Congressional candidates, Jose Hernandez (D) and Incumbent Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), participated in a public forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the Snider Auditorium, located at California State University Stanislaus on Monday night.
CSU Stanislaus President Joseph Sheley opened the event by welcoming the audience, which was made up of CSU Stanislaus students, professors, and community members.
“Universities are a place where ideas should be exchanged,” stated Sheley.
The moderator for the evening was Marie Berry of the League of Women Voters. Both candidates had two minutes for an opening statement, followed by a minute and half for each question. Audience members were also encouraged to write questions down for the candidates to address.
Topics included water storage, federal Pell Grants for college students, tax reform, MediCare and social security, job production in the Central Valley, high speed rail in California, jobs and the economy, women’s reproductive rights, veteran issues, immigration and the Dream Act, marriage equality, and much more.
This was the first and only debate in which Incumbent Congressman Denham, a local farmer and small businessman, and Hernandez, a former NASA astronaut and engineer, came face to face, and it didn’t take long for both candidates to take the gloves off.
“He’s done a lot of talking, but I haven’t seen a lot of results,” stated Hernandez right off the bat. “They haven’t even got a farm bill passed.”
Hernandez also took the opportunity while discussing Federal Pell Grants for students to point out that Congressman Denham has “voted for the Ryan budget at every opportunity he’s had”, to which many of the college students present booed.
Denham, however, stated that he himself had used student loans to get through university, and that Pell Grants were supported on a bipartisan level.
“I don’t think that k12 should be federally funded,” stated Denham in regards to education. “It should be state funded only, which would put more teachers in the classroom and greater funding on a local level. As parents, we could make decisions for our kids schools.”
Women’s Reproductive Rights was another topic that the two candidates had opposing views on. While Denham stated that he is pro-life, he also stated that he has a voting record that stands up with working women. Hernandez stated that he believed women should have the right to make her own decisions in respect to her health.
The audience didn’t make it easy for the candidates to stay on track, however, as many times when either Hernandez or Denham were speaking, audience members would start yelling statements such as “Answer the question already!” forming an environment that created tension within the auditorium.
“It was exciting to be able to watch something as serious as a congressional candidate forum,” stated CSU Stanislaus Communications Major Garrett Neeley, age 25. “Unfortunately Mr. Hernandez is not a compelling candidate and he is running against a congressman (Denham) who is also not someone who I would want to represent the valley. The crowd was immature, embarrassing, and insulting to the League of Women Voters, who were kind enough to give us the opportunity to get to know who is running for a very important seat.”
Although Hernandez accused Denham of not getting enough done or passed while in office, Denham retorted that he had been working with President Barack Obama in various areas, such as the Civilian Property Realignment Act.
“There are areas in which I am not only agreeing with him, but also working with him,” stated Denham in response to whether or not he agreed with any of Obama’s policies.
But while both candidates expressed the need for bipartisan leadership that includes both Democrats and Republicans working together, many of the questions were on social issues that the two parties typically disagree on, such as marriage equality.
“I believe that two people that love each other should be entitled to the same rights and privileges, regardless of sexual orientation,” stated Hernandez. “It should ultimately be up to the churches who decide whether or not they’ll marry them, but they should have the same rights.”
Denham responded that he had voted in favor of Prop 22, a 2000 law in California that restricted marriages to only those between opposite-sex couples. But the debate got heated at this point when Denham hesitated to clearly define what Prop 22 entailed. Hernandez stated that Denham had not answered the question, as did many of the audience members who started to yell at Denham to clearly state his answer, in which Denham finally stated that he believed marriage should be between a man and a woman.
Both candidates continued to throw accusations at each other, including Hernandez’s lack of voting and skipping out on payroll taxes, and that Denham’s business had back-tax liens. Denham denied the back-tax lien accusation, while Hernandez stated that the payroll taxes had been taken care of.
“I made a mistake, and we fixed it,” stated Hernandez.
Each candidate then had the opportunity to provide their closing statements and why they believe they are the best-qualified candidate.
“We have a lot of big issues on the line,” stated Denham. “I believe that we need someone who lives here locally who understands our local economy.”
“I’m somebody who is working across party lines to get things done,” stated Denham. “We need someone to stop coming up with these phony answers and come up with a real plan.”
“I don’t consider myself a career politician,” stated Hernandez. “I’m a citizen’s politician.” While he pointed out that he may not have as much experience, Hernandez stated that, “if you look at the folks who are up there right now, I’m here to tell you, it’s not rocket science. I can figure it out.”