Undecided voters walking out of a candidate forum hosted by the Republican Party of Stanislaus County on Tuesday night likely left just as unsure as they felt when they entered.
Bob Elliott, Marla Sousa Livengood and Ted Howze are all Republicans running to unseat freshman Congressman Josh Harder in the U.S. House of Representatives, but the similarities don’t stop there. All three of the conservative candidates vying for a shot at representing the 10th Congressional District have a wealth of public service under their belts, grew up on family farms and, as constituents heard this week, have like-minded opinions on a majority of the political topics dominating today’s headlines.
“That’s the great thing about having three Republicans up here,” Howze said at one point during the forum. “I think we agree on about 90 percent of the issues up here.”
In fact, the candidates found common ground on nearly every question asked, from agreeing with President Donald Trump’s decision to launch the airstrike that killed Iranian military leader Qassam Soleimani to supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, or Dreamers. It came as no surprise that each candidate’s responses to questions earned support from the crowd — no matter who had the microphone — but, there were rare moments where differences were made apparent.
The second question of the night asked Elliott, Livengood and Howze to explain what sets them apart from their other Republican opponents.
“I’m a wife, I’m a mother of three and I come from a middle-class family. We’re lacking representation of conservatives raising children back in Congress,” Livengood said. “I have a different perspective for pro-life matters because I’ve grown three bodies, and when you look at my experience, I’ve worked on the Hill and have political experience none of my opponents have in this race.”
Livengood ran an unsuccessful campaign for California’s 9th Congressional District in the 2018 general election. It was her first attempt to become an elected official after a long career serving in roles that focused on Central Valley transportation, economic development and job creation, like her time as the Legislative Affairs Manager for the San Joaquin Regional Transit District and her tenure as Congressman Richard Pombo’s Legislative Director, where she worked on agricultural policies in Washington, D.C.
Elliott, a current San Joaquin County Supervisor and former Tracy City Councilmember, believes his time served in the military would give him a unique perspective in Congress compared to that of his competitors. He served 30 years in the U.S. Army and retired as a colonel with the Special Forces. During that time, he said, he came into contact and collaborated with officials of all nationalities, religions and beliefs while deployed on diplomatic assignments.
“I was able to learn how to work with all of that, and it’s prepared me uniquely for a continuation of that lifetime of service,” Elliott said.
Howze has gone throughout life “pulling himself up by the bootstraps,” he said, tending to duties on his family farm as a boy and ultimately working as a firefighter to pay his way through college before becoming a veterinarian. The second-time congressional hopeful, who came in third during the June 2018 primary, said he still always found time to coach youth football in between long days on the job and serving on the Turlock City Council in the past.
“I’ve shown the ability to organize and build multimillion-dollar businesses,” Howze said, referring to the Turlock Regional Industrial Park he played a hand in bringing to the city during his time on the council. “To have the vision to go out and show how you bring high tech agricultural manufacturing into this Valley and provide thousands of jobs that pay high wages…I’m the person uniquely qualified to help bring jobs here.”
The candidates also differed — slightly — in their top three priorities for the district. If elected, Elliott said his first goal would be to maintain a “strong and robust” economy by attracting more jobs (he’s brought 13,000 more employment opportunities to San Joaquin County during his time as a Supervisor, he said) and by taking the “regulatory handcuffs” off small business owners and farmers. His other two priorities would be to enhance both public safety and national defense, as well as ensure fiscal responsibility and individual initiative amongst constituents.
Livengood noted that former Congressman Jeff Denham’s 2018 defeat was a “real loss” for District 10 farmers and assured the crowd her first priority would be to protect agricultural rights.
“We need to ensure our growers have the tools they need, like access to labor and water, crop protection, tools and equipment. I will champion those issues back in Congress,” Livengood said.
As a mother, she added, combatting the rising cost of healthcare would be another priority for Livengood if elected, as well as working to bring more jobs to the Valley.
“Why are we driving over the hill to the Bay Area for jobs? Why aren’t we attracting those jobs for the skills we have here and making sure our skill base matches that?” she asked.
Howze’s top priority would be to “fix our broken immigration system for people who want to legally immigrate here,” he said, adding, “it should not take 15 years and $20,000 worth of fees to become a citizen.”
In addition, Howze would look to reduce regulations on business owners and farmers, and would work on presenting a bill in Congress that would prevent abortions on fetuses with a heartbeat.
“I want to end the gruesome practice of late-term abortions,” he said. “I’m going to try to make abortion as rare as possible in our society.”
While their priorities differed, those in attendance at the forum had plenty of inquiries for the candidates about current events that could have caused disagreement. For example, did they agree with the decision to impeach President Trump? Standing strong with their party, each expressed their thoughts.
“This has all been a manufactured crisis that’s put us at risk,” Livengood said. “Our representative and his colleagues have created a circus and forgotten about families here struggling to pay healthcare…it’s a sham and it needs to go.”
“This whole impeachment process has been aptly described as a circus,” he said, stating his belief that the impeachment was politically-driven and that the President didn’t break any laws. “We don’t need to have politicians decide who’s president — it’s up to the people. Let them decide.”
The entire impeachment process showed Howze that America is split in two, he told the crowd.
“What we still see from (the Obama Administration) today is this partisan effort to remove a duly elected President of the United States. It has created an even deepening divide in this country and tribalism like we’ve never seen before…there are friends losing friends and family members who won’t talk to one another over what’s going on in our nation’s capital,” Howze said. “It’s sickening and it needs to stop. We need to get back to having differing ideas, but respecting one another.”
While President Trump was impeached by Congress, he’s still in office. That raised the question of how well each candidate would be able to work alongside No. 45. While all three looked forward to working with Trump, Howze had the chance to answer the question first.
“Quite well,” he said with a smile, garnering a raucous applause.
Following the debate, Howze earned the endorsement from the Republican Party of Stanislaus County with a committee vote.
The next chance voters have to hear the three Republican candidates will be during a public debate hosted by the Modesto Bee on Jan. 22 at The State Theatre, 1307 J St., in downtown Modesto. They’ll be joined on stage by the three Democrats in the race — Harder, Mike Barkley and Ryan Blevins — and constituents can register for tickets on the Bee’s website.
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.