Congress hopefuls differ on big issues

PALMDALE – Democratic challenger Bryan Caforio and Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, expressed differing views on increasing the minimum wage, drought management and aerospace at a forum sponsored by the Palmdale Chamber of Commerce, but the presidential race loomed over the debate.

Caforio, a Santa Clarita attorney, is seeking to unseat Knight, who is the last Republican congressman in Los Angeles County and whose 25th Congressional District seat is seen as a key one for Democrats as they seek to regain a majority in the House of Representatives.

Asked his top three legislative priorities, Knight said jobs, national defense and water supplies.

“I think that those three things encompass what we should be talking about,” he said. “There are big, big issues. We should be talking about Social Security and Medicare every year, because it changes every year. We should talk about immigration reform, there’s no doubt about that. But if you’re talking about the three biggest issues and you don’t talk about the defense of our nation and taking care of our veterans, and you don’t talk about jobs – which would mean aerospace here – and you don’t talk about water, then you’re really not talking about what we need to do – big ticket items. Those are my priorities.”

Caforio answered the same question by saying equal pay for women, comprehensive immigration reform and strengthening Medicare and Social Security.

“When women thrive, America succeeds,” Caforio said.

“I will make sure that we fund Planned Parenthood, that we defend a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions and that women have the opportunity to fully participate in our economy.”

Caforio added: “We need to have a pathway to citizenship for those people who are otherwise law-abiding, learn English and want to participate in our society.”

The two candidates strongly differed on the topic of the minimum wage, with Caforio saying the federal minimum wage needs to be increased, while Knight said businesses should be consulted.

“At the federal level, we’re talking about a $7.25 minimum wage. Four years ago, it was the equivalent of $10.90. We’ve gone back 30%. There’s a reason why people feel like they’re working longer hours for less money – it’s because they are,” he said. “We need to give a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

Caforio acknowledged that California already has increased the minimum wage to $15 an hour, then blamed elected officials – not naming Knight directly – for voting to keep the minimum wage down, saying “that representative is voting to give a competitive advantage not to constituents, but to business owners and corporations in other states. That’s wrong.”

Knight said he thought the minimum wage should be increased, but a jump from $7.25 to $15 was “too high.”

“I talked to the assemblyman who wrote the increase of the minimum wage here in California, increasing it to $9 and then they increased it to $10. I said, ‘Why’d you pick $9?’ and he said, ‘It’s a natural progression that we pick the next dollar and then we pick the next dollar,'” Knight said, adding that the assemblyman said businesses were not consulted before the legislation was written.

Knight added: “We talked to big business owners, we’ve talked to small business owners, we’ve had roundtables with women business owners to talk to them about access to capital. If you cannot get capital, you probably can’t expand your business, which means you cannot increase more opportunities, which means you cannot create more jobs.”

On aerospace, Caforio said he wants to see the Antelope Valley remain “Aerospace Valley,” including research, manufacturing and STEM education.

“We can increase internships, externships to make sure that those students are ready to jump into those jobs so that we have the best-trained people right here in the Antelope Valley, so that companies have no place other than right here,” he said.

Knight pointed to the $420 million tax credit bill he wrote in the state Senate that paved the way for Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider long-range strike bomber and his Aeronautics Innovation Act that was introduced in the House earlier this year. Knight called the bipartisan measure “a roadmap for Congress” to connect NASA and private industries.

“Part of that roadmap is a low-boom supersonic demonstrator,” he said. “That is already moving forward. That’s going to be a Lockheed project. We’re also going to be working on hypersonics because so many times we’ve worked on hypersonics like the X-15 or the X-43 or the X-51 and then we’ve stopped. So let’s continue on these things.”

On the state’s multi-year drought, Caforio said it was a sign of climate change, which he said Knight, whom Caforio referred to as “my distinguished colleague,” did not believe.

“We can’t conserve our way out of a 6-year drought, but we need real solutions,” he said. “The No. 1 committee I’d like to sit on is the transportation and infrastructure committee, which has the water subcommittee there. We need to have a voice who is dealing with this right from day one and being able to advocate for bringing those resources here.”

Caforio added: “It’s important when we talk about water that we also recognize that this drought didn’t come out of nowhere. This is part of the effects of climate change and that is why it is so important that we have people in office who understand and accept climate science – my distinguished colleague does not accept man-made climate change – and he is therefore not doing what is necessary in order to combat climate change, in order to reduce pollution, in order to reduce carbon and in order to move to a cleaner planet in the future.”

Caforio said he’d like to see “a large-scale water recycling facility” similar to one in Orange County that Caforio said provides enough freshwater for 850,000 people annually.

Knight said the House has passed several water bills, including the Western Water and Food Security Act of 2015 that he co-sponsored, but has been hampered by inaction in the Senate.

“We’ve not gotten a senator that would push that bill forward. We’ve tried to work with Sen. (Dianne) Feinstein and Sen. (Barbara) Boxer and we’ve gotten to a certain level, but we can’t get them to push forward a water bill that will actually bring water to the Central Valley and to Southern California.”

Knight said desalinization plants are unnecessary if water is being let out into the ocean.

“Why do we need desalinization if there are billions of gallons of water going out to the ocean every minute?” he said. “Why do we let the water go out to the ocean, then become salt water, then have to build an $800 million project to take the salt out of the water so we could use it? Why don’t we capture the water before it goes out into the ocean?”

The candidates also were asked about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Of Trump, Knight said: “There have been a lot of things said in this campaign that I don’t believe, that I don’t condone and I think they are not something that I would hope a presidential candidate would say. … I don’t think that either of these candidates are going on a path that we can all stand up and root and say, ‘Boy, this is the greatest America’s got.'”

Knight said Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are polling at 56% disapproval.

“I think this is a difficult race,” he said of the presidential contest. “In the end, we will have to make a choice.”

When asked what his choice was, he said, “I don’t support either one, but I will be voting,” to a mix of applause and laughs. Knight never explicitly said he’d vote for either candidate.

About five minutes later, during a question regarding Syrian refugees, Caforio turned back to Knight’s comments.

“(Knight) said, ‘This is probably the most difficult election we’ll ever face.’ That boggles my mind.” Caforio said. “We have a sexual predator running for president who insults immigrants by calling them rapists and drug dealers, who is attacking women physically and verbally, who is attacking POWs, who is attacking the disabled. If you think that person is fit to be president in any way whatsoever, then there is no way you’re going to be able to stand up to that man if he somehow makes it into the Oval Office. I will stand up to Donald Trump; I have been doing it throughout this entire campaign and the choice is very simple to me. When Donald Trump is the candidate who is running on the other side, it should not be hard.”

Moderator Mike McNutt interjected and said: “Mr. Caforio, could you please answer the question, though?”

After Caforio answered, McNutt asked as a follow-up whether Caforio will be voting for Clinton.

“I will be voting for Hillary Clinton,” he said. “We cannot have Donald Trump be president of this country.”

The audience responded with a smattering of cheers and boos.

Earlier in the debate, Caforio was asked for his position on Clinton, specifically her use of a private email server for official communications while she was Secretary of State.

“I’m concerned with the situation with the emails,” he said. “I think it was a mistake. Secretary Clinton has said it was a mistake. We heard the FBI director come out and speak about their report. It’s concerning.”

Caforio then talked about Trump, calling his presidential run “the most bigoted, racist, misogynistic campaign in presidential history.”

When asked who he would be voting for in the U.S. Senate race that pits California Attorney General Kamala Harris against a fellow Democrat, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, Caforio said he’d vote for Harris.

“I have not formally endorsed in this race. I think either one of them would be great in office, but I’m going to be voting for Kamala Harris,” he said, adding that he thought she has done “a great job as attorney general.”

Harris endorsed Caforio for the 25th Congressional District race last week.

Knight likened the race to the 2014 congressional race that pitted him against former Republican state lawmaker Tony Strickland.

“A lot of my Democrat friends said, ‘This is really difficult.’ I said, ‘No, it’s not.’ I’m not voting for either one,” Knight said. “I do think Kamala Harris is going to win. She has shown to be a very extreme attorney general.”

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