PALMDALE — Four self-described progressive Democratic candidates vying for the 25th Congressional District seat in two separate races agreed on a lot of topics at a Thursday night debate.
The candidates — Getro Elize, Christopher Smith, Cenk Uygur and Aníbal Valdéz-Ortega — all criticized Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith for not showing up to the debate. Christy Smith, no relation to candidate Christopher Smith, could not attend Thursday’s debate because she was in Sacramento.
“Christy Smith is focused on doing the peoples work in the State Assembly,” Campaign Spokeswoman Lexie Kelly said in a statement. “As the only woman in the race, she will not be directed by a bunch of men from outside the district who are hosting a media stunt. She is already doing the job of delivering for the people of CA-25.”
Uygur listed a Novato address on his candidate nomination papers. Christopher Smith is from Los Angeles. Valdéz-Ortega is an Antelope Valley native, and Elize lives in Palmdale. Valdéz-Ortega said they organized the debate themselves because people wanted to hear from the candidates.
Stephen Daniels, host of The Talk of Santa Clarita podcast, moderated the debate, held at Transplants Brewing Co. free of charge. Each candidate contributed $27 to pay for the stage used in the debate. They said they reached out to Christy Smith’s campaign with different options for the debate date but did not get a response.
Daniels addressed the controversy of whether the debate was actually a debate. Daniels read a definition of debate he pulled from the Internet.
“A debate is defined as a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting,” Daniels read. “This is public. We’re having a discussion on a particular topic, opposing arguments are put forward. I would say this classifies as a debate, so let’s move from that.”
Uygur, Elize, Valdéz-Ortega, Christopher Smith and Christy Smith are among a field of 13 candidates vying to fill former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill’s seat.
Hill resigned last November following allegations of relations with staff members that triggered a House Ethics Committee investigation and following the online release of nude photos of Hill in conservative outlets.
Hill denied the allegations of a relationship with a congressional staffer as the result of a divorce from an abusive husband, but admitted to one with a campaign staff member.
“I think what happened to Katie Hill was wrong,” Uygur said. “I don’t think she should have resigned. … From what we know, (she) certainly shouldn’t have resigned over pictures; that’s her private life.”
As to how he is different from Hill, Uygur said he will not be controlled by anybody, including Democratic leadership.
“I think what happened to her is not fair,” Valdéz-Ortega said.
Where Valdéz-Ortega differs from Hill, is that he thinks the focus should be more on children and education, and the people in the district.
“I don’t think Katie Hill should have resigned … Like Aníbal said it’s a double standard,” Elize said. “How I’m different is I would held accountable, unlike some of the politicians that we have that’s currently elected.”
Christopher Smith said he is unlike Hill in that he can’t raise as much money as she could.
“I agree with what Cenk said, which is I think that as progressives when we get to Congress we need to work and collaborate with other progressives,” Christopher Smith said. “We need to stand up to leadership, who doesn’t always have our best interests in mind.”
Uygur, Valdéz-Ortega and Elize support U.S. Sen Bernie Sanders for president. Christopher Smith supported Sanders in the last election. But he chose U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren for policy wonkiness in the upcoming presidential election.
“I kind of want to elect somebody who’s smart, and I’m not saying Bernie’s not, I think he really is,” Christopher Smith said. “I think Bernie probably lines up a little more with my values, but I think it’s time for a woman.”
Daniels’ first question to the candidates was why they are running for Congress, and why they are the best person for the job.
Uygur said he does not care about the power or privilege that comes with being a congressman.
“The reason I’m running is because nobody will call out the cancer in our system, and that is the corruption,” Uygur said. “If you don’t call it by its name, you’re never, ever going to fix it. When a corporation gives you money, they don’t give you money for charity. They give it because it’s bribe and they’re looking to buy you. … If you don’t get the money out we’re never, ever going to fix it.”
Valdéz-Ortega, who attended local schools and is now an attorney, said that after the 2016 presidential election he woke up with a big headache.
“I’m running because so many people after that election told me, ‘What do we do now?’ ” Valdéz-Ortega said. “What does this mean for immigration? What does this mean for DACA? What does this mean for my pre-existing condition.”
Valdéz-Ortega also agreed with Uygur about getting money out of politics.
Elize pointed out the 25th District is currently unrepresented.
“We’ve got to elect someone that’s going to represent the 25th and its best interests,” Elize said.
Smith, a documentary filmmaker, said it can takes years to get a project out. He missed the hands-on part of being involved in change.
“When what happened did happen with Katie Hill, you know there was a brief window and it just felt like in my gut it was time to get back involved,” Christopher Smith said.
Asked what they would do specifically as the representative for the 25th Congressional District, Elize said he would focus on homelessness.
“We have people out here dying on the street,” Elize said.
Elize added he would focus on economic growth to bring jobs closer to home.
“I want to bring infrastructure expansion,” Elize said. “We have places like Acton, and Lake L.A., and Gorman, things like that. They are rural areas. How can emergency services respond to somebody if we don’t have roads up there.”
Elize added he would like to cancel student debt.
Valdéz-Ortega said the answer is to educate the future. He said there are not enough jobs in the Antelope Valley.
“We have the people capacity,” Valdéz-Ortega said. “We have the opportunity, and the 14 (Freeway). It’s a mess; we need to expand it.”
Uygur said homelessness is out of control in the district. He also criticized politicians who take money from the NRA.
“We don’t have affordable housing. We need affordable housing,” Uygur said.
Uygur also touched on climate change.
“We’ve got fires all across the district,” Uygur said. “Meanwhile, the Antelope Valley’s perfect for solar and wind energy. We could bring high-paying jobs and help (the environment).”
Daniels asked Uygur, the founder and co-host of the “The Young Turks” online talk show, about donations to his campaign.
“Even though you don’t live in the district you have raised the second-highest donations,” Daniels said. “How much of that is from the district itself? Do you know?”
Uygur said he has raised $800,000, of which more than a quarter came from California. Uygur said he did not collect that amount of money from corporate donors he would be beholden to.
“I got it from 30,000 donations,” Uygur said.
Daniels also asked about Uygur’s “celebrity” status.
“I’m known for being a progressive fighter that says get the money out of politics,” Uygur said.
Voters will vote twice for the 25th District Congressional seat on March 3. One is the primary for a full two-year term. The top two vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 3 general election. The others is a special primary election to elect someone to complete the unexpired term on Hill’s former seat, which expires in January 2021. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, there will be a May 12 runoff election.
Uygur, Elize and Valdéz-Ortega filed their nomination papers for the special primary election on Wednesday. Smith has yet to pull nomination papers as of Friday, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder-County Clerk’s office. All four candidates’ names will appear on the primary ballot for the two-year seat.