Democratic and Republican candidates dominate debate
Democratic challenger Francine Busby took to the stage last night to take a few proverbial swings at Republican incumbent Congressman Brian Bilbray for their first and only scheduled debate. A standing room only, bitterly partisan crowd gathered in the Del Norte High School Performing Arts Center in 4S Ranch to see the event and cheer on their candidate. It was a scene more befitting a highly charged college basketball game than a political debate, with only slightly less decorum than a kindergarten classroom.
It was a microcosm of just how sharply divided this county, and country, really are.
Also participating in the debate was Lars Grossmith, the Libertarian candidate running on a platform of abolishing government involvement in schools, all business activity, and advocating for increased gun ownership as a way to reduce crime, and Peace and Freedom Party candidate Miriam Clark, whose professorial history lesson provided the audience with a background on how our current government and political policies came to be.
Busby wasted no time in jabbing at her Republican opponent, chiding him for representing the interests of lobbyist and big business instead of the people who elected him. Throughout the night, she repeatedly brought up the highly controversial Congressional Cigar Association, the lobbying front established by Bilbray that hosts get-togethers for members of Congress and their staffers to mingle with the lobbyists who fund it.
“The Congressional Cigar Association is a betrayal of the trust of the people, and shows the lack of integrity on Mr. Bilbray’s part,” Busby said. “He claims to support small business, yet he voted against tax breaks for small business. He voted against laws to increase lending to small businesses. He voted against financial reform. He voted to loosen restrictions on concealed weapons in school zones.”
Bilbray, for his part, tried to hit at the core issues of the day. “Currently one in ten San Diegans is unemployed. One out of every three dollars spent in Washington is borrowed.”
When queried by moderator Kent Davy, Editor of the North County Times, about the Bush tax cuts, whether to extend them or let them expire, and how they should be paid for if extended, Bilbray stuck to the Republican script: “It won’t be a tax cut, but it will be a tax increase if they expire. We should maintain the rates we have in place.”
“We’re not talking about a revenue problem. We have a spending problem,” Bilbray said. However, Bilbray did not enumerate what cuts he would like to see, and how much it would save, and did not present any plan to pay for them.
“Four tax cuts have created an enormous debt,” Busby began. “We have a growing deficit, and our economy is in a recession.”
The current deficit, she said, was “caused by the wars and the Bush tax cuts.”
Busby voiced her support for the Democrat’s plan to maintain the Bush tax cuts for the middle class, but allow them to expire for the top 2% of earners. “We want infrastructure investments. We want our taxes invested in our communities.”
On the subject of immigration, a particular hot button for Bilbray, and specifically the DREAM Act: “The DREAM Act is a cynical way of running a new amnesty program through. It eliminates all immigration standards, and will further harm the working class.”
Busby, not surprisingly, took a different stance: “Children brought here by immigrants did not commit a crime.” She says she supports the DREAM Act, which provides a path to legal status for those young people who attend a four year college or university for at least two years, or serve two years in the military.
“We must take a comprehensive approach to immigration reform,” Busby said, for which she was loudly booed by the Bilbray supporters in the audience.
She also reminded the audience that Bilbray was a paid lobbyist to the tune of over $300,000 for the anti-immigration organization FAIR, which has been deemed as an anti-immigrant “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And while Bilbray does not support the concept of comprehensive reform, he does tout the implementation of an E-Verify system to aid employers in identifying those workers here legally.
On the subject of campaign finance reform, Bilbray expressed “concern” about the recent Supreme Court ruling on the “Citizens United” case, which for the first time allows corporate interests to put their direct financial support behind a candidate or political cause without requiring the source of the funds to be identified.
“We should require full disclosure in our political campaigns,” Bilbray said. “I was one of the seven members of Congress to work on campaign finance laws.”
Citizens United “undermines our democracy,” Busby said. She then pointed out that Bilbray chose not to vote for campaign finance disclosure. “Mr. Bilbray opened the back door for lobbyists to come in” and influence our political system, referring to Bilbray’s Congressional Cigar Association. “Is your member of Congress voting for you?”
Davy, the moderator, then turned to the topic of jobs and the economy, saying that the stimulus bill did not deliver many jobs.
“I’m glad you pointed out that the stimulus didn’t work,” Bilbray answered. “Of the stimulus, only 3 ½ % went to roads. But here’s where we can work together: There is $1 trillion in private capital overseas that is waiting to be invested. We need do everything we can to bring that money here to the U.S.”
“The purpose of the stimulus bill was to stop us from falling into another Great Depression, and for that IT WORKED!” declared Busby. “There is $37 billion in federal funding here in San Diego County, and that creates jobs.”
“There is a clear decision for voters to make. Mrs. Busby wants Washington to have tax money more than she wants San Diegans to have jobs,” Bilbray jabbed.
Mr. Bilbray “talks a lot about jobs and spending, but he voted against small business tax cuts, and he voted against greater access to loans,” Busby countered.
On the subject of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the government’s role in single sex marriage, Bilbray said he voted against pushing it (DADT) aside. “We have to let the military complete its study on the effects of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. We have to let them decide what’s in their best interests.”
“Government has historically been involved in defining marriage in order to protect the children who are perceived to be the issue. Utah statehood was held up over the definition of marriage.”
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is about the Constitution. We need to let people serve their country who want to serve. Tens of thousands of LGBT have served with honor, dignity, and courage, and then have been asked to leave,” Busby said. “We demand equal rights in this country, and Congress has no business legislating against gay marriage.”
“We must respect individual and personal rights. People should be able to serve in the military and live with who they want,” she continued.
On gun control, Bilbray lamented the fact that the First Amendment is given so much reverence, but the Second Amendment is not treated with the same weight. “We need to be able to protect our children. My stance on gun rights is a good example of why law enforcement has so strongly endorsed me.”
“I respect the Second Amendment,” Busby told the audience. “But we must have certain restrictions. There should be no concealed weapons allowed in school zones. And there’s no reason for us to allow assault weapons on our streets.” The Founding Fathers, Busby pointed out, did not have assault weapons whose sole purpose is to kill many people in a short amount of time in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment.
Busby repeatedly reminded the audience of San Diego County’s position to become a key player in the race to develop clean energy, and her desire to promote San Diego as the hub for clean tech/bio tech development, while pointing to the Koch brothers, owners of the largest privately owned oil company in the country, who have thrown their support behind Bilbray.
On health care reform, Bilbray chided Democrats in Congress for pushing through a bill without knowing what is in the bill. “We need to bring back the entire bill to the floor, and expose it so that everyone can see what’s in it,” he said. “And we need to empower individuals to buy insurance policies across state lines.” (Which the health care bill does, while defining the minimum levels of coverage to be provided.) “The CBO,” Bilbray continued, “calls this bill a major expense.”
“The goal is to have everyone have access to affordable, quality health care in this country. And we’ve taken the first step toward that goal.” The health care bill is not perfect, Busby said, but it certainly points us in the right direction.
It was a highly contentious evening that appeared to further entrench both sides behind their candidates. And the contrast between the two sides could not have been more clear, particularly at the mention of off-shore drilling in California, which the Republican partisans and Bilbray supporters cheered, and Busby and her supporters vehemently oppose.
The debate served to settle very little. There was very little agreement between the two sides, and the contrasts could not have been more distinct. One thing was very apparent to those in attendance: Passions are running very high this election season, and there is a lot at stake for San Diego County and the United States a whole.