In an otherwise substantive debate Thursday night that highlighted their clear policy differences, Democrat Salud Carbajal and Republican Justin Fareed often dove into bitter territory by questioning each other’s integrity, and the night ended with Fareed saying he couldn’t think of one thing he admired about his opponent.
The two are running for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, in the 24th Congressional District — a district that came within 3 percentage points of going to a Republican two years ago.
The debate at Cal Poly’s Spanos Theatre was hosted by KSBY-TV and moderated by anchor Carina Corral, who kept the candidates on track as they wrangled over topics such as income inequality, desalination, offshore oil drilling, gun control, immigration and reproductive rights. As in previous debates, the candidates found few areas of common ground.
In his opening remarks, Fareed, 28, described himself as a Central Coast native who spent a year in Washington, D.C., as a legislative aide and found “a lot of empty rhetoric from career politicians” instead of solutions to problems. The Goleta resident is vice president of his parents’ business, ProBand Sports Industries, and says he works at his family’s ranch in Kern County.
Carbajal, 51, a Santa Barbara County supervisor, is a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve who immigrated to the United States from Mexico at age 5. He described himself as a public servant who has a record of working across the political aisle with his Republican colleagues on the county board.
Asked what challenges the district faces, Carbajal said income inequality is an underlying issue that affects families’ abilities to live on the Central Coast or to attend Cal Poly. But Carbajal also listed reducing student debt, blocking offshore oil drilling, mitigating climate change and implementing reasonable gun control — such as prohibiting assault rifles — as district issues.
“I served in the Marine Corps,” Carbajal said. “I know what those types of weapons (can) do in our communities.”
“Well, I heard a lot of talking points there and political rhetoric and not actual solutions to the problems we’re facing,” he said, listing the drought as the largest issue facing Central Coast voters.
Fareed suggested promoting public-private partnerships to streamline construction of seawater desalination plants in communities that need them.
My opponent touts his experience in running for Congress as playing football, as demonstrated in one of his commercials, and working for one year for a disgraced member of Congress.
Then Fareed lampooned Carbajal’s statement about income inequality, claiming that Carbajal contributed to it.
“My opponent has been in county office and politics for 12 years and ... we’ve seen the largest growth in income inequality in Santa Barbara County during this time,” Fareed said. “It’s strangling the middle class with jobs and businesses moving out of the economy.”
The gloves came off when Carbajal was allowed to respond.
“My opponent touts his experience in running for Congress as playing football, as demonstrated in one of his commercials, and working for one year for a disgraced member of Congress,” Carbajal said. “I certainly hope you can do better, Mr. Fareed.”
Carbajal was referring to U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., Fareed’s former employer, who resigned recently after a House Ethics Committee investigation found that he broke House rules by giving his lobbyist wife special access to his staff about a bill. The committee didn’t sanction Whitfield after determining the error was unintentional.
Fareed later denied that Whitfield resigned because of the ethics investigation.
“That’s absurd,” Fareed said. “He was removed from the ... ethics charge and was granted the ability to move away from that. So there was no actual penalty there.”
Asked whether they believe climate change is man-made, Carbajal said global warming “has been created, exacerbated because of human beings and our vehicles and industries that produce (harmful) emissions and greenhouse gases.”
As a member of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Task Force, Carbajal added, he helped develop recommendations on how best to mitigate the causes and effects of climate change.
Fareed said climate change is “something I’m very passionate about.” He said the United States is the world leader in technology innovation that can help move toward better energy efficiency and decrease consumption. That innovation, he said, will happen “in time.”
Asked again by Corral whether he believes climate change is man-made, Fareed replied, “I believe there are multiple different factors that contribute to it, you know? Absolutely.”
My opponent has been in county office and politics for 12 years and ...we’ve seen the largest growth in income inequality in Santa Barbara County during this time. It’s strangling the middle class with jobs and businesses moving out of the economy.
On a question about offshore oil leaks and cleanup, Fareed claimed that Carbajal voted in favor of offshore oil drilling in 2008, a vote Carbajal claimed was in favor of sunsetting oil drilling off the Central Coast. That project was later denied anyway by the State Lands Commission.
“I will tell you, I am against offshore oil drilling and fracking,” said Carbajal, using a term for hydraulic fracturing and adding that Fareed’s campaign “received an inordinate amount of money from the Greka oil company, one of the biggest polluters that we’ve had in Santa Barbara County.”
In a moment that echoed Wednesday’s presidential debate, a seething Fareed said: “You also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, you and your puppet masters in Washington, D.C., and the super PACs to deceive the public and to make this race about Donald Trump.”
He referred to ads paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that claim Fareed supports Trump’s views on women and attacks on Planned Parenthood.
On the subject of marriage equality, both candidates seemed in agreement that “everyone should be equal under the law.” On reproductive rights, Carbajal said he was “100 percent pro-choice” while Fareed called abortion a “deeply personal decision” and said that the federal government “should stay out of this.” Pressed by Corral, Fareed said he’s “staying out of it.”
“It’s the law of the land, and that’s the way it should be,” he said.
The candidates were asked whether they support gender-neutral restrooms — single-toilet bathrooms available to one person of any gender at a time — in schools. Carbajal said he did, while Fareed replied, “Everyone should have their own bathroom stall, absolutely.”
The candidates split mostly along their own party’s platform on issues such as the Affordable Care Act, national security, gun control and immigration reform. Fareed, however, said Congress’ inability to pass immigration reform shows the need for what he called “single-subject” legislation in order to streamline the bill-writing process and “reduce partisan banter.”
Corral ended the live TV broadcast of the debate by asking each candidate whether they could name one quality he admired about the other.
Carbajal said he admired Fareed’s “confidence to run for Congress not once but twice.”
Fareed responded: “Sounds like a whole lot of nonsense to me. The answer’s no, I can’t.”