April 2, 2012 | HAYWARD | The verbal gaffe is the political version of a 10-car wreck in auto racing. It’s cringe-wrorthing and the most memorable event of any debate. Friday night in Hayward, Dublin Councilman Eric Swalwell, in his race to unseat Rep. Pete Stark, made a doozy when he inadvertently offered up possible legislation already authored currently by his opponent.
Speaking before a packed house of members from three local Democratic clubs that offered endorsements last Friday night, Swalwell said he was “excited” and “fascinated” by the idea of a financial transactions tax. Stark, though, with much fanfare last February, reintroduced a bill fulfilling the same promise of taxing financial transactions by a minuscule 0.005 percent to fund investments in children, global health, and limiting climate change.
Swalwell’s response was prompted by an audience member who queried both candidates over rising gasoline prices. “If we put a tax on reckless speculation on oil prices, it would reduce our….,” Swalwell said before being cut off by a gleeful Stark.
“You’re right on!” said Stark. “I introduced that bill several times and I’ve got a bill right now that would put a small tax on all transactions.”
“When I get there,” interjected Swalwell, “I’ll make sure I’ve got the credibility to get those bills passed.”
In addition to the obvious gaffe, Swalwell’s performance contrasted noticeably from a month ago at the Tri Valley Democratic Club in Dublin where after initial signs of nervousness, he appeared at ease and comfortable in hitting his talking points. This time around, Swalwell was in Stark country where voters have returned the incumbent to congress nearly 20 times since 1973. Members of the Hayward Demos, Castro Valley Democratic Club and GLOBE overwhelming endorsed Stark Friday night where it also featured candidates for the 20th Assembly District and Hayward City Council.
During the 25-minute forum, Swalwell again hammered away at Stark’s age and lack of residency in his congressional district.
“Like many of our areas, it has fallen on hard times,” said Swalwell. “If we are going to see a rebirth in this area, we need a champion in the U.S. Congress that will show up and work hard everyday.” He later added a frequently used line aimed at Stark’s longevity and age. “I believe after 40 years, you can become out of step, out of touch and out of sight,” said Swalwell.
Like a month ago, Stark appeared ready to fight. In response to Swalwell’s repeated references to the incumbent’s lackluster voting record and residency in Maryland, Stark attempted to highlight Swalwell’s bachelor life versus his own family life. Stark has a teenage son and 10-year old twins who live in Maryland, one of whom attended Friday night’s forum. “I think that’s a prerogative of a parent,” said Stark, “something someday Mr. Swalwell will understand.”
The night wasn’t entirely a slam dunk for Stark. In response to a question on supporting same-sex marriage, both candidates agreed with the right, but Swalwell charged Stark with being hypocritical on the issue.
Swalwell alluded to a 2003 incident when Stark allegedly called Republican Rep. Scott McInnis a “little fruitcake” over a dispute in committee hearings with conservative leaders who were rushing pension legislation through without giving time for Democrats to review the bills. Stark also reportedly called the then-chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, a “cocksucker.”
“I will never, ever use a gay slur on the floor of Congress. Unfortunately, Congressman Stark brought national shame and failed to apologize for using a a gay slur against another member of congress,” said Swalwell. “Saying you support same-sex marriage is one thing, but living it in your life and actions is another.”
Stark furrowed his brow and said, “I don’t know what story he’s talking about.”