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Congressional candidates talk priorities during forum
Congressional District 10 candidates - except for incumbent Jeff Denham - address the issues during a public forum hosted by the League of Women voters on Wednesday. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal

Whether Republican or Democrat, the six candidates vying to replace Rep. Jeff Denham in Congress all agreed on one thing during a debate this week: It’s time for a change.

The Central Valley race is listed as one of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s initial targets in their mission of flipping Republican-controlled districts over to Democrats, and what began with a competition that saw 13 challengers ready to face Denham has now fallen to six. With less than two months until the June 5 Primary Election, Democrats Mike Barkley, Michael Eggman, Josh Harder, Virginia Madueño and Sue Zwahlen and Republican Ted Howze on Wednesday answered voter questions and shared why they believe they are the best candidate to represent California’s 10th District.

The candidates were forced to think logically rather than politically thanks to the first question of the night, which asked if Congress is irrelevant now. Congress isn’t irrelevant, they all agreed, but Eggman wondered if the concept has become irrelevant for the working people of the country as big corporations fill the pockets of representatives with campaign money. He and the others took the opportunity – and many more throughout the event – to criticize Denham, who was not present at the event, for taking money from corporations and for voting against the wishes of many of his constituents.

“I don’t think (Congress) has become irrelevant, but I certainly think it’s become ineffective in the issues that matter most,” Harder said, pointing to Denham’s “yes” vote on the American Health Care Act, which would have stripped health care from many District 10 residents including his younger brother, who was born with a preexisting condition.

Howze agreed with Harder, stating that Congress has become irresponsible and Denham unreachable.

“I’m a fellow Republican and when you can’t have a conversation with your representative about what you feel are hotbed issues and what you need to work on, it’s become completely irresponsible,” Howze said.

Issues like water, immigration and gun control were hot topics during the discussion, and the candidates’ similarities in these areas were made evident through their similar answers. All would like to increase access to safe and reliable water in the district, and all agree that comprehensive immigration reform is needed.

While the Democratic candidates agreed on other issues like accepting refugees and commonsense gun control, the lone Republican Howze made his differing opinions known, stating law-abiding gun owners should have the right to bear arms and that refugees of “young, fighting age” coming from Syria should be screened.

More differences between all of the candidates came to light when they were asked to name legislation that would most benefit the area.

For Madueño, the daughter of immigrants, immigration reform is her top legislative priority.

“How many people are being adversely affected right now? Knowing that farmers right now in the community, employers in the community, can’t find enough workers…right now our economy is on the brink of suffering some major, major repercussions that we’re not going to be able to repair,” she said. “We also have over 800,000 youth – rising star kids – that should be and need to be allowed in this country.”

Both Zwahlen and Eggman believe that the nation’s health care system is in great need of a fix.

“The costs are exorbitant and out of hand for most of us in this room, I’m sure,” Zwahlen said, adding that she would like to see “Medicare for all” turn from a slogan into a reality. “After 40 years in the emergency room, I have seen a lot through my window of the world and I have a heart and have empathy for the patients that I see everyday and their pressing needs.”

Barkley’s first move, if elected, would be to repeal the GOP tax bill, while Harder hopes to work for better-paying jobs in the Valley through investment in infrastructure and Career Technical Education.

“Part of that program is federally-funded and it’s getting zeroed out in the Trump budget,” Harder said. “Those are the sorts of solutions that we need a Congressman who’s going to invest in them, not just somebody focused on creating more tax cuts for a handful of wealthy corporations.”

Howze said that fundamentally, the most important thing that Congress will do next is restructure “entitlements,” like Social Security, to “ensure their longevity.” If elected, he would like to work to see Medicare and Medicaid split completely, with Medicare working at the federal level to cover elderly and Medicaid becoming a state program to cover poor children and the disabled.

“America is headed on a path of bankruptcy whether we like it or not, and no one wants to touch it or talk about it because it’s a political hot potato,” Howze said. “I will.”

Wednesday’s candidate forum, hosted by the Stanislaus County League of Women Voters, is one of two to be held before the June 5 Primary Election. A second candidate forum will take place from 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. April 25 at the Bianchi Center, 110 South 2nd Ave. in Oakdale.