Honda and Richardson face off on issues

The Bay Area News Group’s editorial board met this morning in Pleasanton with two of the three candidates for the newly drawn 17th Congressional District.

Charles RichardsonCharles Richardson, 52, a Fremont business owner running as an independent candidate, said he has witnessed the economy’s decline and is seeking office now because he’s concerned about future generations. He said government has been too quick to cut services to society’s neediest people and too slow to cut its own waste and graft, and should stop getting into military entanglements while so many pressing domestic problems need to be addressed with those resources.

honda.jpgIncumbent Rep. Mike Honda, D-Campbell, 70 – a vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee – said he’s seeking a sixth House term because he wants to continue working to make government more transparent, and to “turn education on its head” by rethinking how to focus on students’ needs. He said he wants to continue publicizing and advocating for the “Budget For All” he helped draft for the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and to play a role in continuing a balanced approach toward relations with Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China.

A third candidate, Fremont cardiologist and nonprofit clinic founder Dr. Evelyn Li, 56, called Thursday to cancel her attendance at the meeting, saying she was sick. Li has listed her party preference as Republican, although a voter database shows she was registered as a Democrat as recently as last July.

Lots more on specific issues, after the jump…

On balancing debt reduction with economic stimulus:
Richardson said the nation still seems to be on a Reaganomics, trickle-down system which “doesn’t work, it never worked… The stimulus is all aimed at corporate America to provide jobs to people at the lower end – it’s not happening.” He said he’d lean toward more protectionist policies to bring jobs back from overseas. As for how that relates to the national debt, he said “it’s very hard to balance the two.”
Honda said he believes in stimulus: “You have to infuse revenue into the economy in order to kick-start the economy.” He acknowledged the nation does need to reduce its debt, and said the best way to do that is to present more balanced budgets that will achieve that reduction over time. Such budget should involve closing tax loopholes for fossil-fuel industries, he said.

On Iran:
“I don’t think that we should go in there militarily … I don’t think we’ve explored every pathway,” Honda said. “I suppose if they had these nuclear weapons and they launched it upon us, that’s self defense.” America must do a better job of discerning between Iran’s government and its people, and a better job of navigating that difference, he said; he also wants to see better intelligence on whether Iran is developing weapons or a domestic peacetime nuclear energy capability. Asked to clarify if there’s a line in the sand at which he’d advocate a military response, he said he didn’t want to give a predetermined position for a situation that doesn’t exist yet. “My first step is to make sure that we do the right thing at the right time and not to assume anything that’s going to be down the road.”
Richardson called Iran “a very sticky wicket” but said there’s no proof of a credible threat against America and “I don’t see any reason why we should be rushing in there to be the police of the world; I think Israel has a better handle on what’s going on there.” He said he’d see the need for direct military action only “at the point where a credible threat against the United States exists,” though he then acknowledged that “Israel is our ally … I think that we would have to provide some military support to Israel.” Asked again, he said “military force is necessary to protect America and the American people, and if Iran poses such a threat with a nuclear weapon, with an ability to launch that weapon against the United States, then I think military force would be justified.”

On the No Child Left Behind education law:
Honda would repeal it and start over. “I wouldn’t even go back to No Child Left Behind – if anything’s going to be done in that area, I’d go back to the discussion of accountability.” Honda believes the nation needs to redefine what the problems with education are by re-examining it from the standpoint of individual students. “We’ve been looking for solutions without looking at the child and without looking at our basic responsibilities.” That means more national standards and more federal funding, he said.
Richardson agreed he would repeal it. “It’s time to end it, it didn’t work, it created stringent testing that was never truly administered properly.” He said it’s not the federal government’s role to determine and administrate teaching standards, but rather to ensure that schools across the nation are adequately funded.

On the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act health care reform:
Richardson said he’s “a big fan of the current form of the health care bill at this point,” and believes it would be a waste of time to try to re-jigger it if the U.S. Supreme Court tosses out the individual insurance mandate or the entire law. He said he liked some parts of it – such as letting young adults remain on their parents’ policies until age 26 – but generally doesn’t believe in the federal government inserting itself into problems affecting individuals’ health and wellbeing. Too many people are uninsured because insurance costs too much even as insurers make record profits, he said, calling for more regulation of that industry.
Honda said that if the Supreme Court tosses the law, “Congress goes back to the drawing board.” He believes the law “is a good program, I support it even in the form that it’s in today, because it’s a step in the right direction,” and he would seek a way to resurrect it.

On Social Security:
Richardson acknowledged “it does need action… People are paying into this, the money should be there, so you have to ask where is the money going?” He spoke of revise the tax structure to demand more from corporations, “especially those who are outsourcing jobs and moving manufacturing out of the country.” He clarified that he would eliminate loopholes and enforce the current tax code to make corporations ante up what they already should be paying “in a heartbeat” to shore up Social Security. He said he advocates neither raising the retirement age nor raising the cap on taxable income.
Honda said Social Security “is not an immediate problem but it has a lifespan that when it hits we’ll be talking about reductions in benefits.” He noted the Congressional Progressive Caucus “Budget For All” he helped draft would phase out the cap on taxable income (now at $110,000). He said he would like to see legislation to prevent Congress from dipping into the Social Security Trust Fund, much as California protected its public pension funds. And he said he would support raising the retirement age in proportion to life expectancies.

In closing, Richardson acknowledged he still needs to educate himself on some issues after making a late start to his campaign, but is focused on getting Congress more in tune with what ordinary Americans want: “a compact, service-oriented, friendly government, and not so detached as we are now.”

Honda said he wants to keep using his life experience to improve policymaking, protect civil liberties and take a more global mindset toward solving America’s problems. He said that includes comprehensive immigration reform, moving toward greater fiscal stability, showing more wisdom in curbing military engagements and spending, and “revisiting our whole notion of public education.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.