The race for California’s 4th Congressional District seat had its tensions magnified by a somewhat vocal crowd on hand Sunday in Mariposa for the first debate between Rep. Tom McClintock and challenger Jessica Morse.
Morse was the first to go on the offensive, attacking McClintock for not living in the district he represents. This is not the first time the Democratic challenger has used the fact that McClintock lives in Elk Grove, a suburb of Sacramento, against him. Before he moved north, McClintock was a state legislator representing Ventura County-area districts.
“You have a choice between a career politician from Southern California who doesn’t live in our district, or a homegrown public servant,” Morse said to a packed Mariposa County High School auditorium.
Morse’s history as a public servant includes time spent with the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
With his loyalty to his district in question, McClintock was quick to point out that Morse moved to Pollock Pines only a year ago. The incumbent Republican congressman even joked that Elk Grove was closer to Mariposa than Pollock Pines.
“The question is not where you live, it’s where you stand,” he said.
These statements drew the ire of a few of the audience members, leading one to shout, “Where were you!?” before being told to be quiet by Greg Little, moderator of the debate and editor of the sponsoring Mariposa Gazette.
The audience also grew a bit restless when the candidates began discussing illegal immigration.
“I happen to think the biggest problem with our immigration laws is that they haven’t been enforced,” McClintock said. A statement which a group of audience members audibly concurred with by loudly belting out, “Yeah!” and applauding.
The incumbent agreed with President Donald Trump’s call for a wall and said he would not agree to legalize DACA recipients until “our borders are secure and our immigration laws are uniformly enforced.”
Morse agreed that current immigration laws are not efficient, but said that was a result of ineffective immigration laws and not the lack of a border wall. The challenger called for “biometric visas” that could monitor who is supposed to be here and who isn’t, as well as drones monitoring the borders.
“I remember a border wall that (Ronald) Reagan asked to be taken down,” Morse said, referencing the former president’s famous 1987 call to tear down the Berlin Wall dividing Germany. “Walls are not necessarily the most successful approach.”
Besides the few outbursts from audience members, the debate never grew to be overly rowdy. Neither candidate ventured into personal attacks, opting instead to question their opponent’s policies.
Morse labeled McClintock a “career politician” several times throughout the debate and argued he opts to vote with his party rather than his community, citing his support of the repeal of Obamacare and the country’s newest tax plan. McClintock defended both of those stances.
He said he was reelected on the platform of going into office to help repeal Obamacare, and on his idea of an ideal health care plan, he said it would consist of a “patient-centered system where people will have the widest choice of alternatives available.” He also assured that with this plan, a basic health care plan would be available to all Americans.
McClintock condemned the “Medicare for all” plan that he claimed Morse supported, saying that plan was completely unaffordable, but Morse was quick to deny the claim that she supported such a plan.
“What I am supporting is a strategy to ensure that everyone, regardless of if you live in a rural, or an urban, or a suburban community, have access to affordable, quality health care because our lives depend on it,” Morse said.
The two candidates also tackled issues specific to their district such as wildfire prevention. Mariposa County in particular endured two fires in two years (the Detwiler and Ferguson fires) that each burned over 80,000 acres.
McClintock called for the removal of excess timber before it burns, but said forest regulations have made that extremely difficult. Morse called for a greater monetary investment into fire prevention, claiming regulations have nothing to do with how prone the area is to wildfires.
“We have tried these policies for 45 years and I think after 45 years, we are entitled to ask, ‘How are our forests doing?’ We have got to change those laws and we are making progress in changing them,” McClintock said.
Their stances on fire prevention set a precedent for some of the other issues put before them. On questions regarding education and affordable housing, Morse called for more government investment, while McClintock called for reduced government intervention.
The audience cheered loudly when they could for both candidates. Some even stood in applause after Morse’s closing statements.
Morse faces an uphill battle in her quest to take McClintock’s seat. In the June primary, McClintock won 52 percent of the primary vote, with Morse winning only 20 percent to come in second and earn a spot in the November general election.
And while Morse raised three times more money that McClintock heading into the general election, McClintock still went in with more money than Morse.
The debate in Mariposa was, as of Sunday, the only one confirmed. The two were originally supposed to square off in another debate in Lake Tahoe, but McClintock pulled out of that encounter, citing an endorsement and campaign contributions made to Morse by Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council, as the reason why.
On Thursday, Sept. 20, Morse announced via news release she had accepted to participate in three more debates. Two in Granite Bay near Folsom and another in Lake Tahoe, hosted by Lake Tahoe Community College Foundation.