By Elizabeth Marie Himchack
Amid frequent bursts of loud cheers and boos, the four candidates in the 50th Congressional race debated issues such as the economy, war in Afghanistan, tax cuts and health care on Monday night.
The Nov. 2 race’s only debate — hosted at Del Norte High in 4S Ranch by San Diego North Chamber of Commerce — also featured questions on ethics, immigration, “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” single-sex marriage, gun control and climate.
Democrat Francine Busby, Republican incumbent Congressman Brian Bilbray, Libertarian Lars Grossmith, and Peace and Freedom candidate Miriam Clark voiced their stances on the issues for about 90 minutes in front of an audience of about 300.
While the long-shot candidates tried to encourage voters to break away from the two major parties and make history through their election, the night clearly belonged to Busby and Bilbray, whose camps of supporters frequently interrupted the debate.
The two threw frequent, heated jabs at each other, starting when Busby, a 59-year-old Cardiff-by-the-Sea resident and small-business owner, said she would bring “honesty, diligence and integrity” to Washington, which she said Bilbray does not do.
In her opening statement, Busby accused Bilbray of voting against small-business owners by not supporting tax breaks and increased access to loans, and “betraying the trust” of his constituents.
Bilbray countered by saying he opposes politicians’ habit of “talking trash and attacking each other,” due to partisan bickering and touted his years of experience in Washington. The 59-year-old Carlsbad resident has representing the 50th District since 2006 and from 1995-2001 the 49th Congressional District.
He later said those who do not believe they are taxed enough, who support the recent health-care legislation and think there are enough jobs in San Diego should vote for Busby, but if they “want to improve the process ... (believe) a strong economy is the best way to provide health care, good jobs ... and a bright future,” then vote for him.
Bilbray spoke against the recent health-care legislation, saying he wants the bill re-voted on after all have an opportunity to read it and add provisions that allow for purchasing health insurance across state lines.
“This country has finally taken the first step (in solving) a systemic health-care problem,” Busby said, adding the changes will “increase efficiency, add preventative (care), streamline (the system) and cut costs.” She added, “The people of this country deserve quality, affordable health care.”
Grossmith spoke against the health-care program, claiming “it will bankrupt us,” while Clark spoke in favor of a government program and single-payer billing.
Bilbray said the stimulus program has failed, and the unemployment solution includes incentives for businesses with a trillion dollars overseas to come back if they support research and job development.
Busby said the stimulus plan has worked because it kept the country out of entering a depression, while Grossmith said taxpayers’ money would be more effective if not taken by the government. Clark spoke in favor of public works projects such as those in the 1930s.
Bilbray said amnesty hurts working-class Americans and claimed the illegal immigration solution includes ending tax deductions for employers unless workers prove their legal status.
Busby said she supports a path toward citizenship for those who illegally immigrated as minors and comprehensive immigration reform that includes providing a “dependable labor supply” that will strengthen the economy.
Clark and Grossmith both spoke in favor of open borders.
As for Afghanistan, Grossmith (a 51-year-old Oceanside resident and wireless finance director) and Clark (an 81-year-old Encinitas resident and peace activist) both said our military should pull out. Busby said the military is on the right track as long as generals are allowed to do their jobs, while Bilbray said there will not be peace until the Afghanis can elect their local political leaders.
He also said Congress should have declared war instead of “empowering” George W. Bush to send troops a decade ago. “Congress needs to do what it takes to give (our military) tools (to) win.”
Busby said America’s independence from fossil fuels by developing independent energy sources and clean technology — which she said the 50th District is poised to do — are key to getting out of the Middle East.
Regarding homosexuals in the military, Bilbray said he would like people to make an informed decision after military personnel on the front lines say how they really feel. “Keep an open mind, you may be surprised,” he said.
Busby, Grossmith and Clark all spoke in favor of allowing anyone to serve who wants to.