The divide was obvious Friday night as Democratic incumbent Congresswoman Lois Capps and Republican challenger Abel Maldonado squared off in their fight to represent the 24th District.
Health care, job creation, climate change and seismic studies offshore of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant were key topics at a debate attended by more than 250 people at The Tribune, moderated by the League of Women Voters.
Capps has been in the House of Representatives since 1998. However, recent state redistricting has many Republicans hopeful that they might gain an upper hand this election because the balance between conservatives and liberals is now more even in the district.
The 24th District includes Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties and a small part of Ventura County.Capps, a former nurse, stood by the Affordable Care Act but acknowledged that it can be better. “It’s not a perfect law,” Capps said, but added, “I do believe that we should have the right to access health care.”
Maldonado said he favors some aspects of the act, such as allowing youth to stay on their parents’ health policies for longer and extending coverage to seniors with pre-existing conditions, but he said it was a not the right approach.
The bill is gambling with people’s health care, and he therefore does not support large portions of it.
“We have health care for everyone today,” Maldonado said. “It’s called the emergency room. It’s just too expensive.”
Both candidates also stood on opposite sides of what should be done to mitigate climate change.
“Do we have legitimate good science on climate change?” asked Maldonado, a farmer-business owner and former state Assemblyman, senator and lieutenant governor.
“I believe that there is climate change. How much, I just don’t know,” he said.
Capps commended the California Legislature for being at the forefront of legislation with a 2006 Assembly bill designed to fight climate change.
“It is a warning sign that we have had for a very long time that we need to hearken to,” Capps said.
Maldonado, who voted against that bill, said he was against the multitude of regulations being imposed on small businesses.
Maldonado went on to defend small-business owners, particularly in agriculture, who he said now face crippling regulations because of that bill.
“We can’t keep forcing regulations on small-business owners that result in sending jobs to Mexico, Canada and China,” he said. “What are other people doing and why are we footing all the bills here in America?”
Both candidates agreed that the country needs to reinvigorate its economy by making more products in the United States.
Capps said better tariffs regulating what is imported and exported need to be in place.
“We have to start making things in this country again,” Capps said, adding that better vocational education is needed to learn the trades needed to support those jobs.
Maldonado said regulations imposed on business by the federal government have caused the problem.
“They continue to pass all these regulations, making it impossible for businesses here,” he said. Both candidates support seismic studies using loud sound blasts to map earthquake faults off Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant — a contentious issue that some say is needed for safety while others fear it will be harmful to fish and marine animals — but disagree on how to proceed.
Capps said it is best to proceed cautiously to make sure no harm is done to sea life, but that the safety of people living near the plant needed to be the primary focus.
“Let’s do it now,” said Maldonado, noting that PG&E is the largest employer in San Luis Obispo County. Maldonado vowed to not raise taxes, saying that it would foster more uncertainty for businesses.
“What we need to do is grow the economy,” Maldonado said. “We need to lower regulations so people can hire.”Capps said a pledge signed by Republicans in Congress to oppose marginal income tax rates — known as the Norquist Pledge — has resulted in “the most dysfunctional Congress (we’ve) ever had” because it prevented bipartisan solutions.
“The Bush tax cuts expire at the end of the year,” said Capps, who voted to extend them for middle- class Americans and let them expire for the rich.