The six candidates vying for a shot at representing California’s 10th Congressional District took the stage together for the first and what could be the only time ahead of the March primary Wednesday night, sharing their vision for the Valley while at times exchanging blows in front of a lively debate crowd.
The debate, hosted by The Modesto Bee and held at the State Theatre, saw Incumbent Congressman Josh Harder and fellow Democratic challengers Mike Barkley and Ryan Blevins, as well as Republican challengers Bob Elliott, Marla Sousa Livengood and Ted Howze share their views on everything from impeachment to accusations of lying.
Impeachment was the first topic of the night, with Harder asked to explain his vote to remove President Donald Trump from office. Last summer, Harder went on the record to say he didn’t support impeachment and would wait to see what then-ongoing investigations would uncover. In December, he voted to support articles of impeachment. He didn’t reverse his decision without cause, he said, but instead changed his position “when the facts changed.”
“…I saw clear evidence that we had a president that puts his own personal political interests ahead of our national security by asking a foreign leader for help in an election,” Harder said. “If a Democratic president did the same thing, I also would have put my country ahead of my political party.”
The three Republican candidates reaffirmed their beliefs that the impeachment process has been politically motivated, while Barkley supported the effort. Blevins, however, took a different stance.
“It’s 2020; it’s an election year,” he said. “Let’s let the people decide if they want to keep Trump in office or not.”
As the two candidates with the most experience and success, Harder and Howze were seated next to each other in the middle of the panel. The pair also ran in the same race during the 2018 election, both with the goal of dethroning then-Congressman Jeff Denham. Howze came in third during the primary, with Harder moving on to eventually defeat Denham in the general election.
As the top two fundraisers in the race with a shared history, questions to both of the candidates focused on accusations made by each about the other. Is Harder “Nancy Pelosi’s top lieutenant?” Would Howze be nothing more than a “rubber stamp” for Trump?
Howze made it clear he has his own agenda — not the president’s.
“The president and I, stylistically, are two different people — he is loud New York, New Jersey, and I am much more laid-back California,” Howze said. “I am not running to just support or oppose a president of the United States, I’m running to actually get things done for my district. When the policies are good I’ll support them, and when the policies are bad I won’t. It’s that simple…I’m nobody’s rubber stamp.”
Harder attempted to further distance himself from the “Bay Area” accusations that have followed him since he first began his foray into politics, touting his bipartisanship record (he’s sponsored more bills with Republicans than any Democratic representative in the country) as evidence of his dedication to District 10.
“Judge me by my record,” he said, sharing the story of his first day in Congress when the freshmen representatives were seated on buses according to political party. “…That’s the way a lot of Washington works, but that’s not how the Valley works and because of that I have tried to not just be the Democrat member of Congress or the Republican member of Congress, but to listen to every community member.”
An issue the majority of the 10th District is currently dealing with is homelessness, and the candidates shared their ideas on how to alleviate the issue. Livengood suggested providing federal funding to religion-based services because “they work,” she said, while Howze thinks the country needs to be tougher on vagrants.
“Not only are we not putting consequences, we’re putting places for people to go shoot up with heroin in clean facilities. That’s got to stop. The first step to curing homelessness is re-empowering our law enforcement and district attorneys to enforce quality of life laws, and then giving individuals an opportunity to enter diversion programs,” Howze said.
Harder’s solution lies in a bill he recently introduced, which would allow governors to request disaster funding for homelessness, while Blevins is a proponent of Universal Basic Income, which would provide monthly funds to every household in America.
As questions came and went and responses were met with either thunderous applause or deafening boos, the debate had to be stopped several times in order to quiet the crowd. The boisterous atmosphere soon translated to the stage when veterans’ issues were brought up by Howze while discussing the importance of a candidate living within the 10th District.
Howze mentioned the story of Sam Satariano, a World War II bomber pilot who needed help finding medical attention last summer — due to being turned away by Harder’s office, Howze claimed. Thanks to living within the district for the past two decades, Howze added, he was able to connect Satariano with the help he sought.
“If you can’t get it done through the government route, you know enough people to get it done privately,” he said.
“That’s a lie,” Harder responded. “If you’re saying we don’t actually help veterans in our office, that’s a blatant lie.”
Harder mailed out letters to every veteran in the district when he took office, he explained, and noted he has helped over 300 veterans with varying issues.
“I take exception to being called a liar,” Howze responded.
Other topics were discussed throughout the night, from the proposed Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir, which a majority of candidates support, to who each candidate would like to see win the presidential election; the three Republicans said Trump, Blevins endorsed Andrew Yang, Barkley would like any Democratic candidate other than Tulsi Gabbard and Harder was mum on the issue.
The two challenging Democrats even explained why they’re running against Harder, with Blevins citing the incumbent’s vote to increase military spending and Barkley stating Harder’s “campaign finance inconsistencies” would eventually catch up to him.
“I don’t know what kind of conspiracy theories are going around on the internet,” Harder laughed.
California’s primary election will take place on March 3. Voters must register by Feb. 18, and vote-by-mail ballot requests must arrive by Feb. 25. Personally-delivered ballots must be delivered by the close of polls at 8 p.m. March 3, and mailed ballots must be postmarked on or before March 3 and received no later than March 6.
For more information, visit www.stanvote.com.