Swalwell wants new CA-15 debate, but host balks

15th Congressional District candidate Eric Swalwell today urged the Eden Area League of Women Voters not to give incumbent Rep. Pete Stark “a free pass” by failing to hold another debate in this race.

Eric Swalwell“Voters deserve to hear from Congressman Stark and me on the issues that impact their lives,” Swalwell, a Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor, said in a news release. “The voters expect debates. It’s time to come out of hiding. As a 40-year incumbent, Congressman Stark should be prepared to face his constituents and explain himself. The League of Women Voters should not give Congressman Stark a free pass from the time-honored tradition of debate and dialogue.”

But league president Nancy Van Huffel said it’s nothing personal – she just sees no point in it given that the league had sponsored a pre-primary debate for this race in April.

“We are sponsoring probably 12 or 14 candidate forums and we are a small league, so I did not schedule another debate for Pete Stark and his opponent because we had a debate and it is online,” she said today. “We didn’t see where it would be any kind of new thing.”

Van Huffel said she was unaware when this fall’s debates were scheduled that Stark, D-Fremont, had already publicly refused to debate Swalwell again. “He was not invited, he did not refuse, it was just a matter basically of timing.”

She acknowledged, however, that the league is holding a second debate for at least one East Bay race: the 20th Assembly District contest between Hayward councilman Bill Quirk and Hayward optometrist Jennifer Ong, which like the Stark-Swallwell race is a Democrat-on-Democrat smackdown made possible by the state’s new top-two primary system.

Three other candidates were eliminated in the 20th Assembly District primary so the dynamics have changed considerably, Van Huffel noted; only one candidate was eliminated in the 15th Congressional District primary.

“Certainly that race is important but I’m not sure there would be any further information that would come of it (a debate),” she said. “We try to do the best we can.”

With or without a new debate, the race continues to be noticed outside the Bay Area: Daily Kos’ David Nir today named CA-15 the only “tossup” among California’s six same-party House elections.

The league’s pre-primary CA-15 debate was the forum at which Stark accused Swalwell of having accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes” from Dublin-area developers – an accusation he later retracted, and the first of several allegations Stark made this spring which proved to be untrue.

Follow after the jump for complete video of that April forum, broken into four parts…





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.

  • Elwood

    Petey bird, Petey bird, come out come out wherever you are!

  • moderatevoter

    It’s pretty clear Pete Stark’s new campaign management team is trying to keep Stark out of public eye, which is sort of amazing because he’s involved in a heated campaign. But so far Stark’s campaign has been a political consultants nightmare, he’s made one ridiculous gaffe after another. If he has another debate with this prosecutor Erik Swalwell you’d likely see another gaffe, so his campaign consultants are trying to “hide” Stark out for the rest of the election, they are just going to send out press releases.
    It’s really sort of comical, Stark – at age 81 – has become a kind of Mr. McGhoo figure, he’s a calamity waiting to happen, so his consultant- handlers have come up with this hide-Pete-out-until election day strategy. While this may work – I doubt it – Target, the national magazine that tracks congressional elections is calling the Eric Swalwell-Pete Stark race a “tossup”.
    Stark, in fact, is in for the fight of his life in this election, he really needs to hit the campaign trail, go out and meet and greet voters, show voters he can still do the job. But his consultants are advising the opposite, stay home and hide, that appears to be the Stark strategy. Problematic is that plays into Swalwell’s campaign theme – that’s Stark’s an absentee Congressman who lives in Maryland – that he’s out of touch with voters.
    If Stark wants to get back in this thing he really needs to debate Swalwell. But apparently he’s too chicken, as other bloggers are saying. My guess is Stark is going to continue to hide, and then in the final weeks of the campaign dump a bunch of TV commercials on voters – commercials financed by DC special interest groups.
    If that’s the strategy it’s not going to work, this Eric Swalwell is a hometown hero, he’s been campaigning all over that district for months, people are rooting for him to win. He’s got the grassroots, Stark’s got the Washington special interest groups, only. Going to be a big upset in the 15th district, Pete strak – a 40 year incumbent is going down.

  • GV Haste

    League president Nancy Van Huffel… I’ve never seen a more distorted explanation of why there is a Quirk-Ong debate and not a Stark-Swalwell debate.

    Looks like the League of Women Voter is running a screen play for Pete. Its protect Pete from embarassment time. Don’t let the voter see what he is really like when having to think on his feet.

    So all you have to do now is say you refuse to debate and the League takes that message and doesn’t even schedule one. If the tables were reversed and Pete wanted a debate, you can be CERTAIN there would be one, even if Swalwell refused to participate.

    Stinks. The League playing favorites.

  • JohnW

    Re: #2

    “…this Eric Swalwell is a hometown hero.” Bit of a stretch, don’t you think?

    Outside of Dublin, elsewhere in the district, I doubt very many people would even recognize the name absent some reference to the election. If he wins, as seems highly likely, it will be based purely on ABS (anybody but Stark).

    Sully Sullenberger is a hometown hero. Returning vets are hometown heroes. Even Paula Creamer and local Olympic Gold Medalists are hometown heroes of sorts. But Eric Swalwell?

  • Common Tater

    It’s the League of Liberal Women Voters, and don’t ever mistake it for anything else.

  • Bruce R. Peterson Lafayette

    The League of Women Voters has never found a tax they didn’t blindly support. I went to a meeting about a different subject & the President of the League of Women Voters spouted off support for a parcel tax. I cornered her after the meeting & she admitted she never read the tax details.

  • JohnW

    LWV was founded as a progressive policy advocacy organization and remains so. They are nonpartisan in that they do not support or oppose candidates for office, but they’ve never claimed neutrality on issues. There was a time when most of their positions would have received broad support from both major political parties, but one of those parties took a hard right turn.

  • Common Tater


    Maybe Einstein would be interested in this issue in a relativistic sort of way.

    Did one of the political parties take a hard right turn or did the other party take a hard left turn? Maybe the Republican Party has remained true to the ideals of capitalism and patriotism and the other party went hard left to gather wool and fake rosebuds.