Most of the candidates vying for California’s 33rd Congressional District seat were on hand Saturday to endorse themselves, slam each other, and discuss policy in an unusually formatted Internet debate hosted by moderator Cenk Uygur and the Young Turks, an online news show.
Some candidates were notably absent from the debate; Democrats Wendy Greuel and Ted Lieu and Republican Lilli Gilani didn’t participate, and Uygur told the audience just before the debate began that Brent Roske, the Independent TV producer, had just dropped out and endorsed Marianne Williamson.
Due to the sheer number of candidates debating, the Young Turks adopted an unorthodox strategy in their presentation: the debate was split into three hour-long segments, each featuring a different group of candidates. The first segment featured the Republican Kevin Mottus; Democrat Zein Obagi, Jr.; and the popular Independent Marianne Williamson. The second segment featured Democrats Kristie Holmes, David Kanuth, and Vince Flaherty; and Libertarian candidate Mark Matthew Herd. The last segment included Democrats Matt Miller and Barbara Mulvaney, Independent Tom Fox, Green Party candidate Michael Ian Sachs, and Republican Elan Carr.
After brief opening statements, all three groups were asked the same five key questions, although the follow-ups in each segment were different. The five questions explored, in order, each candidate’s number one campaign priority; his or her opinion of Obama’s presidency thus far; their views on California’s transportation problems; their foreign policy ideas; and finally, each candidate’s position on campaign finance reform. Each candidate then had sixty seconds for a closing statement.
The debate’s tone turned confrontational early in the first segment, when Williamson slammed several of Kevin Mottus’ transportation policy ideas as “naive”; Mottus, in turn, called Williamson naive for her proposal of a constitutional amendment aimed at reforming campaign finance law. Williamson, who said in her opening remarks that campaign finance reform is her first priority, asserted in the debate that a constitutional amendment would be the only way to significantly change campaign finance practice.
Democrat Vince Flaherty also listed campaign finance reform as his top priority; for Carr and Kanuth it was education; for Fox, Miller, and Holmes it was the economy. Barbara Mulvaney said her top priority is the environment, while Obagi said providing immigrants with a pathway to success was tops on his list. Mottus said he is running on transportation issues and removing the dangers of radio-frequency radiation caused by mobile technology.
In his opening statement, Miller took a swipe at Wendy Greuel and Ted Lieu: he said it was nice to participate in a forum where candidates have to answer tough questions, and questioned both candidates’ reasons for not appearing.
Next came the candidates’ opinion of the President’s tenure; most candidates said there was a mix of good and bad in Obama’s presidency to this point, although Libertarian candidate Mark Matthew Herd said, “Are you kidding me? This guy’s gotta go and he can’t go any sooner. We gotta have a President that doesn’t lie about [the ACA].”
Kristie Holmes said she was disappointed with the President’s lack of progress on immigration reform, saying Obama has deported more people than Bush did. “I want to see more humanity in the process,” she said.
In his transportation questions, the moderator asked each candidate whether they supported the $68 billion high-speed rail currently being built in California. Most candidates indicated their support of the project, but almost all supporters noted they would have to revisit their support in light of recent reports of rising costs. Carr, Kanuth, Holmes, and Herd all mentioned in some form that they do not support the project.
On the question of Iran, almost all of the candidates had the same ideas; Uygur asked each candidate whether military options would be on the table if Iran refused to stop their uranium enrichment program. Each indicated that military options would necessarily be considered last, although Elan Carr stood tough on the question: “We must maintain a real, credible, threat of force to deter Iran.” Williamson said we “shouldn’t even have the idea of [military intervention] in our minds,” calling the Iranian people “our friends,” and noting that the President’s sanctions plan on Iran is plenty tough.
During the questions on campaign finance reform, Mark Matthew Herd issued a challenge to the other candidates; he dared everyone in the race not to raise any more money for their campaigns. When Uygur followed up and asked the candidates whether they’d accept Herd’s challenge, Holmes and Flaherty explained they’re already running on very little money; Kanuth said the way to lessen money’s impact on politics is to have an engaged electorate, but ultimately turned down Herd’s challenge.
Williamson and Obagi said early on that public financing of elections is necessary in the fight for campaign finance reform; Fox, Carr, Sachs, and a few others said transparency was the key to the election process. Mostly, the candidates with little campaign money slammed those with large money stashes, as the well-funded candidates tried to downplay their fundraising success.
In the last segment, Uygur asked some of the candidates directly if they would legalize marijuana. Tom Fox and Barbara Mulvaney said yes; Miller said he would adopt a wait-and-see approach, looking for how Colorado and Washington handled their legalization of the drug; while Elan Carr adamantly rejected legalization, saying his experience as a prosecutor taught him that marijuana can “sap people of their ambition.”
In their closing statements, many candidates mentioned their websites and asked for votes. Tom Fox noted this would be an important election, and made an appeal to millennials to get involved in the process. Miller hit Greuel and Lieu again before claiming he has the necessary qualifications to “shake up” the status quo in Washington, while Carr said that Washington has “descended into total dysfunction” and deserves solutions instead of hyper-partisanship. Obagi claimed to be the young successor Waxman would endorse, while Williamson reiterated the need for a pro-democracy movement in America. Herd spoke the only curse-word in the debate and provided a laugh when he said if voters don’t want the same old “bullshit” they should vote for him.
The California primary will be held on June 3rd.