Congressional candidates spar at forum

The six candidates who participated in the 2020 50th Congressional District debates hosted by the Greater San Diego Association of Realtors on Valen­tine’s Day submitted answers to moderator Matthew T. Hall from behind transparent podiums lined up on stage. The questions were supplied by attendees ahead of time and the first was on affordable housing.

Henry A. Ota, a loan officer running with no party preference said even so-called affordable housing is not realistic based on minimum wage and the cost of living in San Diego County. He said he would like to see a universal civilian service program imple­mented. One recent version of a universal service program was introduced to the House of Represen­tatives in 2013 and suggested that every resident of the United States between the ages of 18 and 25 should perform a two-year period of national service, unless exempted, either through military service or civilian service in a federal, state or local govern­ment program or with a community-based agency or entity engaged in meeting human, educational, environmental or public safety needs.

California State Sen. and Republican candidate Brian Jones said California regulations are an issue, citing his recent opposition to State Bill 50, which would require cities and counties to allow higher-density housing near job and transit centers.

Republican Darrell Issa spoke broadly about the funding involved with affordable housing.

“We have a strong tendency to engage in rules that don’t have funding behind them,” Issa said.

Consultant Helen Horvath who is running as an Independent said there is a lot of fraud in the federal government, just before Republican Carl DeMaio, who proclaimed: “We’re going to fight the repeal of Prop 13!”

Last in the lineup was Democrat Ammar Campa- Najjar who referenced statistics off the top of his head: California ranks fourth in the nation for home­lessness but 20th for Department of Housing and Urban Development funding.

“In San Diego alone, 30 percent of renters pay 50 percent of their income in housing alone,” Campa- Najjar said.

The second question candidates faced asked sim­ply: Should it matter to voters whether a candidate lives in their district?

Of the six candidates on hand at the debate, Cam­pa-Najjar, Horvath and Jones are all long term resi­dents of the 50th; Ota is a more recent transplant and neither DeMaio nor Issa live in the district.

“I’m tired of politicians picking their voters in­stead of voters picking their politicians,” Campa- Najjar said.

In opposition, Issa said he does not believe a candi­date needs to live in the district, and went on to say he could have chosen to run for the 50th some time ago but made the decision to let young Duncan Hunter have the seat.

Ota said he is a transplant but went on to say that without people moving from other places there wouldn’t be a 50th district.

Ota also took the lead with his answer to the next question on what the federal government should be doing to help end homelessness by pointing out that his primary campaign goal is to end homelessness within two years. He then spoke again on his belief in a universal civilian service program.

Jones loosely blamed leaders in Sacramento for failing to curb homelessness through current policy, and said he supports President Donald Trump’s ap­proach of working with the Environmental Protec­tion Agency at the federal level to enforce sanitation policies in California.

“The easier you make it to be homeless, the more homeless you’re going to get,” Jones said.

In answering the question on federal solutions for homelessness, Issa first shifted the narrative to local legislation and said he believes the mayor is doing bet­ter here than lawmakers in San Francisco. However, Hall pressed him to address what he would do in Congress to better address homelessness in the 50th district.

Issa said he would continue to make money available for organi­zations like Solutions For Change, an answer that elicited commen­tary from DeMaio who pointed out that the facility does not cur­rently receive federal funding. De­Maio, who said he has a four-point plan to deal with the homeless crisis, actually leases campaign office space from Solutions For Change, a fact he pointed out in his own answer.

Campa-Najjar referenced a per­sonal example of trying to help an individual in Washington during his time with the Department of Labor. He said his attempt to help the man initially failed un­til he connected the person with wraparound services and believes the situation is more complicated than people just needing a home.

Candidates were also asked about the State and Local Tax (SALT) cap. Trump signed a tax law which caps those deductions at $10,000 for singles and married couples who jointly file taxes. All six candidates agreed on lifting the cap.

Horvath reprimanded DeMaio for repeatedly exceeding his al­lotted one minute then went over time in her own answer after Hall redirected her back to the question of whether she would or would not vote to change the SALT cap after she diverted the statement to the topic of sexual assault. She confirmed that she would vote to change the cap be­fore Campa-Najjar leaned out and in an exasperated tone asked De­Maio:

“Why aren’t you running for Governor?”

The audience burst out with applause.

Ota said he generally benefits from Trump’s tax plan as he is not married and his businesses are all Limited Liability Corporations, but he feels it is important to ques­tion utilization of tax dollars.

“Where do we spend the tax dollars that we send to Sacramen­to or D.C.?” Ota asked.

He was also first to answer the question asking how the govern­ment should restructure Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the loan giants who fell under scrutiny after their 2008 housing market bailout.

The loan officer said he would support some restructuring of the firms but it was a tough question to answer in 60 seconds, requir­ing at least a 30-minute lunch, to which the audience laughed and Hall commended him:

“You did that in 40 seconds.”

Jones agreed it was a compli­cated question and said that as soon as the government involves itself in any financial transac­tions, they fall apart. He said any solution would have to either in­clude full financial independence or full government backing but that anything in the middle was a mistake.

Issa suggested splitting the giants into regional groups with federal oversight.

Horvath said that conceptu­ally she would support public-private partnerships but believes program cost analysis would be crucial.

DeMaio categorized the hous­ing crisis as not unlike the current opioid crisis, and suggested that both situations were in part cre­ated by the federal government regulating industries, then at­tempting to deal with the after­math.

Campa-Najjar said his loose an­swer would be to regulate.

Moving on to the question of whether they would support HB5, the Equality Act that would pro­hibit discrimination in housing, employment and services, Campa- Najjar said he is a Christian who would not want that to ever be a factor held against him and sup­ports the act.

Horvath and Ota also would support the bill.

DeMaio said he would not sup­port the bill and Issa followed suit.

Jones said that he would not support the bill as it is currently written, then went on to say he is an ardent defender of the first and second amendment.

Ota closed the question by gen­erally speaking up for equality.

The penultimate question posed to the six candidates asked them to identify the most press­ing infrastructure concern in the 50th district.

Ota said sewage from Mexico leaking over into local waters is his biggest concern but Jones, Issa, Horvath and DeMaio all said issues with road construction and San Di­ego Association of Governments funding need to be addressed.

Campa-Najjar agreed there are issues with SANDAG but took it a step further and cited local grievances such as Alpine high­schoolers having to commute down unsafe roads to schools in neighboring areas, calling for a federal infrastructure bill to in­vest in the region.

The final question at the forum sought ideas from candidates on how they would boost jobs in the 50th.

Campa-Najjar voiced his sup­port for apprenticeships, relating how he left a letter for Trump af­ter his stint at the Department of Labor suggesting that the presi­dent could rebuild the middle class through development of an apprenticeship program that would get people working while pursuing an education.

DeMaio said the district needs cheaper housing and has to cut the cost of owning a business.

Horvath cited a need for cheap­er childcare but did not say how she would cut those costs.

Issa blamed the state for slow business growth but did not elabo­rate on how he would boost local jobs.

Jones pointed to his success in pushing small business and regu­latory reform bills through at the State level and said he would con­tinue to help build jobs by aiding in the growth of small, local busi­nesses. Ota suggested instituting Universal Basic Income.

Congressional candidates spar at forum


  1. Debate format: There was a sixty second time limit for answers in the debate with a 15 second additional reply. This did not permit major policy discussions regarding key issues.

    The article itself misses key issues discussed by myself as an Alpine resident and candidate.The comment regarding childcare was clearly defined in the debate as a public private partnership between Navy and the Community. There were other key policy statements made that are important to our communities that were overlooked or minimized. Jessica missed the mark in this article. I have sent a request for corrections since the article misconstrued what was stated that can be confirmed by watching the CBS8 50th District Debate video.

    I hope that you will independently take the time to review the debate video to learn more about all the candidates. I was stuck between Issa and DeMaio.

    Please google our campaign website for more information.

    Dr. Helen
    Helen L. Horvath, PsyD
    Candidate, 50th Congressional District
    Alpine, CA


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