for people to lobby. I think that lobbyists serve important roles of educating legislators on the issues, but the problem becomes when legislators are held captive, and especially held captive to the political action committees that sometimes the lobbyists represent."

She said she recently had attended an event "where a group was honoring legislators who voted the right way from their perspective on an issue. And they said 'we are willing to reward people who vote the way we want with checks. So here's your $2,500 check for doing this.'

"I think the person probably realized later that he worded it in a very brazen way, but really our lobbyists in many ways are controlling the votes and controlling the influence of members of Congress in a way that is inappropriate And I think it's most inappropriate when it's people who once held public office."

Although Harold did not mention names, her remarks were taken as a swipe at Davis — who has received more than $610,000, or nearly 72 percent of all his campaign contributions — from political action committees so far this year. They also could be interpreted as a criticism of retired U.S. Rep. Tom Ewing, who once represented Champaign-Urbana in Congress and went to work for the Washington lobbying firm of Davis & Harman after he retired. Ewing also endorsed Davis for Congress last year.

She admitted she would take PAC money "under certain circumstances."

"I don't have a no-PAC commitment because I think there are certain occasions when it's appropriate," she said, although she could not cite any examples. "The larger issue to me is the extent to which political action committees as a whole seem to be in control of so much of Washington, and how people live in fear of losing PAC contributions, and to see how almost mercenary it is when a PAC will just say, 'Hey, if you don't vote this way, you won't get our money.'

"We need people to say, "Then I'm not going to have your money.' But I also know how politics works, so it's finding out if there are constructive ways of addressing" the influence of PACs.

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