In an often testy debate Sunday hosted by KEYT-TV, Republican Justin Fareed attempted to paint opponent Salud Carbajal as an ineffective career politician supported by the Democratic establishment while Carbajal characterized Fareed as an inexperienced Donald Trump supporter lacking in public service credentials.
The candidates are vying for the 24th District congressional seat being vacated by Democrat Lois Capps, in a race that has become one of the most expensive in the country as both political parties battle for control of the House.
The candidates sparred over topics such as offshore oil drilling, the future of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, defunding Planned Parenthood, sexual assault on campuses, campaign donations and more. Their answers held a few surprises.
The candidates began by introducing themselves. Fareed, who is 28 and from Santa Barbara, said he grew up helping his parents in their business, ProBand Sports Industries, and is now vice president. His mother’s family has ranched in Kern County for three generations, and Fareed also lists his occupation as a rancher.
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“I saw the dysfunction in Congress firsthand,” Fareed said. “The fact of the matter is we need to get Congress working again for the American people and for the future of this country, and that comes through reform.”
Carbajal, 51, a Santa Barbara County supervisor, said his family came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 5. His father worked first as a miner in Arizona and then as a farmworker in Oxnard. Carbajal and his brothers also worked the fields in the summer.
He was the first in his family to graduate from college when he earned a degree at UC Santa Barbara, where he also met his wife and joined the Marine Corps Reserve.
He worked for several county and nonprofit agencies before being elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2004.
“I’m proud of the work that I have done with my colleagues in a bipartisan way,” he said. “I know what it’s like to struggle. I want to run for Congress to make sure that I take that same bipartisan framework to try to find common ground to move forward to find solutions that will improve the lives of working, middle-class families here on the Central Coast,” he said.
Asked about oil drilling and fracking off the Central Coast, Carbajal said he doesn’t support either.
“The best thing we can do for our economy,” he said, “is to move to a renewable energy economy, one that brings about new employment sectors.”
Fareed said, “I’m very practical with this. I believe we need to move to a decarbonized future, but until that is widely accepted and accessible, we have to have a balanced approach.”
Fareed called the Plains All American Pipeline rupture at Refugio Beach “a clear example of bureaucracy at its finest” and said the industry should be regulated locally.
Next, Fareed was asked whether Donald Trump was temperamentally suited to be commander in chief.
Fareed avoided the question, saying he believes in constitutional checks and balances and that Congress has relinquished its governing power in favor of politics.
Carbajal was asked if he agreed with the comment Hillary Clinton made in her Wall Street speeches released by WikiLeaks that politicians have separate private and public positions — and was that why in a private conversation he called Lompoc the “armpit” of the Central Coast.
“I apologize for the comment I made. It was taken out of context,” Carbajal responded, adding that he has supported programs to benefit Lompoc over the years. He also praised Clinton — and then lambasted Fareed for supporting Trump when he made “degrading comments” about women, veterans, minorities and the disabled.
The rhetoric he uses, Mr. Carbajal, is a distraction from the reality of the circumstances that affect us here on the Central Coast and our responsibility in the governing body in the United States Congress.
After an Access Hollywood video was released earlier this month showing Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, Fareed’s campaign said he no longer supported Trump.
Carbajal said, “He could move away from Donald Trump because Donald Trump’s ship is sinking, but he’s not doing it out of principle. He’s doing it out of expediency to save his campaign.”
Fareed responded angrily, criticizing Carbajal for trying “to make this election about the presidential election.”
“The rhetoric he uses, Mr. Carbajal, is a distraction from the reality of the circumstances that affect us here on the Central Coast and our responsibility in the governing body in the United States Congress.”
The candidates did find some common ground, however. Both said they support Proposition 64, which would legalize recreational marijuana; both support reforms to allow refinancing of student loans; and both, surprisingly, found commonality over abortion.
On continued federal funding of Planned Parenthood — which Republicans have sought to cut — Carbajal was unequivocal in his support. He added that he is “100 percent pro-choice” and hopes a new Supreme Court will uphold legislation reinforcing Roe v. Wade.
Fareed said federal funding to all agencies needs oversight, but he supported Planned Parenthood cancer screenings and preventive health care programs that “improves people’s lives.”
He went on to say that abortion “is a deeply personal decision” between a woman, her doctor, her family and her clergyman.
“This is a personal decision and something I believe politicians need to stay out of.”
On immigration: Carbajal called for comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship to “bring people out of the shadows and allow them to continue to be constructive contributors to our economy.”
Fareed said comprehensive immigration reform amounted to “talking points and platitudes you often hear politicians use.”
In a term he used several times during the debate, Fareed called for a House rule requiring simple “single subject” legislation. That way, each bill would separately address issues such as entry-exit visas, guest worker programs and “strengthening” the border, he said.
On sexual assault on college campuses, Fareed championed a new federal law, the Sexual Assault Survivors Rights Act — which he called the “survivors’ bill of rights” — that requires survivors to have a free rape kit exam offered and results put into a national database, among other protections.
Carbajal said the bill was “symbolic legislation” and called for holding college administrations accountable for campus assaults.
“The fact that we don’t hold administrators responsible is appalling,” he said.
On Diablo Canyon, Carbajal and Fareed agreed the plant’s water desalination facility could be converted to benefit the public.
Carbajal said the federal government has a threefold responsibility: to ensure spent fuel rods are safely stored at the site, to provide workforce retraining resources and to make sure PG&E lives up to its financial and environmental agreements related to the closure by 2025.
“We don’t want to look 10 years from now and not have the right programs to ensure the economy of San Luis Obispo is not further damaged,” he said.
Fareed said the closure of a resource that provides jobs and clean energy was “unfortunate.” He also called for workforce training that would transition employees into other well-paying jobs.
The candidates jabbed each other several times over both money and experience, particularly when the format allowed them to question each other.
Carbajal asked Fareed how he could support the Central Coast environment when he accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil and coal industry.”
Fareed called the question “categorically false.”
You know, Mr. Fareed, when I was your age, I was serving in the Marine Corps, I was paying my way through school, I was trying to get by making things work for my family and being involved in public service.
“My campaign committee has not” taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from those companies, he said.
Technically, Fareed was correct. His campaign received $5,000 from Murray Energy Corp., the largest coal-mining company in the country, and $2,700 from CEO Robert Murray — the maximum amounts allowable under federal law.
The Murray Energy Group, however, also gave at least $40,000 to the Citizen Super PAC, which paid for Fareed ads, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Fareed also was asked by one of the debate panelists, Jerry Roberts of Calbuzz.com, about a $10,000 contribution from the CEO of Greka oil and gas company, “which has the worst environmental record in Santa Barbara County.” Roberts quoted the Los Angeles Times in saying that 80 percent of Fareed’s campaign donations came from out of the district.
“That statistic doesn’t reflect that we have more in-district supporters than out of the district,” Fareed said.
He noted that the donation came from Greka CEO Randeep Grewal and his wife, who Fareed said he met “in the agricultural arena.”
He added that he believed the company hasn’t had any oil spills since 2010, which predates his launch into politics.
“I’m here to support the agricultural community, among others,” Fareed said.
Carbajal was asked about the $3 million his campaign has raised, much of it from Democratic party sources, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the House Majority PAC.
Carbajal said he’s a proponent of campaign finance reform. “There’s too much money in politics,” he said, and added that he hoped the Supreme Court would revisit the Citizens United decision that allows corporations and unions unlimited ability to campaign for or against candidates.
Politician vs. newcomer
A question Fareed asked Carbajal probably encapsulated their strategies to paint each other as a career politician versus an inexperienced newcomer.
Fareed asked Carbajal what he would do differently in Congress to address income inequality and jobs leaving Santa Barbara County during what he said were Carbajal’s 24 years in county government.
Fareed cast Carbajal as a Democratic insider supported by Capps and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Carbajal countered that he was proud of his public service, including serving in the Marine Corps and 12 years on the Board of Supervisors, where he said he addressed income inequality through housing, mental health services and programs for children and seniors.
“I will do the same thing I’ve done locally, in Washington.”
And then Carbajal dug in:
“You know, Mr. Fareed, when I was your age, I was serving in the Marine Corps. I was paying my way through school. I was trying to get by making things work for my family and being involved in public service.”
The candidates will meet again at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Cal Poly in a debate hosted by KSBY.