IN HEATED DEBATE, VETS BATTLE FOR 50TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT SEAT

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By Miriam Raftery

Hear audio of the complete debate at the links below. (Note, these may take a few moments to load.)  Or click "read more" and scroll down for details and highlights.

 

October 2, 2014 (Rancho San Diego)—Republican Congressman Duncan D. Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran,  and challenger James Kimber, a former Navy corspman and current physician assistant in neurosurgery, took the stage September 26th at Cuyamaca College in a contentious yet civil debate.  Voters have a clear choice in this race, in which the candidates clashed on nearly every issue. While finding common ground on the importance of fighting terrorism and protecting the backcountry against massive energy projects that threaten rural communities and public safety, the two contenders offered contrasting views on nearly everything else, from budget priorities to climate change to the role of government itself.

Political science professor Carl Luna and Veterans Campaign director Seth Lynn moderated the debate, which was sponsored by Veterans Campaign, a nonpartisan organization that trains veterans to run for public office.  Following opening statements, the debate included questions posed by the moderators in the first half, followed by veterans submitted in writing by the audience during the second half.

The topics were not limited to military and veterans issues, but spanned a wide range of topics, though there were some glaring exclusions. Half the population is female and the candidates have polar opposite views on women’s pay and reproductive rights, for example, yet no question was asked about women’s issues, nor were there any questions on gun rights, gay rights, or any foreign policy issues beyond Iraq and Syria.  Still, the answers were enlightening—and gave voters a wealth of material on which to base their decisions in the November election.

Kimber (photo, right) won a coin toss to open first.  He emphasized his 20 years in the Navy and his family tradition of military and medical service, including is grandfather and father who were both Navy doctors.  Then he stated that like many people, he is frustrated by “the lack of action in Congress.”  He said there are “many issues for San Diego that could be addressed”  but that representatives in Congress have failed to take action.  He said after talking with people around the district and across the aisle, he believes, “We can solve these problems.”

Hunter (photo, left) cited his military experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, then proceeded to blame Democrats for the Congressional stalemate. He noted he was elected in 2008 when Democrats controlled both houses and passed measures from healthcare reforms to the TARP bailout; Republicans have since gained control of the House and passed “hundreds of bills” seeking to make changes.  Hunter laid out his political philosophy. “I believe in freedom for each and every one of us,” he said.  “We can govern ourselves better than the government can govern us.” He added that entrepreneurship is “what makes America great” and likened the debate to “Marine Corps vs. Navy.”

The first question was whether candidates support the Obama administration cuts in defense and how do we make sure we have a strong enough national defense without breaking the budget.

Hunter said we spent $650 billion in the military but half goes for personnel costs, which “take money” from tanks and other weapons. He called for deep cuts in “entitlements” such as Social Security. “You’re not going to have Social Security, you’re not going to have Medicare” if cuts in entitlements are not made, he said, citing a need for funding to combat “a lot of bad people out there” in “a lot of different parts of the world.” He added “You have to have the people but you also have to have the scissors.”  He stated that “If you cut out everything, if you cut absolutely the U.S. military down to zero, if you got rid of the FBI, the Dept. of Energy, the Dept. of Labor, the departments of everything we would still run a deficit in the billions every year due to entitlement spending – due to Medicare, Social Security and Obamacare.”

Kimber agreed some cuts in entitlements are needed, though in an interview later with ECM for KNSJ radio he clarified that he supports protecting Social Security but would support paring back Disability qualifications.  On military spending, he chided Hunter for funding items such as half a billion dollars for “tanks that the Secretary of the Army doesn’t want” as well as a blimp for the Army and other budget items that “would have helped out a lot of veterans who are homeless these days.” He voiced support however for use of unmanned aerial drones and for replacing aging aircraft and  building those items needed to support strong defense for “conflicts of the future” not weapons of the past.

Hunter agreed but said Congress has “no say” anymore. He cited “waste, fraud and abuse” in the Dept. of Defense procurement system. “We do have things like the Predator,” a drone made in San Diego, but “the Air Force didn’t want that….Congress forced the Air Force to have the Predator” he said and voiced support for that system, but added that the cost overruns are in the Pentagon.

Kimber countered by citing “$297 million for a blimp that wasn’t used” but was intended for surveillance. He said the Global Hawk UAV has longer air time and “an Argus camera that from  25,000 feet can read the text on your cell phone. So I don’t know why we’re even looking at projects like that to develop, much less fund.”

The next question cited an Eisenhower quote suggesting everyone should participate in our national military defense, but noted that a shift from the draft to professional, all-volunteer military has led to repeated tours of duty.   He asked whether the move away from a draft has helped, or harmed since most American households have “no skin in the game” and asked whether all Americans should have to do some sort of service.

Kimber noted that less than 15% of Congressional members have served in the military and said those who did, have better perspectives. “We’re going to need more service members. I don’t know that a draft is the right way, though,” he said, adding that he does not support “ forcing people to sign up.” But he acknowledged “we need to build a bigger force if we keep stationing them overseas” in many locations worldwide.

Hunter was also adamant that “No, we don’t need a draft…We have great patriots in the military” who joined for a purpose.  He added that having people who “don’t really want to serve” alongside those who do want to serve would “drag down the entire U.S. military morale.”

The next question asked how we can create jobs for people in the 50th District and get the economy moving again.

Hunter made clear,  “The federal government does not create job…We are supposed to incentivize. The federal government is supposed to get out of the way.” He said the U.S. has the highest corporate tax in the world that is driving corporations to move overseas.  “Unfetter the businesses in this country. Put us on par with the tax rate everywhere else in the world” so that Chinese and Indian companies will want to come here, instead of our companies going over there. “We are the smartest, the most productive and most efficient people in the world. We’ll get the job done, but the government has to get out of the way.”

Kimber said he agreed that government should not tell people how to live their lives or how to solve their problems , but he added pointedly, “I will say that there are industries here within the 50th district that could benefit from someone who will champion them” in Congress. He cited Tessla leaving and wants to be sure that drone manufacturers stay, citing civilian uses. I’d rather see that company stay here and those jobs stay here. You sit on a committee for UAVs,” he said, adding that 43% of UAVs sold are for agriculture and the 50th district is heavily agriculture.  Another example is “solar” that could benefit from federal help. “As a representative you could help champion that.”

Hunter countered, “We’re all for jobs in San Diego. You don’t do that by having one of the highest tax rates in the U.S. in this state.”  He said companies are over-regulated and leaving.”I championed Temecula wine, cut flowers in Fallbrook and Escondido, Avocados from Fallbrook,” he said, adding he has also championed manufacturing locally. But he added, “That’s not the government’ s job.”

Kimber noted that Hunter is co-chair of a wine caucus but added that  Kimber as a citizen met with the heads of the Vintner’s association and a local Supervisor to help them solve a problem. He cited problems facing wineries now after a winery was put out of business due to fines for using volunteers to pick grapes. Some local vineyards may “lose their wineries” because they also rely on volunteers, he said. “I’ve been talking to local leaders. Maybe they could introduce a bill to exempt them..I wonder if you are aware?”

The moderator asked a following question, suggesting that it might be better to say  that government may not be the best place to create jobs, but that sometimes  government can and should have a role to play in job creation.

Hunter disagreed, insisting that government should not create jobs. He called jobs in industries such as shipbuilding “a byproduct” of Defense, adding “we don’t build bridges and roads just to create jobs…that is not lasting economic impact.”  He chided Democrats, drawing boos from some in the crowd.  “They are fake, taxpayer paid for jobs. It’s cheaper if you just give people the money, frankly.”

Kimber responded, “They’re building these tanks just to create jobs. They’ve testified that we have more tanks than we needed.” He argued, “It’s not just the Democrats” spending money just to create jobs.

Education was the next topic.  The moderator noted that in the past students could put themselves through a university with a part-time job. “Is it fair to burden them with massive amounts of public debt to achieve the public good? Is there some way to provide more affordable public education in America for K-14, K-16?”

Kimber said he agreed student debt is insurmountable and that new graduates face loans equivalent to a mortgage. He voiced support for a bill introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren that would reduce the interest rate on student loans. “I work with many students in the district who are trying to get into college or into grad school and some of them are graduating with over $100,000 of debt.” 

Hunter said the government now handles Pell grants and all student loans, which he called “price controls” that stifle the free market. “These universities know, as they raise their fees year after year, the government goes along with it…Why wouldn’t you make education more expensive if you know the taxpayers were going to subsidize it?”   He recalled putting himself through college when SDSU cost just $1200 twice a year.  He said he’s introduced a bipartisan bill called “Know before you go” to educate students on information such as how many people graduated and got jobs in key areas.  “Then you’ll have more kids going where they actually need to go, instead of going to college…You can get a job at the shipyard in NAASCO…for $60,000 welding a year and a half after high school. That’s a pretty good job.”

Kimber asked status of the bill. Hunter replied that it’s in the Democratic controlled Senate “which does nothing whatsoever” drawing applause.   (Fact check: In fact the measure, HR 1937, never reached the Senate; it did not pass committee in the Republican-controlled House.)

Next, the moderator asked, “To achieve energy independence, do you think we should be exploring alternative energies, deregulating restrictions on fracking and more traditional sources of energy, or doing both?”

Hunter responded, “Doing both. But let’s make this easy.  Number one, we should not be doing solar and wind turbines in places where people in the backcountry have to see it every day, where it kills birds, where it stops people from going motorcycle riding, hiking, mountain biking, hunting…You have all of these things as you go east of here, they were done on federal land, they were contracts negotiated into by the federal government and private agencies. You get no say in that. I get no say in that. They could be Spanish companies, Indian companies, they don’t even have to be American companies and that’s what you see when you see those giant wind turbines. So we should use those, but we ought to put them where they ought to be, not where they could burn down for instance Julian or Ramona. And we also don’t stop things like offroading in Plaster City.” He also faulted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and this administration for “stopping new oil exploration” in the U.S. as well as Democrats not passing the Keystone pipeline.  He accused Democrats of wanting gas prices to go up so people would buy more energy efficient light bulbs.

Kimber said, “There are other ways to use the solar within the district. I work at a hospital that was just recently built, Palomar is a billion dollar facility” yet there is no solar.  There are companies ready now that will donate solar through tax credits to nonprofit organizations. He says he has seen solar shade donated by companies to get tax benefits and called for more incentives. “Why isn’t that being done more?”  He shared Hunter’s concerns however over industrialized energy projects in East County.  “I would agree with not putting solar out on a big lot or make it a solar farm” but “why can’t we  do more to encourage commercial people to put this in?”  He also called for more investment in charging stations to incentivize solar cars. “This is the new wave of alternative energy. This is a way to create jobs too because you’re going to need people to install them,connect it to the grid.” As for the XL pipeline, he said “this is not the way to make us energy independent.”

Hunter chided that Kimber should run for Supervisor, not Congress.  “At the federal level, as your representative, it’s my job to say here is all of your hard-earned tax money. I keep hearing why don’t we do this?” He added, “I’m not going to spend your money on charging stations” but that the state, county or city can build charging stations if they wish to do it. “How do you get the electricity for the Tessla someplace?” He asked. “You have emissions no matter where you go unless you go for nuclear. If you want to go green, go nuclear,” he said, adding that the Obama administration opposes nuclear power.

Kimber counted that nuclear poses not only the dangers of a tsunami or earthquake , such as those that led to meltdown of nuclear reactors and vast radioactive contamination in Japan.   “What about waste? Nobody has ever really addressed that…If you understand the half life of radiation, we’re talking over 500,000 years for a half life. Honestly would you want that stored in Alpine or out in Julian? Would you feel safe with that?”

Hunter said we have nuclear power plants in San Diego Bay now.  They’re called Navy ships. Mr. Kimber should know that.” When pressed by Kimber, Hunter said he would not want the waste in Alpine. “I want it in Nevada, where we’ve been putting it.”  (Fact check:  Hunter voted for the  Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act in 2011, which shut down Yucca Mountain, the nation's nuclear waste storage facility in Nevada. Waste from San Onofre's decommissioned nuclear plants remain at the site  due to lack of other storage options.)

The moderator next read polling results showing that the American people have four times more confidence in the military than in Congress, in part due to a view that politics does not function and extreme polarization is contributing to that.   The House is more polarized than it’s been since the 1880s.  He asked what candidates would do to reduce polarization and restore civil dialogue.

Kimber said it’s important to work across the aisle, as military people do. “There has to be a compromise. It can’t just be my way or no way.”  He said he’s met people around the district who he found common ground with after speaking with them, even in opposite parties. 

Hunter said the House passes bipartisan bills “all the time.” He blamed the Senate for not approving House bills.  “If someone has a good idea that is in line with my values then I will work with them. I they don’t, I won’t.”

 Next candidates were asked whether they support repealing, reforming or replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Hunter backs repealing it. He claims Obamacare has made healthcare more expensive and lowered quality of healthcare, making it harder to acceess. The quality will be lower” and “healthcare will be harder to access.” He voiced supposed for competition across  state lines to compete for healthcare. “The market system works. Freedom works. You ought to take that and apply it to healthcare.” He noted that not a single Republican voted for Obamacare. “I am for repealing it, replacing it, and actually getting something that works and is competitive.”

Kimber responded, “Unfortunately, not working in the healthcare field, there’s a lot that you do not understand.” He made clear that “I do support universal healthcare,” which would be more comprehensive than Obamacare.  He agreed that the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is not a perfect system but “free market is not the answer.”  He cited a Washington Post article on a surgeon not in network who charged a patient $117,000 for a surgery that cost $6,000.  

As a healthcare professional practicing neurosurgery, he indicated the Affordable Care Act has helped more people afford access to healthcare. “In the first two months of this year, I’ve seen more patients than I did in the first six months last year. You tell me that the quality is going down? That’s really insulting. There’s nothing changed in quality…Try looking someone in the face who does not have healthcare.” He recalled meeting a Republican while campaigning who works but has no healthcare and can’t afford insurance . “We were able to pull up the Covered California and show him what his cost would be and he was ready to sign up on the stop.” He concedes that Obamacare is not perfect but says more people are being helped than hurt.   Free market is not the answer, he said, then challenged Hunter to come up with something else.

Hunter said free market means hospitals would have to pay all of their costs and analytics; he asked why he paid $30 for surgeon’s gloves when he had surgery. “You don’t think healthcare in Arkansas is cheaper than in California, because we tack on regulation after regulation?” He insisted that more people are losing insurance or have premiums skyrocketing. He said those who are affected the worst are businesses.

Kimber countered by disagreeing with Hunter’s numbers. “I work in the industry and have for the past 30 years. Healthcare should not be a profit driven industry which is why I support universal healthcare.” He noted that both himself and Hunter have served in the military and relied on veterans healthcare, which is universal healthcare. “Medicare is as great system” he said, noting that Medicare is also universal healthcare that runs on 7 cents a dollar versus 20 cents a dollar for the private sector. He wants to see universal healthcare for all Americans.

Next came questions posed by the audience.

Candidates were asked their views on the military conflict with ISIL terrorists in Iraq and Syria, and whether they support air strikes or ground troops. 

 “The short answer is yes I do support the air strikes,” said Kimber. “I understand Mr. Hunter voted against it and I actually understand his reasons  for not wanting to arm rebels who we may need to fight someday with our own weapons and our training. But the question is if we don’t do that, do we just sit back and do nothing?” Kimber voiced support for the President’s strategy of forming international coalitions.  “I do not support putting boots on the ground.” He then challenged Hunter, “What is your solution…because to do nothing, it’s not just going to go away.”

Hunter said he voted not to give support to “Syrian moderates which I would argue don’t exist at all…It takes Americans to train them,” he said, then clarified, “ I am totally for bombing the hell out of ISIS,” to “crush them off the face of the earth” but opposes arming warring factions.  “But the last thing you do when you have a lot of crazy warring factions going at each other is to arm them.”

Kimber clarified that he understands the  need for people to do training but does not support boots or soldiers on the ground for actual fighting.

Hunter stated, “The real threat with ISIS isn’t what is happening over there.  The only way that they can touch us is by coming across our border. They have no Navy. They have no intercontinental missiles with nuclear tips. They have no Air Force.”  He voiced support to “kill them where they are” and strengthen border security to prevent ISIS from attacking us in the homeland. 

Next candidates were asked about undocumented immigrants and whether the southern border should be the primary concern, or whether the U.S. needs to look at those who came here in other ways, overstaying visas and have more checks at people arriving through airports, cruise ships and Canada.

Hunter said the border is still the primary concern but that we also need to looks at thousands who got student or work visas and then disappeared.  He cited concerns over Somalis seeking asylum, noting that San Diego is the number one place in the U.S. for Somalis to gain asylum. He said these security gaps in tourist and travel visas should have been fixed post-911. He also called for implementation of e-verify to make sure everyone working here is a citizen.

Kimber said to Hunter, “I’ve heard you say you won’t think about immigration reform without a secure border,” then asked Hunter why he hasn’t supported HR 2220, a bill sponsored by Republican members that would bolster border security. Kimber said there are many elements in the bill he would support.  He stated that Hunter sits on an immigration committee, which Hunter denied. (Fact check: Hunter is correct; he does not sit on an immigration committee, but does serve on the immigration causes.”

Hunter said he won’t support any bills unless they put border security “first, before amnesty.”

Hunter said “I don’t know what HR 2220 is; if I was prepared for that I could ask you about a whole bunch of things you’re probably not prepared for, too.” He said securing the border would make the immigration issue “go away” by stopping the flow of immigrants over the border. “Security first, then we can work on immigration.”

The moderator posed a follow-up question, asking the candidates’ solution to the problems of immigration.

Kimber said he supports the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).  “We have a lot of people that were brought up here not of our own volition yet they’ve been educated in our schools, they’ve gone to college…why would you want to throw away that investment?  These are people who have shown their passion to be an American.” He voiced support for starting with children who were brought here at an early age and support a pathway to citizenship, but added that solving immigration issues not a single pronged approach. . He noted that the 50th district has a high Latino population and faulted Hunter for not helping these residents.

Hunter stated, “You don’t let some people in line ahead of others” and added that a secure border and e-verify are important to be sure that “you don’t have people here who want to harm Americans…The biggest issue is ISIS,” he said adding that 9-11 showed that “it’s a national security issue.” 

Kimber said he agrees that a secure border and e-verify are needed, but disagreed with Hunter’s contention that immigration would “sort itself out”. He challenged Hunter, “Are you saying people who came here since the age of  5 or 10 years old, who’ve been educated here, should go to the back of the line or back to a country that they don’t even know?”

Hunter retorted that the issue of helping young immigrants should be “debated in Congress” and that the President should not take unilateral action as was done with DACA, which allowed  immigrants who came here at an early age to stay temporarily.

The next question noted that the Iraq situation will have a major impact on the district, perhaps more than anywhere else in the U.S. due to the high population of Iraqi Chaldeans here, then asked candidates their views on what to do about the many refugees seeking safety from ISIL terrorists.

Hunter said that “you have to strike ISIL where it is” and that radical  Islam will be “a threat forever and ever” noting that a radical in Oklalhoma just “chopped off a woman’s head today.” He supports humanitarian aid through the United Nations.  “You have to maintain a presence there,” he said, also voicing support for arming the Kurdish and Peshmerga forces, and said pressure should be put on Turkey to stop providing medical help to ISIL. He opposes arming rebels in Syria, however.

Kimber noted that the question was about refugees.  “We created part of this problem. We need to take responsibility,” he said, citing a bill supported by many local leaders that would lift the cap on how many refugees can come into the country and not be limited to those with immediate family here.

Hunter said he supports legislation by Juan Vargas to raise the asylees cap for Iraqis , Kurds and Syrians “especially for Christians” but added that in the end, “America needs to take care of itself” we need to “help these countries retain their own forces” so that “they can help us someday…instead of the U.S. taking the lead on all these things all the time.”

Candidates were asked about Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation and whether the Fast And Furious investigation will continue.

Kimber said it could but added that this is “beating a dead horse”; while mistakes were made he believes questions have been asked and answered.

Hunter said he’s glad Holder is gone and noted that Fast and Furious was about a dead Border Patrol agent. He voiced support for investigation but said the President will probably bring on “another partisan” so that is unlikely.

On climate change, candidates were asked their reactions to the Pentagon’s conclusion that climate change poses a strategic threat to the United States.

Hunter said bluntly, “The Pentagon needs to pull its head out of the sand” and insisted that climate change is not more dangerous than ISIS or other threats around the globe.  He called the notion “bologna” and said it is driven by ideology.  Hunter added that forcing the military to buy algae fuel is a “waste of money” in his view.

Kimber fired back, “We are wasting money” by not taking steps to curb climate change, citing California’s record drought and the high number of wildfires this year as two examples of problems caused or exacerbated by climate change that are costing a lot of money to deal with.  With state and local firefighting budgets fast becoming drained, help from the federal government to fight firestorms will be costly, he observed.  Kimber grilled Hunter on his denial of global warming impacts, noting that it is also hurting agriculture in a district that has a large agricultural consistency. “Ask the farmers. Ask the Farm Bureau” he said about the impacts.  “I don’t deny that we need a strong defense, but you can’t deny climate change.”

Hunter responded that our region has built reservoirs, dams and next up, a desalinization plant to help alleviate the drought. “But that doesn’t mean the military should spend your money on climate change,” he insisted.

The next question asked candidates their plans to alleviate the drought.

Kimber said he has met with water boards to discuss options such as recycling water, noting that while serving aboard a ship in the military, he relied on recycled drinking water and understands the feasibility. But he added, "I can't make it rain."

Hunter blamed former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for backing environmental policies that impacted water and created “Dust Bowl” conditions in some areas of California. “They care more about Delta smelt than people or farmers,” he said.

The next audience question asked if the candidates view climate change as a serious threat.

Hunter replied that the climate has been changing throughout history but that he does not believe that climate change is caused by man’s activities. He claimed we “live in a relatively cool time” if you look back millions of years before recorded human history.  He cited no sources for this statement, nor for his belief that climate change is not caused or accelerated by fossil fuel emissions created by man.

Kimber, referring to the 98% of the world’s climate scientists who believe global climate change is caused by man’s activities, retorted, “If 98% of doctors say you have a tumor and need brain surgery, you don’t want to listen to the two that don’t.” Further he asked, “What’s wrong with alternative energy?”  Even many skeptics of climate change recognize that alternative energy creates jobs, he pointed out.

Candidates were then asked their views of the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which found campaign finance limits to be a violation of free speech.  The decision allowed virtually unlimited campaign contributions from corporations, labor unions, political action committees (PACs) and other special interests.

Hunter, who the questioner noted takes large contributions from the Defense industry, called Citizens United “the right decision” adding that he believes “people can spend as much money as they want on what they believe in.” He noted that liberals did not object to movie star Leonard DiCapprio spending millions on climate change issues but “when Republicans do that you think it is evil corporations.”  As for how to get the money out of politics, Hunter said it would be nice to have everyone spend as much as they want and “not have it influence politicians.”  He did not clarify how those two seemingly contradictory actions could occur.

Kimber disagreed and said he thinks the high court made the wrong decision in Citizens United.  “It should be a level playing ground,” he said of campaigns, but added that he believes both parties are culpable of influence by special interest money.

Moderator Luna ended by noting that the word politics stems from a Greek work meaning “noble,” and noted that few would refer to politics as noble nowadays. “We’re here to support civil discourse,” added Luna, who several times during the debate asked the audience to refrain from booing and cheering while candidates were speaking.

In closing statements, Hunter told voters, “We control our own destiny.”  He reiterated his view that government should reduce bureaucracy and get out of the way of business by lowering the corporate tax rate and reversing actions taken by the Environmental Protection Agency that he views as burdensome on business.  “The number one job I have as your U.S. Congressman is national security,” he stated. “Immigration, climate change…none of that matters if we get hit again by another 9-11.  He added that national security, transportation and infrastructure are “all that we should be doing, and that government should not be spending money on education or other programs.

Kimber said he agreed that government should not tell citizens how to live their lives, but that he does see a positive role for government to play in fostering positive action.  “There is not an excuse to not address climate change,” he said, also voicing support for healthcare as a right for everyone.  “National security is important, but these other issues are not unimportant,” the challenger told the incumbent Congressman.

Veterans Campaign director Seth Lynn closed by praising both veterans for running and said the organization hopes to see more veterans run in the future, which he believes will foster more civil discourse across America.