POLITICAL LEADERS PARRY QUESTIONS, TRADE BARBS AT POLITICS IN PARADISE

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By Miriam Raftery

 

August 25, 2011 (Rancho San Diego) – The weather was sultry and the political discourse even hotter at Politics in Paradise last Friday night, hosted by the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce in the Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College.

 

 Congressmembers Bob Filner and Duncan Hunter, Assemblyman Brian Jones and former Senator Denise Ducheny fielded questions on a broad range of issues, from jobs and healthcare to a new stadium for the Chargers. The evening yielded insights, humor, and surprises.

 

Congressman Bob Filner (D-San Diego) quipped that in the recent debt ceiling debate, Congress has become “so dysfunctional that Duncan and I ended up voting the same way.”

 

Filner is not seeking reelection to Congress--but  is running for Mayor of San Diego instead. His conservative nemesis, Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), jested in return, “I’m his first Republican endorsement for Mayor. Anything to get him out of Congress!”

 

Hunter and Filner agreed that the short-term debt ceiling bill didn’t cut the debt enough. Both disapprove of the “Super Congress” committee now tasked with coming up with a longer-term solution to the national debt. But they disagreed on just about everything else.
 

Hunter voiced concerns over potentially drastic cuts in military spending that could heavily impact the Navy. “The U.S. is a superpower because we control very ocean,” he said. “If we cut $1 trillion from defense, in a decade we could see the American role decline.” He favors cuts in domestic spending instead, such as Social Security and Medicare, programs he refers to as “entitlements.”
 

Filner warned that budget cuts will have serious impacts on East County businesses and individuals. “I have a different solution,” he said. “End the wars. Get us out of Afghanistan and Iraq.” He asked the audience, “How many here paid into Social Security?” When most hands shot up, he observed, “It’s not an entitlement…People worked their whole lives. They paid into Social Security and they deserve it.” He also voiced support for Medicare.
 

Filner described his chief aims: “Jobs, jobs, jobs.” He called for restoring confidence to the American people to bring back jobs and noted that businesses need confidence to bolster the economy. “We can do this as a people.”
 

Hunter slammed what he called a “spending spree by Democrats” that included stimulus funds and quipped, “My jobs plan is to get President Obama out of office.”
 

An audience question asked both federal and state legislators how government could work with colleges and universities to provide more affordable healthcare.
 

Assemblyman Jones said the medical industry is “over regulated.” He added, “Doctors are told who to see, what to charge. If it gets back to the free market, the system will work.”

 

Rep. Hunter, who has opposed federal healthcare reforms passed by the Obama administration and has also called for less regulation, suggested that nursing students at Grossmont College could give back to the community.
 

Rep. Filner retorted sarcastically, “Just what this country needs—more profits by insurance companies and HMOs. Has care gone up as profits have gone up?” he asked, adding that he favors more regulation of health insurance companies to protect consumers. Filner also invited college presidents to “give us more ideas,” then praised community colleges for training paramedics and other healthcare professionals, adding, “We should support them more.”

 

Ducheny said she is a “big believer” in community clinics. She faulted budget cuts for forcing closure of programs such as adult day care centers, noting that such centers save money in the long run by preventing elderly patients from having to go into long-term care facilities. She also noted that “When I was on a college Board, we got together and had one healthcare plan for everyone to save money.”
 

Jones, a Republican, and Ducheny, a former Democratic State Senator named as possible candidate for the seat being vacated by Filner, spoke extensively on the state budget situation.
 

“Sacramento is not just broke. It’s broken,” said Jones. He added that he is spending time “trying to educate the ruling party how to balance the budget without raising taxes.” He criticized the budget passed by Democrats for relying on a “phantom $4 billion” in projected revenues based on early increases in tax revenues early this year. “I don’t know if the tooth fairy is going to bring it,” he said, adding that if the revenues don’t materialize there will be even deeper cuts to schools and other programs.

 

Jones has opposed all tax increases or closing of tax loopholes, instead favoring deeper cuts to balance the budget. He also called for cutting regulation on businesses to spur job creation, noting that California has over 12% unemployment with 2.5 million people out of work.

 

The current state budget is smaller than the budget was back in 1985 under Republican Governor Pete Wilson, said Ducheny, who served in the Legislature back then and has chaired a budget committee. Since leaving the Legislature due to term limits, she has been reviewing unemployment cases and seeing the struggles facing small businesses, she said. Ducheny told the audience that the key issue is “how do we grow businesses and still have quality of life? People have to get real about what things cost.”
 

Virtually the entire state budget goes for five things: K-12 education, higher education, health and human services, prisons, and matching federal funds, Ducheny explained. “Waste, fraud and abuse? It’s just not there,” she said, noting that many deep cuts have already been made—“and not all of them are good.” Cutting childcare programs and training programs, for example, can undermine getting people off welfare, ultimately costing the state more money.
 

Ducheny predicts the revenue projections won’t be met and “triggers will happen,” meaning even more cuts lie ahead. She sharply criticized Republicans for refusing to approve any new revenues, not even closing tax loopholes. “Restoring taxes to the level they were in 1999 is not new taxes,” she said. “When people won’t do that, you negotiate to the lowest common demoninator.”
 

“In this state we have lots of wealthy people,” she said, adding that many more are earning less than a living wage. She noted that some wealthy individuals such as billionaire Warren buffet actually want to pay for roads and higher education.”
 

Candidates also clashed on education issues. Ducheny expressed concerns over cuts in education but views state revenue increases as the solution; she opposes parcel taxes.
 

Hunter opposes more spending for education. “The more we spend on education, there is an inverse relationship to quality of education,” he said. Hunter, a supporter of vouchers, added, “If I want to send my kid to private school, I should be able to do so.”
 

Filner quiopped, “I don ‘t want to send my kid to Afghanistan!”
 

An audience question asked both federal and state legislators how government could work with colleges and universities to provide more affordable healthcare.

Assemblyman Jones said the medical industry is “over regulated.” He added, “Doctors are told who to see, what to charge. If it gets back to the free market, the system will work.”

 

Rep. Hunter, who has opposed federal healthcare reforms passed by the Obama administration and has also called for less regulation, suggested that nursing students at Grossmont College could give back to the community.
 

Rep. Filner retorted sarcastically, “Just what this country needs—more profits by insurance companies and HMOs. Has care gone up as profits have gone up?” he asked, adding that he favors more regulation of health insurance companies to protect consumers. Filner also invited college presidents to “give us more ideas,” then praised community colleges for training paramedics and other healthcare professionals, adding, “We should support them more.”

Ducheny said she is a “big believer” in community clinics. She faulted budget cuts for forcing closure of programs such as adult day care centers, noting that such centers save money in the long run by preventing elderly patients from having to go into long-term care facilities. She also noted that “When I was on a college Board, we got together and had one healthcare plan for everyone to save money.”
 

Officials were asked what they have done to cut government spending.

Jones, who sits on a committee overseeing parks and water resources, said his committee axed a proposal for 600 new state workers.
 

Ducheny said when she was in the Legislature, representing the southeast portions of San Diego County, she rejected “lots of positions and proposals.” She said existing programs should be examined to see if some may no longer be needed.
 

Hunter praised Congress for cutting spending. “For the first time ever, we will reduce spending in the same amount we raise the debt ceiling.”
 

Filner said he has saved money for taxpayers when he served on a local school board and Board of Education, where he eliminated middle levels of bureaucracy to save money, as well as through various measures in Congress. But he added, “We need to look at this differently. When we invest in education, we save money on prisons. When we invest in alternative energy, we save money on fossil fuels. If we invest in preventative healthcare, we save money on healthcare.”
 

He faulted President Barack Obama for approving certain budget cuts. “When you cut health research, what are you doing?” he asked. “When you cut education, what are you doing?”
 

Officials were also asked their view on a local issue: whether they would support a tax to support stadium subsidies for the Chargers.
 

Rep. Hunter replied, “I would pay a tax to keep the Chargers.”
 

Rep. Filner responded, “Holy mackerel! Duncan Hunter is for a tax and Bob Filner is against it!” Filner said that instead, San Diego should “try to keep the Chargers, but try to negotiate like the private sector.” Teams have a monopoly, he noted, which would prevent another team from being brought in. But he added, “If we keep the Chargers, I want a share of the profits. If we pay for infrastructure, then the City should get a share of that.” The Mayoral candidate added, “I would be a tough negotiator.”
 

Jones said he agreed with Filner, but would prefer to see “private sector, private enterprise—and keep the City out of it.”
 

Filner voiced his opinion on the Republican Presidential Primary. “No new Texans,” he quipped, a reference to polls showing Texas Gov. Rick Parry currently in the lead over other GOP candidates.
 

The evening began with a reception followed by comics from National Comedy Theatre leading off the evening’s entertainment with improv comedy routines including audience members coaxed to get into the act. Though amusing, the lengthy humor presentation cut into time allotted for the political panel, resulting in fewer audience questions fielded this year than last.