Friday, August 17 , 2018, 1:07 am | Fair 69º


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Congressional Candidates Trade Barbs in Campaign’s Only Public Debate

Lois Capps, John Hager and Tom Watson stake out starkly different positions on economy, health care, education and immigration

The battle for the 23rd Congressional District was clear Saturday as a lively debate was held for three candidates fighting to represent it. Hundreds of attendees crowded into an SBCC auditorium, with dozens even sitting in the aisles and on the floor, to watch Democrat Lois Capps, independent John Hager and Republican Tom Watson make their cases for why voters should choose them on Nov. 2.

The face-off was the first, and only, public debate of the campaign.

Capps, the incumbent who has served 12 years in Congress, is a former nurse and educator, and she called on her experience as a selling point for re-election to a seventh term. She touted her role in Wall Street financial reforms, the passage of the health-care bill and her passion for education, adding that she had taught part-time at SBCC years ago.

Hager, an attorney, was next.

“The parties brought us here,” said Hager, adding that the Democratic and Republican parties have been overspending for years.

A recurrent theme in Hager’s responses Saturday was the sway political campaign contributions have had on representatives on both sides of the aisle, and he pointed out to the audience that he hasn’t accepted any.

Watson, a businessman who served in the Navy for 12 years, linked his stances in favor of limited government and lower taxes throughout the debate Saturday.

“We’ve been destroyed from within,” he said, adding that over-regulation has killed more jobs as the economy continues to struggle.

Congress’ role in improving education was the first topic the trio was called upon to answer. According to Hager, the No Child Left Behind Act has caused much of the country’s educational misery, leaving officials too focused on numbers. Keeping children too concentrated on the college track neglects an entire group that could be better served learning a trade, he said.

Capps said Congress’ role in education was an important one, especially to her personally as a former teacher. She also took a swipe at Watson, saying that he wanted to abolish the Education Department. Watson said Capps’ charge was untrue, and that the country was spending a lot of money on education without promising results.

“Why would we defend a system getting such bad results?” he asked, adding that allowing California to spend its educational funds on its own instead of allowing the federal government to allot it would solve many of the problems.

Banks that are “too big to fail,” and what to do about them, were next in the questioning. Hager called it “a problem of our own making” due to inefficient regulation and a concentration of wealth within the biggest banks. Watson echoed similar concerns.

“If you’re too big to fail, you’re too big,” he said, adding that nothing had been done about mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which require ongoing taxpayer bailouts that could reach as high as $259 billion.

Capps recounted the day when then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson asked Congress to approve the first bailout for banks in the last year of the Bush administration.

“I can’t tell you how angry I was,” she told the audience. “I had to do it. ... Every economist said we had to.”

Capps then touted some of the legislation Congress has since passed to deal with the problem, including the creation of the Consumer Protection Agency (Bureau of Consumer Protection).

“We ended ‘too big to fail’,” she said.

But in his rebuttal, Hager maintained that Capps had voted for the very laws that had allowed the financial crisis to occur.

“It was shame that justified that kind of emotional reaction (from Capps),” he said.

Capps pushed back against the accusation, saying that any of her constituents knows she has “no problem standing up to big oil, big banks or big companies.”

Lessening the 23rd District’s environmental impact was the next question, and Watson began, saying that he loves to surf and enjoy the outdoors as much as anyone, but that the regulations and permitting were stifling building in California, as well as jobs. Capps conjured up the emotion of the Gulf oil spill and called for more regulation of oil companies. Creation of green jobs would also be key, she said. Hager touted a reduction of the use of fossil fuels, and said he also opposed offshore drilling in the district.

The candidates were also thrown some meaty questions from the audience. The first asked about ballot measures and state sovereignty over federal regulations in the case of Proposition 19, which would allow people over 21 to grow, use and sell marijuana for medicinal use, in spite of federal prohibition. Hager began, saying that under the supremacy clause of the Constitution, an issue like marijuana should be under state control, while a national issue like immigration should remain under federal control. Watson followed, saying that state ballot propositions were a symptom of overall disease of an unruly legislature not in tune with the electorate. Capps said she supported the state propositions.

“I don’t want the federal government to stand in the way of the progress of the state of California,” she said.

Health-care reform was also brought up, and it was clear that even though the bill has passed, it still remains controversial.

“I don’t feel we’ve been well-represented (on health care),” said Watson, adding that Capps had been unable, or unwilling, to listen to the electorate’s voice on the issue. Capps said she had learned to listen a long time ago, during her time working as a nurse, and that she’s home nearly every weekend from Washington, D.C. As for her constituents, “I have a duty to them all,” she said.

The tone turned ugly when Capps began to recount how insurance would help a little girl named Madeline in her district, and some members of the audience began to boo. The crowd was shushed, and Capps defended her vote to pass the bill, which Democrats pushed through Congress in March. But Watson and Hager pounced, attacking Capps’ vote.

“Do you work for the party leadership or for us?” Watson asked.

Hager took a similar tone, and took issue with Capps’ absence in the district during the health-care talks.

“A representative needs to come back to the district and actually face public scrutiny,” he said.

All three candidates were given five minutes to pose questions and challenge each other at the end of the debate. Capps began, challenging Watson and Hager to share their views on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, as well as on abortion. Hager said he saw no reason to treat people differently because of their sexual orientation. He also said abortion was a “divisive issue,” and not a federal one at that. He compared discussion of the two issues to be like “rearranging chairs on the Titanic,” and asserted that larger issues, like the economy, should take precedence.

Watson spoke next, saying the military doesn’t exist to be a “social laboratory,” and that the military hasn’t weighed in yet on the issue.

Capps disagreed with Hager, saying “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was “clearly a matter of federal concern.” She said she supported its repeal, and also said she was passionate about defending a woman’s right to choose. Capps said she supported immigration reform, as well as the DREAM Act. Hager said he didn’t support a guest worker program because the country doesn’t have a shortage of labor, but a shortage of jobs. Watson said the country needed to know who was entering its borders.

“If businesses were able to hire legally, many problems would solve themselves,” he said.

The candidates will face off again during a forum that will be aired on KEYT-Channel 3 on Thursday.

The SBCC Student Senate, organizers of Saturday’s debate, said Libertarian candidate Darrell Stafford did not respond to an invitation to appear.

Related Articles

» Click here for Rep. Lois Capps’ Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for John Hager’s Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Darrell Stafford’s Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Tom Watson’s Noozhawk Q&A.

» Lois Capps Proudly Runs on Her Record, and Congress’ Accomplishments

» John Hager Touts Independence, and a Laser Focus on Debt, Congressional Priorities

» Darrell Stafford Assails Out-of-Touch Congress, Runaway Deficit

» Tom Watson Says Government Spending Is Nation’s Biggest Concern, Threat

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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