A Feeling Out Period in the Initial CA-15 Candidate’s Forum

CONGRESS | 15TH DISTRICT | It’s too early to get nasty in the 15th Congressional District. Democrats Rep. Eric Swalwell, State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett and Republican Hugh Bussell mostly spoke in generalities, while taking pains to avoid confrontation during their first candidate’s forum of the election season. The top two vote-getters in the June 3 primary will advance to the November general election.

Initially, there appeared to be very few differences between the two Democrats and the Republican who joined the race just prior to the filing deadline last March. All opposed fracking, supported a pathway for undocumented immigrants to achieve citizenship and backed campaign finance reform. However, it was the pressing concern of government surveillance that created some space between the candidates.

Bussell, the Alameda County Republican Party vice chair, uttered one of the night’s memorable sound bites when he referred to the belief, by some; the recent “Heartbleed” computer virus was related to the National Security Agency. “I’m not that quite paranoid, but if people are out to get you, it’s not really paranoia, is it?” said Bussell. When it comes to government surveillance of Americans Internet and cell phone use, Corbett vowed to protect privacy rights, as did Swalwell.

“We cannot, must not, sacrifice our privacy in favor of security,” said Swawell. “There is one vote on the NSA that was taken in Congress and that was to defund its phone collection program and I voted against funding that program. I stood for the rights of privacy.” However, Swalwell voted for an earlier bill allowing the government to view the Web histories of citizen without their knowledge.

[READ Swalwell Says He Stood for Privacy Rights; Record Says Otherwise.]

In what may become a major point of contention during this election, Corbett mentioned Swalwell’s previous vote, however, in vague terms. Similarly, Corbett attempted later to skewer Swalwell’s freshman status in Congress, saying she would not use it as an excuse for inaction. But, the hour-long forum was notable for its comity.

Raising the minimum wage is an issue that has pervading all levels of government. Swalwell said he supports President Obama’s plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10, but admitted the figure needs to be higher. Legislation Swalwell offered last year to allow small businesses to defer payroll taxes during the first year would also help boost wages, he said. Local municipalities, though, have been successful in raising the minimum wage on their own, said Corbett. Bussell, though, was less committal when it came to how much he would raise the minimum, other than taking a hands-off approach. “Employers want to pay what they can to keep [employees],” he said. Forcing higher wages may mean “some people will not be hired or lose their jobs,” he said.

In the end, it was Bussell, the Republican with seemingly nothing to lose, who delivered the most poignant dig of the night while acknowledging his opponents’ legal backgrounds. He asked, “Does Washington really need more lawyers?”

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