Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, faced off against his Republican challenger for the 24th Congressional District, Andy Caldwell, in a virtual debate Saturday night hosted by Scott Hennessee on KEYT-TV.
The hour-long debate covered many topics relevant to the Central Coast, such as economic relief from the COVID-19 pandemic, oil drilling, and political division.
Some questions for the candidates were posed by the host, others came from viewers, and others from local reporters.
After the two candidates gave their opening statements, the debate began with the topic of how best to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr. Hennessee breached the subject by asking Mr. Caldwell if he stood by his preferred method, isolating the most vulnerable people while pursuing herd immunity for the least susceptible and thereby getting the economy up and running. The host pointed out that the World Health Organization director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it would be “unethical” to do so.
Mr. Caldwell pointed out that two weeks ago a WHO report revealed lockdowns are disproportionately hurting poor people, and that increased poverty will lead to higher comorbidities. The Republican praised Sweden’s no-lockdown handling of COVID-19 and took exception that smaller businesses were shut down during the lockdown.
“The problem here is that we shut down parts of our economy. We didn’t shut down Target, Costco, or Wal-Mart, but we shut down mom-and-pop shops and stores, and that was a huge problem. We’ve got to open up our economy,” said Mr. Caldwell, who is also a News-Press columnist.
The WHO director-general’s statement came from Oct. 12.
The question of whether or not COVID-19 restrictions on businesses are too tight arose later in the debate and Mr. Caldwell called them “arbitrary and capricious.” He cited that people can go to a dispensary or sit close together on airplanes but can’t go to church.
Rep. Carbajal said the best way to handle the coronavirus is to listen to the recommendations of experts and public health professionals by wearing masks and social distancing. As for what to do about small businesses hurting amid the pandemic, Rep. Carbajal said more federal funding is needed.
The congressman also made the first criticism of a couple the candidates would make about the two men in the presidential race and took shots at President Donald Trump for “politicizing” the practice of wearing masks.
The congressman also said the president is “doing everything possible to divide us” when Americans are already divided enough.
Mr. Caldwell took aim at former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for not recognizing China as a threat to the United States on the world stage.
The topic of political division came up a couple times during the debate. When it was first brought up, Rep. Carbajal pledged that he would meet with all constituents whether or not they share his political views and would discuss issues in a civil manner.
“The best thing to do is to model the way, to be civil as I pledged when I first came to Congress,” he said.
He added, “We have more in common than we have in our differences.”
Mr. Caldwell challenged the congressman’s assertion that he would make himself available to constituents by criticizing him for not taking speaking engagements with organizations like rotary clubs, chambers of commerce, and League of Women Voters.
“I showed up at all of these meetings. He refused to show up. He’s been hiding from the constituency,” he said.
He also criticized the congressman for ignoring North County and San Luis Obispo County localities like Lompoc, Morro Bay, and Cabria.
Since the candidates were entitled to a 30-second response if their opponent mentioned them directly, Rep. Carbajal stated he has spent more time in Santa Barbara’s North County and San Luis Obispo County than he has in Santa Barbara’s South County.
“I’m very proud of the interface and the constituent service that I’ve done,” he stated.
The two candidates expressed starkly different stances on the issue of expanding oil drilling in the Central Coast.
Mr. Caldwell said that for national security reasons, the United States needs to become energy independent and that California should utilize its rich oil reserves until it weans itself off of oil and gas.
Rep. Carbajal expressed opposition to expanding coastal or public land oil drilling.
“I think it’s important that we start transitioning sooner rather than later from fossil fuels and investments into renewable energy that will bring about good jobs and at the same time, address this climate change crisis that we are experiencing,” he said.
The congressman remarked that California’s particularly bad wildfire season this year is due to climate change, whereas Mr. Caldwell laid it at the feet of poor forest management.
Also related to climate change, the two candidates were of different opinions on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order requiring auto dealers to only sell zero-emission vehicles by the year 2035.
Rep. Carbajal said he supported the executive order because addressing the climate change crisis requires transitioning to renewable energy and “bold action” to achieve that goal.
Mr. Caldwell doubted the realism of the executive order by pointing out California’s recent rolling blackouts stemming from an insufficient amount of electricity.
“We don’t have enough electricity generation to power what we’re doing right now,” he said.
For this reason, Mr. Caldwell doesn’t think Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant should be decommissioned. Due to California’s inability to store solar and wind energy, Mr. Caldwell remarked that these alternative forms will not make up for the baseline energy that the power plant provides 24 hours a day.
While Rep. Carbajal said it is “unfortunate” that Diablo Canyon will close, and that now is the time to invest in renewable alternatives like offshore wind and thereby create new employment sectors.
On the subject of community colleges, Rep. Carbajal said the federal government should keep doing as it has by providing increased financial aid so students can have access to affordable education.
Mr. Caldwell said throwing additional funding at community colleges does little good when the economy is shut down and no money is being generated to ultimately provide that added funding.
“We do not have enough money to keep the economy closed because the economy is the source of the money,” he said.
Despite all their differences, both candidates welcomed the possibility of Vandenberg Air Force becoming the headquarters of U.S. Space Command.
Rep. Carbajal said he is already trying to encourage the Department of Defense to choose Vandenberg as Space Command headquarters, which would bring economic opportunity to the region.
Mr. Calldwell was fully supportive of bringing Space Command to the local base and the high-tech jobs that go along with it, but stressed the need for bringing more blue collar and manufacturing jobs back to the Central Coast, since most people won’t qualify to work at Space Command.
When giving his closing statement, Mr. Carbajal seized the opportunity to starkly differentiate himself from Mr. Caldwell. He stated that whereas he wants to bolster the Affordable Care Act and protect individuals with pre-existing conditions, protect Roe v. Wade, and get more economic stimulus funding amid the pandemic, Mr. Caldwell doesn’t.
The congressman also called his challenger “a lobbyist for oil companies.”
When Mr. Hennessee turned it over to Mr. Caldwell for his one minute closing statement, Mr. Caldwell chuckled and said, “I should get about five considering how many bombs he just dropped.”
Mr. Caldwell closed by saying that as a working class guy from the North County, he would provide a welcome change from the “Montecito-backed, UCSB-voted-in” representatives the 24th Congressional District normally has.
He asked rhetorically, “Salud does well representing Montecito and UCSB, but the rest of us, can you ever cite one thing that he has accomplished for you? One change he has made in your quality of life?”