In one of the few congressional debates in this election season in the San Diego area, candidate James Kimber (D) faced incumbent Duncan Hunter, Jr. (R) in the only debate the two will hold. Meeting on stage before a modest crowd of approximately 150 people at the Performing Arts Center of Cuyamaca College in El Cajon, the questions focused primarily on military and national security issues. The debate was hosted by the Veterans Campaign. Moderators were Seth Linn, Director of the Veterans Campaign, and Carl Luna, professor of Political Science at San Diego Mesa College and Director of the Institute for Civic Civil Engagement.
The debate was split into two phases, with questions in the first phase selected by the moderators, while the second phase focused on previously submitted questions from the audience. You can watch the entire debate here.
The debate began with questions about the Defense budget and how engaged are Americans who, without a draft as during the Vietnam War days, have “no skin in the game” now. Hunter’s responses focused on restoring budget cuts to the Defense Dept. by way of fixing “entitlements of Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare” and shoveling those “savings” into Defense. Kimber agreed entitlement reform was needed, but indicated that there were many areas of waste that must be looked at first, asking why do we continue to build weapons the military doesn’t want? Examples of waste he cited were the $297 million blimp built as an experiment, tanks no one wants, and the Raptor, available for the last 10 years and just used for the first time in the current battle with ISIS. “We need to be building weapons of the future”, Kimber explained. Both candidates were opposed to re-implementing the draft.
Discussion of job creation and economic stimulation followed. Hunter staunchly stood by his belief that “government doesn’t create jobs, we must get out of the way”. He railed against the U.S. having the highest corporate tax rate in the world which is a disincentive to businesses locating here and that tax reform is necessary. He also does not agree with government programs that are intended to create jobs, insisting that “government creates programs just to create jobs and it needs to stop.” When challenged by Kimber that Hunter could use his position on Congressional Committees to promote San Diego’s industries, Hunter insisted that Congress plays no role and should not be “picking winners and losers”. Yet later in the debate Hunter took pride in mentioning that when the Air Force didn’t want the Predator, manufactured here in San Diego, or the A-10 Tank Killer plane, Congress insisted and now they are essential tools in our arsenal.
Other topics were touched upon as well, including educational quality and student loan debt, civil discourse and compromise in Congress, positions on the Affordable Care Act, immigration, our drought and Citizens United.
One of the most hotly contested topics ensued from a question regarding climate change, energy investment choices and national security within this context. Hunter agreed we need to pursue all forms of energy, including renewables, as long as renewables aren’t put “where it blocks views and prohibits off road riders like the wind farm in East County”. He accused the EPA of stopping all new oil production and the Keystone Pipeline, all of which he supports. Kimber indicated that we could be doing much more with renewables, citing the failure to put solar on the new Palomar Hospital where he works as a lost opportunity. He supports programs that would do more to promote solar, more electric car charging infrastructure and other examples. He pointed out that the “Keystone Pipeline won’t make us as energy independent as renewables.” Hunter closed the energy topic by proclaiming that “if you want to go green you have to go nuclear.”
An audience submitted question noted that the Pentagon has called climate change one of the top threats it is dealing with, and the candidates were asked their thoughts on this. Hunter said “the Pentagon needs to pull it’s head out of the sand” indicating that it’s an ideological game by the DOD, citing the example of the investment in biofuels research calling it “a waste of money”. Hunter categorically stated that the climate has always changed, it’s been cooling for the last 19 years, and denied that it’s human caused. Kimber countered by indicating that we are wasting much more taxpayer money now on the impacts climate change is already causing such as fires and drought, citing for example, that the state of California has already used up its fire fighting budget for the year. Kimber emphatically stated that “I work in neuro surgery…If 98 doctors tell you that you have a brain tumor and need brain surgery I don’t want to listen to the 2 who say don’t!”
For Hunter, he closed with a reiteration of how the number one issue is national security and it should be the Federal government’s number one (and possibly only) job, nothing else matters. Kimber argued government has other roles as well to fix problems like climate change, health care, and education that are equally important. Overall the debate was entertaining and relevant. However, it was quite clear that Rep. Hunter follows for the most part, the standard talking points and positions of the far right Republican wing of his party, while Kimber well represented more Progressive and people oriented viewpoints.