The forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of San Joaquin County, attracted a capacity crowd of 350 in the University of the Pacific’s Long Theater, with up to 150 more watching from an overflow room in a nearby building.
McNerney, D-Stockton, opened by noting his six years in Congress were preceded by 20 years in industry, including some time running his own business, but his public service was inspired by his son’s decision to join the Air Force soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He said his priorities for the next term would be creating jobs and improving the local economy; protecing the Delta; and serving veterans.
“We face a crippling level of underrepresentation in this district,” Gill countered in his opening statement, which has led to a stagnant economy, a rampant foreclosure crisis, failing schools and other ills. He said he would spend his first term striving to put local residents back to work, fixing schools and cleaning up government.
Asked about veterans’ services, McNerney noted he helped bring a veterans’ hospital to the county, for which ground is to be broken next year; he said it’s part of what he feels is “a sacred responsibility” to care for those who took up arms to serve the nation. Gill said he agrees budgets can’t be balanced on veterans’ backs, and he would work to expedite funding for the veterans hospital as well as to speed up the processing of veterans’ benefit claims.
Asked about the foreclosure crisis, Gill noted he has vowed not to accept any money from Wall Street banks, while McNerney has accepted such funds. McNerney said he has been aggressive in holding local workshops for those stricken by the crisis and in holding banks accountable on Capitol Hill.
Asked about the negative campaign mailers both candidates have sent out, McNerney decline to apologize for anything that’s been said but noted the corrosive influence of money from special interests outside the district is “taking away the people’s voice.” He said he has supported the Disclose Act to shine a light on that money, and supports President Obama’s re-election so Obama can appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn the Citizens United ruling that opened the money floodgates; he said he also supports amending the Constitution to void that ruling. Gill said people are worried not only about money in politics but where that money comes from, noting much of McNerney’s campaign funding comes from outside the district; he also noted a few falsehoods contained in McNerney’s mailers, such as a claim that he still lives with his parents – in reality, he moved out last year, into a home across the road from his parents’ home on the family’s property.
A whole heck of a lot more, after the jump…
On agriculture and trade, Gill said McNerney opposed several trade agreements that would’ve benefitted the local ag economy; McNerney said he couldn’t support trade agreements that would prioritize certain sectors over others and so cost American jobs. McNerney said he has fought estate taxes for farmers and pushed for a farm bill that would benefit the local economy, but Gill said the district needs more leadership than a congressman “who earned his F rating from the Farm Bureau.” Gill also referred to McNerney being a Pleasanton resident, a charge that drew boos from McNerney’s supporters and applause from Gill’s own; McNerney later in the debate specified he moved to Stockton in May and has lived there full time since the House recessed in August.
Asked how small government should be, Gill said he favors giving the president line-item veto power, and he said Congress needs reformers who can review and cut the federal budget to ensure it reflects top national priorities. McNerney said concerns about government’s over-reach and over-regulation are valid, but partisan rhetoric about abolishing entire agencies like the Education Department and the Environmental Protection Agency isn’t productive.
Asked about the Keystone XL pipeline to carry crude oil southward from Canadian oil sands regions, McNerney said “serious questions” remain about the pipeline’s safety and the environmental devastation that would ensue if it were to leak; Midwesterners are right to fear it, he said, calling for more transparency about the risks and benefits. Gill said he’d have voted for the pipepline as part of an energy policy aimed at bringing gas prices down and ending what he called a “middle-class squeeze.”
The candidates also were asked whether government should regulate chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” McNerney said people deserve to know what’s happening in their communities, but Gill didn’t give a clear, specific answer; he did say he believes all federal regulations should be re-routed through Congress for up-or-down votes.
On the proposal to build a “peripheral canal” or “peripheral tunnel” to carry water from the Delta southward, Gill said such a project would devastate local family farms and he’ll do all he can to stop it; he said McNerney has been a “Jerry-come-lately” on this issue who still hasn’t sufficiently stood up to oppose such a project. McNerney replied he has worked hard with other members of Congress to stand up against Gov. Jerry Brown, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and others who support such a project, and will continue to do so; meanwhile, he noted, Gill has accepted money from interests associated with the Westlands Water District, which is pushing hard for a peripheral tunnel. Gill said he has received no money from the district; in reality, he took $5,000 from the California Westside Farmers PAC, which works on behalf of farmers in the district. He said farmers around the state support him even if they’re at odds on that issue because they appreciate his stances on other agriculture and trade issues.
Asked about reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, Gill said he hadn’t read the particulars of the current version of the bill but believes it’s an important issue that can’t be treated as a political football. McNerney said domestic violence against women is “an abhorrence,” as is hate speech like that which presaged the murders at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August.
In closing, Gill noted he’s a son of immigrants who was born and raised in the Central Valley, yet today more people are leaving the economically besieged region than coming to it. Hardship is everywhere, he said, from single mothers to returning veterans to students dropping out of school to help support their families. People here know what it means to be marginalized, he said, and have been abandoned by their “Bay Area congressman.” Gill said he would fight to bring gas prices down and champion education reform, while McNerney voted for the economic stimulus package and the Wall Street bailout. “I am hoping to earn your trust,” Gill said.
McNerney closed by saying he’s honored to have served the community for the past six years, and cited job-creating initiatives he has shepherded including the veterans’ hospital and infrastructure funding for the Port of Stockton. He said he has worked hard to stem the tide of foreclosures and has been a champion of the Delta. “I see such potential here, I want to do right by the people who live here.”
Standing outside after the debate, McNerney said Gill “was just on the attack and I stuck to the issues.” He said he felt he got the strongest response on his talk about “fighting for the Delta … and he (Gill) is all words and no action, so I think that’s a very big difference.”
Gill, also outside, said “anytime voters can see their choices up close, it’s a good thing” that underscores “why local choice is imperative” and “why this races is bigger than party.” He said he felt he was strongest on “the agriculture economy … and how my opponent has abdicated his responsibility on this issue.”