Archive » October 20, 2011
GOP hopefuls eager to oust Capps
By Jeremy Foster, Staff Writer
It was the first chance for voters to hear from two candidates vying for the newly configured 24th Congressional district, but the two speakers were not incumbent Rep. Lois Capps and Republican Abel Maldonado.
Considered Tea party favorites, Christopher Mitchum, a former actor and businessman, and Tom Watson, a tech businessman, took part in a nearly two-hour discussion on Oct. 14 that, though advertised as a debate, saw little disagreement on important national or local issues.
Less a sparring match than a political call to arms from like-minded Republicans, Mitchum, and Watson, who ran as last year’s Republican candidate, promised that if either were sent to Washington, they would turn the clock back on legislation passed at the federal level in the last few years and then some, starting with President Obama’s sweeping health-care overhaul.
“We have a real opportunity of electing a representative, a constitutionalist,” intoned moderator Stephen Frank, publisher of California News & Views. “We’ll have somebody who believes the people, not the government, count.”
The 24th Congressional District now includes more conservative districts, having shed some Democratic-leaning areas of Ventura County while absorbing Republican-strongholds in the North County, including the Santa Ynez Valley, and San Luis Obispo. Last year, Capps handily defeated Watson in a district that had a Democratic voter registration advantage of 45% to 27%. The redrawn map has whittled that edge down to 4 percentage points – a fact not lost on high-profile Republican donors, particularly Republican strategist Karl Rove, who helped launch some television ads attacking the congresswoman’s record.
The forum was hosted by the Santa Barbara Tea Party inside the Reagan Room at Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort, where some 100 Tea Party members had streamed in to hear out the candidates and decide which one they want to challenge Capps. Maldonado, a former GOP state senator, declined an invitation to participate in the forum, which may explain why the debate saw no gibes – at least between the two candidates that showed.
“We have an opportunity for the first time in almost 18 years to get an actual conservative in office,” Watson told the audience. “Abel Maldonado is certainly not a conservative, and I don’t want to see that man in Congress.”
“They hate him up there in his territory up north,” Mitchum later said. “They despise him, call him a certified RINO (Republican in Name Only), and he’s almost unknown down here.”
Nevertheless, the two Republicans reserved their most barbed criticism for Capps, Obama and the Democratic Party.
“In 2008, this country suffered a bloodless coup when Socialists took over two of our three branches of government,” Mitchum said. “They’ve used their positions to undo the very form of government that got them elected to office.”
Mitchum last ran for office as the Republican candidate for the 35th State Assembly District in 1998, which he lost narrowly to Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson. He decided to run “so that my children and my children’s children can say of me, ‘He did all that could be done.’” Both candidates underscored their anti-regulatory fervor, calling for repeal of not only ObamaCare, but also the federal income tax, laws requiring employees to join unions, and the financial reform law, Dodd-Frank, that was passed last year by Congress.
Both aim to remove restrictions on oil drilling (“It’s absolute insanity,” Watson said of our current energy policy) and push for Social Security and immigration reform. On the latter issue, Mitchum said the U.S. needs to militarize the border. Both back some kind of guest-worker program and an E-Verify system, instead of a policy that penalizes businesses for employing illegal immigrants because many undocumented workers forge documents.
“A lot of these industries like agriculture, hospitality and some construction definitely need access to that labor,” Watson said. “We don’t have 12 million people in this country simply sucking up social services. They’re here merely to work. If you talk to any farmer, they will tell you they’d be dead without that.”
Citing the 10th amendment of the Constitution, which limits the range of the federal government’s powers, both promise to advocate the abolishment of the federal Department of Education, which they contend will save money and allow for more local control of education. “It makes no sense for them to take a dollar from us in Santa Barbara and send us back 50 cents and then tell us what to do with it,” Watson said.
Both extolled medical malpractice tort reform as a way to cut down on medical costs. Mitchum said his father, a cardiologist, had to shutter his practice in Los Angeles because malpractice insurance became exorbitant. Watson said “10% of our health care costs are directly attributable to this problem,” though he said tort reform is a state issue. Watson specified that he supported shifting Medicare toward a premium-support model (otherwise known as the Paul Ryan Plan) that provides seniors with subsidies to purchase private health insurance.
The candidates differed slightly on the subject of earmarks and unions. Mitchum, a past vice president of the Screen Actors Guild, castigated public employee unions and advocates a nationwide right-to-work law, which bans union-only workplaces, while Watson said he supports it on the state level, but was not sure if a federal law would pass Constitutional muster.
They also varied on the War Powers Resolution of 1973. Mitchum sharply criticized Obama for intervening in Libya and Ugaunda without congressional approval. Watson, a third generation Naval Officer, said the president’s decisions to get involved in those two conflicts was misguided, but he added: “The constitution is very clear that the chief executive, the president, is the one responsible for the armed services. We can’t have 535 generals in Congress trying to run our military activity.”
Gerry Shepherd of the Santa Ynez Valley Concerned Citizens asked the candidates whether they would support an Indian tribe’s efforts to use federal legislation to annex land into its reservation. Watson said he wouldn’t. Mitchum said he’d only consider it if the community supported the plan.
Asked about Social Security, both said it was one of many entitlement programs that needed serious reform. “I don’t know anyone my age or younger that thinks they’re going to get Social Security and Medicare,” Watson stated. “The jig is up. I think the populous is ready for change.”
Following the debate, a straw poll was taken, showing Mitchum and Watson in a dead heat, while Maldonado captured only two votes. Both candidates say they’ll use the Constitution as the litmus test to decide whether a bill should be passed. “This is the last best hope for mankind on this planet,” Mitchum said, urging attendees to volunteer and contribute to the conservative campaigns. “If we lose in 2012, we are facing 1,000 years of darkness.”
Although Watson has far more name recognition early in the game, Mitchum said he is confident he can do more than catch up if he officially decides to run. He pointed out that he was a dark horse in the 1998 race, jumping into the contest a month before the filing deadline and raising $998,000 in eight months, which marked a fundraising record for state assembly.
Mitchum said he was slightly more conservative than Watson, but still persuasive with undecided voters. “All people have to do is hear me talk. I’ll sit down with liberal Democrats and take my chances with turning their vote,” he told the Journal. “I’d rather go into the lions’ den, because when they say they come around and support you, then you know it’s a lock.”
Watson said had the district’s configuration mirrored the redrawn one, he would have won last year’s election. And as for competition from Mitchum and others, Watson said the latest polls indicate that 60% of registered voters in the district recognize his name, lower than Capps’s and Maldonado’s 90%, but much higher than Mitchum’s 7%.
“You don’t have the time nor the money to make up that kind of ground in this kind of election,” he said. Neither is Watson too concerned about Maldonado: “My guess is he’s probably going to have close to a million, and he’s going to need every penny of that to make people forget about what he’s done to us,” Watson contended, alluding to the former lieutenant governor’s decision a couple years back to break party ranks in support of a temporary tax increase. If campaign war chests determined the winner of a primary, Maldonado, who has $603,768 on hand, would be the clear victor. By comparison, Watson last reported nearly $10,000 and Mitchum $1,400.