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Sparks fly between congressional candidates at Turlock forum

Sparks fly between congressional candidates at Turlock forum

Jose Hernandez (D), moderator Marie Bairey of the League of Women Voters, and Jeff Denham (R) face off in a debate of congressional candidates in California State University, Stanislaus’ Snyder Hal...


POSTED October 2, 2012 4:13 p.m.

When Congressional candidates Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) and Jose Hernandez (D) squared off in their first – and only – debate Monday night, it didn’t take long for the gloves to come off.

The race for the California 10th Congressional District seat has been heated from the start, with both campaigns frequently trading blows in press releases and public appearances.

But Hernandez – a former NASA astronaut and engineer who grew up in Stockton but lived in Houston until recently – and Denham – a farmer, small businessman, former eight-year State Senator and first-term U.S. Rep. representing the Central Valley – would meet face to face for the first time at the California State University, Stanislaus forum, sponsored by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters.

Hernandez came out swinging from the very first question, challenging Denham’s accomplishments and policies at every opportunity.

“He's done a lot of talking, but I haven't seen any results,” Hernandez said. “They haven't even got a farm bill passed.”

In the process of his non-stop assault, Hernandez seldom truly answered a question. To help farmers, Hernandez suggested congress must do “everything possible,” with no examples; with regards to Medicare, Hernandez criticized the Paul Ryan plan endorsed by Denham, but failed to offer any suggestions on how to fix the soon-to-be bankrupt system.

At one point, when asked what Hernandez would cut from the federal budget, the Democratic candidate launched into a digression on how Denham had spent more than $1,000 at hotels to make media appearances discussing federal waste.

“Answer the question!” yelled several audience members, before Hernandez said he would end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and cut the federal automobile fleet by 25 percent.

Denham kept closer to his message than Hernandez, offering concrete examples of policies and largely avoiding the pointed jabs. Denham said he is working to increase water conveyance and storage to help farmers, for example. And Denham stated his hope to retain Bush-era tax cuts, which he said benefit 96 percent of small business owners and ultimately create jobs.

“Not even Nancy Pelosi, your biggest supporter, would support (repealing the tax cuts),” Denham said in a rare early barb.

But the forum reached a boiling point when candidates were asked their views on marriage equality.

Hernandez said he supported equal rights and privileges, regardless of sexual orientation, while Denham stated that he supported Proposition 22 – the 2000 measure which amended the California Constitution to state marriage is between a man and a woman. Hernandez, apparently unfamiliar with Prop 22, took issue with what he saw as Denham dodging the question.

"Answer the question," Hernandez said.

"I'm looking forward to you answering a whole bunch of yours, and maybe you'll put up that Medicare policy too," Denham said, before explaining Prop 22 and noting that Hernandez did not vote in 2000, nor did he vote in 13 past elections while in Texas.

The barbs continued to be launched, from accusations that Denham’s businesses owned back-tax liens – denied by the Denham campaign – to allegations that Hernandez skipped out on two years of payroll taxes. That $10,813 tax lien, on a Mexican restaurant Hernandez and his wife owned in Texas, was paid off a month before Hernandez announced his candidacy.

“I had a small business, I made a mistake, and we fixed it,” Hernandez said.

When the two candidates refrained from attacks, Denham repeatedly stressed his strong leadership, experience, and proven success in Washington, D.C. despite partisan gridlock.

“I’m not someone who's going to bring a lot of rhetoric, but someone who's going to bring real-world solutions,” Denham said.

Hernandez, on the other hand, admitted his relative inexperience, but touted his status as a “citizen-politician in step with the Valley.”

“It’s not rocket science,” Hernandez, a former astronaut, said. “I can figure it out.”

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