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Only Debate in 52nd Congressional District Pits Incumbent vs. Challengers

Poway Patch (2010-10-15) Ken Stone

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Only Debate in 52nd Congressional District Pits Incumbent vs. Challengers

Rep. Duncan D. Hunter makes, takes shots in Cuyamaca College forum with Democrat Ray Lutz and Libertarian Michael Benoit.

By Ken Stone | Email the author | October 15, 2010

GOP incumbent Rep. Duncan D. Hunter stood between challengers Ray Lutz and Michael Benoit, taking crossfire before a politically divided audience of 200 Friday night at Cuyamaca College in Rancho San Diego. Democrat Lutz and Libertarian Benoit took their best shots in the 52nd Congressional District's lone debate this year.

But Hunter, a former Marine captain with an office in La Mesa, answered back with heavy fire of his own, sometimes triggering boos and derisive laughter from an audience that mostly favored Lutz. But Hunter was in a good mood, noting the return of his lone sibling—brother Sam—this week from an Iraq deployment.

"My brother returned home safe," he said. "We're a happy family."

Sponsored by the East County Chamber of Commerce, the 80-minute debate saw lively exchanges, audience catcalls and a few stern reminders to the crowd to be respectful.

Moderator Steve Hamann, a professional charity auctioneer and master of ceremonies, said cheers took away from their candidate's time.

Questions from the audience—submitted on cards and selected by the chamber's Roger Roberts and Scott Alevy—dealt with everything from illegal immigration and alternative energy to whether the candidates think they can make a difference in the "broken, deadlocked, partisan system" in Washington.

One query drew universal smiles. "We have a comedian in [the house]," Hamann said. "Why do candidates all wear red ties?"

Libertarian candidate Benoit, noting his sixth run for Congress in this district since 2000, opened by saying, "This election is rigged" and asserting that all but 50 congressional districts in America are gerrymandered to favor either a Republican or Democrat.

"The system is broken," said Benoit (pronounced Ben-WAH), who along with his rivals brought out supporters, signs and banners displayed outside the Performing Arts Theatre where the debate was held on a cool, misty night.

Lutz rankled Hunter the most during responses to a question about a federal judge's decision in San Diego against the "don't-ask-don't-tell" policy on gays in the military. Lutz said: "You don't have to be straight to shoot straight" and noted the likelihood that Hunter probably had gays in his unit when he served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Mr. Hunter thinks he can't operate if there's a gay around," Lutz said.

When his rebuttal came, Hunter fired back. Referring to himself, he said: "I haven't seen anyone make fun of a military officer the way Mr. Lutz just did."

Lutz said Hunter benefited from having the same name as his father—the 28-year congressman Duncan L. Hunter—and said he inherited the seat and got a half-million dollars in campaign contributions from companies that formerly backed the elder Hunter and benefited from his earmarks.

"He's in there for the billionaires," Lutz said of his GOP rival, taking advantage of "their big profits."

Benoit begged to differ, saying: "I don't think Hunter is in there for the big guys. He's in there for himself."

For his part, Hunter mocked Lutz on his contention that the "unemployment rate is flat," saying: "I went to school at Granite Hills [High School in El Cajon]. I don't understand liberal math."

Lutz didn't mention that he also attended Granite Hills, graduating in 1975. Hunter is 33. Lutz, born in La Mesa, is 53.

Among other questions and responses:

—Via a written submission, a fifth-grade student at Murdock Elementary School in the Mt. Helix area asked: "What would you do to help public education?"

Hunter favored "competition," said "home-schooling works" and asked: "Why should your tax money go to other states?"—apparently referring to spending by the federal Department of Education. He said costs could be cut at the state level: "People in Sacramento who pass paper. ... They need to be fired."

He favored pushing decision-making on schools down "to the lowest level" and supported letting parents send their children to any school they want.

Lutz said competition doesn't work in education, citing a book he recently read on the subject. He called the No Child Left Behind law "bogus" and "sets no standards." He called for standardized curriculums and opposed the movement toward charter schools. "It doesn't work," he said.

Benoit said he backed elimination of the Department of Education, and Hunter applauded that remark.

—Hamann asked the three on stage how they plan to bring more jobs to East County.

Lutz said he would try to "incentivize" small businesses—especially alternative energy companies such as solar-panel makers—rather than rely on government stimulus spending for big projects.

In response, Hunter said, "This is truly what separates liberals and conservatives" and said the government shouldn't be "picking winners and losers" by favoring one industry over another.

"It's not about the government providing jobs," he said. "It's about getting government out of the way."

Benoit blamed the economic meltdown on government social programs "sucking money out of the economy" and the Federal Reserve, which he said created the current "Depression" by printing worthless dollars.

—Moderator Hamann asked: What is your stance on illegals crossing the border?

Benoit said it was a problem the federal government created in the 1960s or 1970s when it ended the migrant-workers program, referring to the contract-labor process known as the bracero program.

Lutz supported a "tough path to citizenship" that included a $10,000 fine for people here illegally.

Hunter called the border issue one of national security, saying that if a nuclear "dirty bomb" were to get through and be detonated, "People [would] scream for the border to be closed."

In rebuttal, Benoit said he would beef up the border with more patrols by bringing troops home "from around the planet. ... You can't stop [illegal immigration] until you have people on the ground" guarding the border.

Lutz said he's for border security, but not with a fence. "If you have a 50-foot fence, I'll show you a 51-foot ladder," he said. "Don't build a border [fence] ... acting like [Mexicans] are the enemy."

Said Hunter: "We all know fences work. Go to any military base. ... Thank God we have a fence," which his father helped build through legislation. He said that Mexico has become a "failed narco-state."

—Asked what they would do to provide alternative sources of energy, the candidates staked out widely varying stands.

Hunter said: "If the market can bear it, we should do it," but that it wasn't his job as a congressman to favor one industry over another. "Until air or solar can power my truck," he said, "I'm going to buy diesel."

Lutz said he wasn't "picking winners and losers" but favored subsidies like the ones used in Germany to boost their solar-panel production. He also said: "We've just been through two wars fighting over fossil fuels. ... No, Mr. Hunter, it's not impossible to change" our energy policies.

Hunter responded: "We're fighting for liberty for the Afghan people. We're not over there because of fossil fuels."

—On the question of the most important issues facing the 52nd District—which extends north to Poway and Ramona and east to Borrego Springs—Lutz said it was the economy and the mortgage crisis, saying 25 percent of people are "upside down" on their home loans, owing more than their homes are worth.

Lutz said banks are mishandling the crisis, despite getting bailouts of $800 billion, which he called "the biggest transfer of money in the history of the world."

Hunter said the housing market is a symptom of a bad economy and called for lower taxes, and an extension of the Bush tax cuts.

—Candidates were asked their stands on embryonic stem cell research and whether they understood that "research does not cause abortions."

Hunter supported work with adult stem cells, but opposed studies using embryonic stem cells because he is "against farming embryos from women." Lutz backed embryonic stem cell research.

—On the issue of reforming the "broken, partisan system" in Washington, Lutz suggested that all lawmakers be brought home so D.C. lobbyists can't approach them for earmarks.

"I don't want to be in Washington when it's bitter cold," Lutz said, preferring to stay in warm San Diego.

Hunter said, "Staying back here sounds good" and noted his wife would like that. But he addressed the question by saying: "It's time for a new generation [of lawmakers] to be accountable and accessible."

He called for "transparency," which he said contrasts with the way the House is run by Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco.

Hunter concluded by quoting Karl Rove, the former senior adviser to President George W. Bush, as warning that Democrats would make "outlandish claims" in this midterm election in efforts to defeat Republicans.

Benoit, in his concluding remarks, hit the federal debt, which he said is $13.4 trillion. "This debt, folks, that they have left us is enslaving our children," he said.

The Democrat was the last to speak. He wished everyone "the best of Lutz," and thanked Hunter for coming—after his own 11-day fast in August drew national attention to his call for debates with the Republican incumbent.

After the debate, a woman congratulated Lutz, saying: "I never heard you so fired up."

Hunter was first elected in 2008, defeating Democrat Michael Lumpkin, a former Navy SEAL commander, 56.3 percent to 38.9 percent, with Benoit getting 4.67 percent of the vote.

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Title Only Debate in 52nd Congressional District Pits Incumbent vs. Challengers
Publisher Poway Patch
Author Ken Stone
Pub Date 2010-10-15
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Note Features Ray Lutz and Duncan Hunter Jr
Keywords CA 50 Congressional District
Media Type Linked Article
Media Group News
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Topic revision: r2 - 25 Feb 2013, RaymondLutz
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