Under the bright studio lights, Rep. Lois Capps and challenger Abel Maldonado faced off in a lively event Tuesday night, their only televised debate, giving voters a glimpse of what each candidate would bring to the hotly contested 24th Congressional District seat up for grabs Nov. 6.
As the result of a coin toss, Maldonado, a Republican, began his opening statements Tuesday, and stressed the importance of sending a new presence to Washington, D.C. In turn, Capps focused on her 14-year track record in Congress, and, as a Democrat, the ways in which she said she’s been able to work across the aisle with members of the GOP.
In Maldonado’s opening statement, he introduced himself as the son of a broccoli cutter in Santa Maria, saying his mother worked in the fields as well.
“While some might say those were hardships, those were the prices we had to pay to achieve the American dream,” he said.
Capps introduced herself as a Central Coast local who raised a family in the area and worked on issues such as preserving Ellwood Mesa.
“I work hard to find local partners for federal funding,” she said, adding that investments in clean technology and energy are key, and that businesses on the South Coast have benefited. “I’m looking forward to serving you again.”
Lopez began the questions by asking the candidates about the controversy surrounding their tax records. Both candidates have had their share of tax woes.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that Capps failed to report rental income from a staffer living in her residence. In turn, Maldonado’s family farming business is still in a tax dispute with the Internal Revenue Service over millions of dollars in deductions.
Capps began by saying that tax records should be open to the public, and when she released hers, she noticed a discrepancy and subsequently paid what she owed.
“I wish my opponent would do the same,” she said.
Maldonado said he has made the decision to sue the IRS, and “has the right to have my day in court,” he said. “I’ve already said I’ll pay what I owe with interest.”
The candidates were also asked about the Affordable Care Act, and Maldonado said there were things he could support in the plan, such covering pre-existing conditions and closing the “doughnut hole” of coverage.
However, “I think we need to step back and start over and replace it,” he said.
Capps said that though it’s not a perfect bill, “it is a law that takes us forward, and makes it more affordable for more people. We’re seeing the benefits in every age group and in every walk of life.”
Lopez also asked the candidates about abortion and women’s rights, and Maldonado said that if given the opportunity, he would vote no if asked to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Capps called the current Congress’ Republican leadership “anti-choice,” and said she has a long record of supporting women’s rights.
The candidates also were asked about how they would address the uncertainty facing businesses.
“When you think of where we were four years ago, we have come a long way,” Capps said, but admitted that many people are still out of work.
Capps said she had a proven record of targeted investment, voting more than a dozen times to cut taxes on small business. Tax credits were key for industries such as clean tech, she said.
Maldonado began by saying that fixing the tax code would help, and that tax credits would be useful.
But “I don’t support targeted investments like Solyndra,” he said, referring to a bankrupt company in the Bay Area that received federal support. “Let’s send someone to Washington who has signed checks on the front and has created jobs in this district.”
Immigration was also touched on, and Maldonado said that securing the border with Mexico is crucial, “but we also have to have an immigration system that works.” He said he would propose a temporary-worker program that would allow workers to move towards qualifying for a green card.
“I can’t understand why Washington can’t come together to get it done,” he said.
Capps said she has voted every time to increase border control, and that it’s important Congress embrace comprehensive immigration reform.
“We must also address the millions of people living in the shadows,” she said. “Our system doesn’t work as well as it really should.”
When a question about offshore drilling was posed, both candidates said they opposed the idea, but differed on other ways to tap energy. While Maldonado said he opposed drilling via platform off the coast, he did support slant drilling and other technologies for energy extraction.
Capps took a different approach. “We do want to become energy self-sufficient. We’ll never drill our way there,” she said, citing projects like the solar farm at Carrizo Plains. “This is the kind of development I’m for.”
Maldonado countered that Capps had supported the controversial PXP deal two years ago that would have allowed additional drilling from some offshore rigs, to which she responded that it was a way to end drilling off the coast.
Another interesting moment in Tuesday’s debate came when the candidates were asked about the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Libya.
Maldonado said he thought the United States should freeze foreign aid to Libya and Egypt while people figure out exactly what happened in the incident.
Capp said the United States must continue to support emerging democracies, and that she’s proud to be part of a bipartisan commission that has helped strengthen relationships with those countries, like a “buddy system,” she said.
Maldonado pounced on that comment, however.
“I don’t support the buddy system,” he said. “We need to let the folks know that, yes, we want to have strong allies, but you don’t come in and kill our people.”
The last question of the evening dealt with gridlock in Washington, and what the candidates would do to create bipartisanship.
Maldonado stressed that change was needed in the Capitol to make that happen.
“When I was a mayor of Santa Maria, potholes weren’t Republican or Democrat — they just needed to be filled,” he said.
Capps said the Republican leadership in the Capitol is responsible for much of the gridlock, but that she would continue to work across the aisle to get things done.
“That’s my style,” she said.
In her closing statement, Capps acknowledged the hard economy that exists for many people.
“We are coming through challenging times, and some of our folks are still struggling,” she said.
Making college more affordable and preserving Medicare would be hallmarks for another term, she said.
Maldonado took a different approach.
“There’s a train coming right at us,” he said, adding that the United States is gathering a staggering amount of debt as it moves toward a fiscal cliff.
“We can change tracks and go in a new direction,” he said. “I hope you give me this opportunity.”