The Bay Area News Group’s editorial board met this morning in Pleasanton with the three candidates for the newly drawn 9th Congressional District.
Republican John McDonald, 44, a semiconductor executive from Mountain House, said he’s running because “America has a lot of structural problems, not stimulus problems, that need to get fixed.” He cited his experience in running three successful startups in the past 10 years, and said he’s grown concerned at increasing government intrusion into the private sector; an example, he cited capital gains taxes that drive venture capital overseas. He said he decided that rather than complaining about the state of politics “you’ve just got to go make a difference.”
Republican Ricky Gill, who turns 25 on Sunday, is a UC Berkeley law student from Lodi who said he’s running to provide native representation to his district; he noted that no sitting state or federal lawmakers lived within the newly drawn district when he declared his candidacy. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him to a one-year term on the state Board of Education several years ago, he said, and he learned the value of a dollar in his family’s agriculture business. “I think we need a congressional representative who’s going to defend farmers. I’m going to be a friend, not a foe.”
Incumbent Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, 60, said he has built a lot of solid relationships in his five and half years in office, and wants to continue his “retail politics” – meeting constituents, and bringing federal resources home for local schools and infrastructure. He said he has focused on veterans’ issues to ensure those who serve the nation get what they deserve; on growing the local economy; and on protecting the Delta’s water resources. “Right now there are big forces aimed at taking our water.”
Lots more on specific issues, after the jump…
On balancing debt reduction with economic stimulus:
Gill said he wouldn’t have voted for the 2009 economic stimulus package. Instead of stimulus, he said he would focus on building international for farmers; skilled immigration reform; regulatory reform and tort reform. “I think these are ways that are economically efficient to grow the economy. Also, he said, “austerity is something most of the countries in the world are now rallying around” – trading some short-term pain for long-term gain.
McDonald called stimulus “an economic painkiller” that’s fine after a short-term problem like a terrorist attack or natural disaster. “But if you’ve got a cancer, a structural problem in your society, and you take a painkiller, you haven’t solved anything … It will feel good for a while and then as soon as the stimulus wears off, you’re back to the same problem.” He said he doesn’t oppose some public economic stimulus so long as it’s paired with structural reforms, which he said should include rolling back the Sarbannes-Oxley Act of 2002 (which enacted new regulations in the wake of major corporate management and accounting scandals) and lowering capital gains taxes.
McNerney said the nation in 2009 was headed for a depression, so “the consequences of not undertaking a stimulus would’ve been very, very severe.” What got us into this economic mess was Wall Street running amok and banks lending money where they shouldn’t have, so rolling back regulations isn’t the answer. He said the capital gains tax “may or may not be too high,” but America’s corporate tax rate is definitely higher than those of other nations and “that’s an issue that needs to be addressed;” so too, he said, are enormous tax breaks for a small, wealthy segment of the population. “We need to start working across the table to solve these problems.”
On the No Child Left Behind education law:
McDonald said he’s “not for the federal government getting highly involved in education,” but rather wants “as much local control as possible.” As to NCLB specifically, he said, there’s no evidence it works – “Where’s the beef? I don’t see it” – and so he would repeal it and return more control to state and local authorities.
McNerney said NCLB “had the best intentions but it’s a deeply flawed program” that encourages teaching to the test and doesn’t deal with foreign-language learners and disabilities. “The administration should propose a revision of that, and if it’s acceptable I’ll support it, but in its current form it’s not acceptable.”
Gill said NCLB had the unintended consequence of putting states “in a position where there was a race to the bottom in terms of standards.” He appreciates its encouragement of charter schools, he said, but would prefer to let state and local officials set educational standards. It’s fine for the federal government to encourage higher standards and school choice (a la President Obama’s Race to the Top program) but not to mandate them, Gill said. But as for NCLB, “I’d start fresh, I think it’s just not a workable paradigm right now.”
On gridlock in Washington:
McNerney said an out-of-control campaign finance system contributes to the problem. Also, he said, members of Congress should build better personal relationships which would allow them to work more collegially and cooperatively.
McDonald said it’s good to maintain open communications, but bipartisan legislation isn’t necessarily good legislation – he cited Sarbannes-Oxley as an example. He said he would favor good ideas no matter from which side of the aisle they come, but serious problems like the nation’s rapidly growing debt don’t always lend themselves to gentility. However, he said he disagreed with the national GOP’s attacks upon McNerney for allegedly cutting Medicare – which he called unfounded and a tactic “to scare old people” – and for hiring a consultant during the redistricting process. “I didn’t think it was a fair attack. … It bothered me that this congressman was accused in the redistricting of having some nefarious purpose. Those kinds of attacks I think are completely inappropriate … That’s what makes people lose confidence in our political system.”
Gill said he agreed with those criticisms of McNerney leveled by the national GOP: “They’re grounded in the record.” He also agreed campaign finance has poisoned the well of political discourse somewhat, but said his campaign is funded by Central Valley voters while McNerney has taken about $3 million from special interests over the years.
On global warming:
Gill said he believes it has “become very politicized and its been used to drive a particular agenda.” “I think global warming is a phenomenon that probably exists… I suspect there is a human contribution to it. … It does not rise to the level of supporting a unilateral federal mandate on the issue.” He clarified, saying he doesn’t support any federal action “at this point because I believe energy prices would go through the roof. … My objection is more grounded in the practical effect of rising energy prices, which is something I can’t countenance in an economy like this” – especially if America is putting itself at a disadvantage to other countries that aren’t acting likewise.
McDonald said “carbon dioxide is absolutely a global warming gas … that is settled science, it’s just a fact,” and there is “absolutely” a manmade component to climate change. “But I’m not an alarmist about it, I think that is where the science is not settled.” There’s no question the climate is changing, but “what I don’t like is environmentalists constantly crying wolf on all these things. … There are definitely negatives and there are definitely positives,” with many of the negatives exaggerated by “bad science.” Those who advocate change should favor federal regulatory relief and research to enable faster development of cleaner energies such as nuclear, natural gas with carbon sequestration, and wind.
McNerney said “global warming is here, its happening, the evidence is pretty overwhelming,” with glaciers receding, ocean acidification, and changes to biological habitats. Putting 30 gigatons of manmade carbon into the atmosphere each year is definitely a big part of it, and while there could be short-term increases in agricultural productivity, the negatives – including flooding of low-lying coastal areas and ocean acidification – far outweigh the positives. A federal response must be part of a comprehensive energy policy that embraces an array of power sources including nuclear, geothermal, wave, wind and more. If we act efficiently, he said, we can keep prices low and produce all energy domestically within 15 to 20 years.
On Social Security:
McNerney said millions depend on the program and so it must be protected, yet partisan scare tactics tend to get in the way of real solutions. He said he’s willing to discuss raising the payroll tax cap as well as adjusting the tax rate; look at ways to eliminate waste; and discuss methods of means testing. He would not, however, raise the retirement age.
Gill said it’s “not the debt driver that Medicare is, but it needs attention. Means testing “is an idea that some have said has merit … I’m not saying I’m absolutely committed to it.” Raising the retirement age “is something a lot of European countries are looking at… and perhaps its something we would look at.” “I’m less sold on the taxation side of it,” he said, because that would discourage job creation.
McDonald said “we definitely need to tie Social Security to age… to the longevity of American lives,” but that can be depoliticized by establishing a formula (rather than making changes every few years) to tie retirement ages to American longevity. No more than 10 percent of funds should go to anything but benefits (compared to about 15 percent now). “I believe in the salary cap as it stands today,” he said, but like linking retirement age to longevity, the salary cap should be tied by formula to wages so it’s not a political football every few years.