Hunter foes face daunting task
North County Times (2010-09-19) Mark Walker
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Hunter foes face daunting task
DEMOCRAT AND LIBERTARIAN SAY YOUNG LAWMAKER RIDING FATHER'S COATTAILS
Freshman Congressman Duncan D. Hunter says there's one thing that distinguishes him from his hawkish father, a 14-term lawmaker who stepped down in 2008.
"My age," the younger Hunter said.
The 33-year-old Republican's two opponents, Democrat Ray Lutz and Libertarian Michael Benoit, say that's precisely why they're gunning to unseat the second-youngest member of Congress who succeeded his father in the 52nd Congressional District seat in 2008.
"I'm running because I'm really frustrated with the deceit over the wars and the economy, and Duncan Hunter runs the same game as his father," the 53-year-old Lutz said. "He got the office because people thought they were voting for his father."
"Duncan Hunter represents a broken system that's rigged for incumbents," says Benoit, 59. "He's also the poster child for people who think congressional districts are family fiefdoms."
Name recognition isn't the only factor that gives Hunter an edge in the district that includes portions of Poway and Ramona. Lutz and Benoit also are being vastly outspent, and Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 40,000, according to the latest figures from the county registrar.
Hunter has raised more than $600,000. Lutz has raised less than $20,000 and isn't getting help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is largely ignoring underdog candidates in an effort to hold onto seats it considers winnable.
Benoit says he is spending little to win the two-year term that pays an annual salary of $174,000.
Hunter's freshman term in Congress was marked by many of the same kinds of strong defense and secure borders initiatives that were hallmarks of his father's nearly three decades in Washington.
The same will hold true if he's returned for a second term, Hunter said last week.
"The key issues are the economy and jobs, border security and the war on terror," said the former Marine Corps captain who served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
He supports extending tax cuts enacted under former President George W. Bush that are set to expire at the end of the year, regardless of income level. To offset the impact on the deficit, Hunter said he believes Congress can cut spending in virtually every area, including defense, where he said waste and fraud continue to balloon Pentagon spending.
Hunter also said he is willing to consider a bill addressing how to go about legalizing more than 10 million immigrants in the U.S, but only after the federal government can prove illegal crossings from Mexico have stopped.
"If we can show for a six-month period that the border is in fact secure, then I think we can open up the debate on immigration reform," he said.
The graduate of San Diego State University supports repeal of the health-care reform legislation approved by Congress without a single Republican vote in the House.
"Repeal and replace," he said, echoing a GOP stance on the legislation.
The health-care bill and potential effects of other Obama administration initiatives continue to drag on the economy, he said, adding that employers have told him they expect to see medical premium rate increases. That and uncertainty over taxes and regulations mean Congress should declare a two-year moratorium on any legislation that raises the cost of doing business, he said.
"Business is not investing, hiring or expanding because it doesn't know what is going to happen," he said. "The whole system is in flux, and I believe we should simply say we're not going to touch anything for two years."
While Hunter supports the administration's strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lutz wants all the troops brought home.
"I've never in my lifetime seen a war that's worth crap," said Lutz, who has no military experience. "Vietnam was a waste, Iraq was a war over nothing and no one can tell me that what we're doing in Afghanistan is worth anything."
Hunter got elected strictly because of his name and has done little in the district, Lutz said, while he worked to scuttle the former private security firm Blackwater's plan to put a training facility in Potrero and San Diego Gas & Electric's Sunrise Powerlink utility line.
"I have worked in the community for years," said Lutz, an engineer and educator. "My plan to get this country back on track is getting jobs restarted by investing in energy infrastructure. I want to see solar power panel plants built in almost every congressional district to put people to work and reduce our dependence on foreign oil."
Lutz also called for large-scale investment in bio-fuel technology, and said he favors letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire.
"Most small businesses would barely get touched," he said, refuting Hunter's statement that many of the wealthiest affected by the tax are owners of small firms.
"It's a Republican Party myth that you need to keep taxes low or you are going to hurt the economy," he said. "Alan Greenspan said it best ---- we can't keep borrowing money."
He also called for an immigration reform bill that provides a pathway to citizenship and requires illegal immigrants to pay a penalty for being in the country without authorization.
While Lutz is severely underfunded in comparison to Hunter, he made national news in August when he launched a hunger strike as part of an effort to get Hunter to agree to a series of debates.
Lutz argues that its a disservice to voters to not have the candidates participate in a series of debates, and says Hunter's agreement to a single debate on Oct. 15 comes after many county voters will have received their ballots in the mail.
"I think every race should feature an adequate number of debates so all the issues are aired and voters have a chance to know where people really stand," he said.
Benoit, an Army veteran and small business owner, says he wants to "revive liberty in this country."
"We have a system where the federal government is consuming everything and crushing the private sector," he said. "I hope to be able to convince people that the system we have today is broken."
As a Libertarian, Benoit called for drastically reducing the size of government, bringing U.S. troops home not only from Iraq and Afghanistan, but from every country where they are stationed.
He compares the federal government to a Soviet-style central government with far too much say in the activities of everyday Americans.
"It doesn't matter if Congress is controlled by Republicans or Democrats," he said. "The all have a god complex and believe they can control everything and the people in general don't matter."
Benoit also said he would take a liberal approach to immigration, but require an entrance fee to allow people to relocate to the U.S.
He also called for abolition of the tax structure and the IRS.
Hunter, he said, relies on talking points given to him by the defense industries that account for much of the political action committee money that has gone to his campaign.
"He's a phony government conservative who doesn't know anything and was simply handed the keys to the family business," Benoit said. "He's part of the government that's sucking the life out of the economy, and Democrats and Republicans both need to get out of the picture."
Call staff writer Mark Walker at 760-740-3529.