By Caleb Smith
All three candidates running for Congress in California’s 18th Congressional District assembled for the only time in a debate hosted by The Stanford Daily in the studios of KMVT Mountain View. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D), Bob Harlow’ 15 (D), and Richard Fox (R) faced off for approximately one hour over issues such as bipartisanship, housing, H-1B visas and more.
The first question in the debate asked how candidates would potentially work with a president of the opposite party in an era of increased partisanship. Harlow responded first to the question with a strong endorsement of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
“He’s the only candidate who will put the American people first,” Harlow said.
Fox answered second and identified himself as a libertarian Republican and said that he would not be supporting Trump.
“I don’t think he is of the requisite character and temperament and principles that I follow.”
Fox said he would support Gov. John Kasich in June and was leaning toward a vote for the Libertarian party ticket in the November general election.
Eshoo explained that she has experience working under Democratic presidents like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and also Republican presidents like George W. Bush. Eshoo said she would support Hillary Clinton in the general election and slammed apparent Republican nominee Donald Trump.
“Mr. Trump troubles me… he seems to have a policy free sorcery,” Eshoo said.
Harlow responded with a rousing attack on Clinton for her vote for the Iraq War and said that Eshoo’s endorsement of the candidate was “irresponsible.”
The next question was about the housing crisis in the Bay Area and how the candidates would respond.
Fox said that the federal government was borrowing too much and spending too much already.
“I don’t believe that the federal government should try to involve itself in what people pay for their rent in Palo Alto for their rent versus Houston versus Detroit- those are state and local issues,” Fox said.
Eshoo disagreed and called for more federal action on housing. Eshoo explained that she started in local government and that the state and federal governments were key partners then but that matters had since changed.
“I think the federal government is no longer a reliable partner in this area. Why? Because the funds have been cut and cut severely.”
Eshoo said that it was a major loss to the community when many workers such as teachers and garbage collectors could not afford to live there.
Harlow said that the issue was not a lack of affordable housing but rather a lack of housing in general. Harlow said that what the Bay Area needed was a high speed rail line from San Jose to the Central Valley region of California to open up new land for development. According to Harlow, the rail link would “save hundreds of millions of dollars in our district alone.”
Harlow responded by holding up a chart showing the increase of national debt. He said that increases in affordable housing, open space, and population growth had to be balanced due to the availability of funding.
Eshoo said that she was proud of the work she had done to help fund Caltrain and support capacity increases and electrification for the system.
Harlow disagreed and argued that Caltrain was a failure because it was not a faster route to San Francisco than using a car. Harlow also argued that San Francisco International Airport ought to be torn down and replaced with housing while a new airport ought to be built south of San Jose.
The next question was about the provision of military surplus equipment to local police departments and the issue of policing more broadly. Eshoo said she was shocked that the equipment had been used during protests and had voted on an amendment to end the program that provided the equipment.
“I don’t think that military weaponry belongs in local police departments,” Eshoo said.
Eshoo also emphasized the need for more police training, noting this could be challenge for smaller police departments in particular.
Harlow said he agreed on stopping the provision of the military surplus equipment and swiftly pivoted into an argument that education was vital to preventing crime.
Fox agreed that militarized police forces was a challenge and that education was an important issue. Fox however said that there was not enough money to afford increased education expenditures and supported school choice. Fox blasted existing public schooling options.
“A lot of these kids are in schools which themselves are no more than concentration camps where children are herded into them every day and locked down,” Fox said.
Harlow disagreed that the funding was not available and reiterated that more funding was necessary.
Eshoo said that the federal government had very little involvement in K-12 education in terms of funding but should fulfill existing unfunded promises.
“The Congress needs to make good on what it promised years ago for special education.”
Eshoo said she supported zero interest student loans and expanded pell grants. Eshoo also said she supported closing down schools that took student loan money but had a low graduation rate.
Fox followed up by repeating his support for school choice.
The next question for the candidates was how they intended to support access to higher education in the face of rising tuition and fees.
Harlow said that in previous decades much of the University of California tuition had been subsidized.
Fox said the issue was very important and also affects those who aren’t college aged. Fox specifically referenced the high proportion of young people living at home. Fox said that the problem was a shortage of jobs.
Eshoo said that student loans are outstripping credit card debt and indicated her support for a national public service corps program in which part of the student debt would be forgiven.
Harlow disagreed that college graduates should serve after college and instead suggested that incoming college students should conduct community service before they attend college so that they could gain a sense of direction before beginning their studies.
Eshoo said that she wanted local control of public education in most areas, with the exception of certain areas like special education.
Fox said he also supported local control but emphasized school choice.
The next question asked the candidates about the H-1B visa program and allegations that the program had been abused to displace American workers.
Fox said that guest worker programs should be focused on helping Americans. Fox suggested working via the internet as a means for foreign workers to pitch in on projects in the United States.
Eshoo denounced abuses of H-1B visas and said that reforms were needed. Eshoo said that comprehensive immigration reform was also necessary. Eshoo supported a reform of the H-1B visa and said that some other categories of visas were outdated. Eshoo said that the use of H-1B visas pointed a need for more job training.
Harlow argued that immigration was not a challenge and that investment in the American workforce was inadequate. Harlow said that he supported “open immigration.”
Fox followed up and said that he opposed Trump’s plan to round up all undocumented immigrants. Fox said that the E-verify program should be used to reduce the hiring of undocumented immigrants.
Eshoo said that there should be a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and paid tribute to the role of immigration in American history.
The next question asked was about the influx of refugees due to international conflicts and the candidates’ responses to the phenomenon.
Eshoo said that she had supported refugees due to their vulnerability and thought that the United States “could do more” to help refugees. Eshoo emphasized that refugees were thoroughly vetted before entering the country.
Harlow said that the United States needed to accept more refugees and denounced the United States falling short of its intended goals. Harlow believed the failure endangered the United State’s role as the “moral voice of the world.”
Harlow again slammed Eshoo for supporting Clinton due to what he perceived as an interventionist foreign policy.
Fox said that Harlow was right that many refugees were generated by poor decisions in American foreign policy. Fox expressed a preference for accommodating refugees on foreign countries.
Harlow argued for a “foreign policy reset.” Harlow specifically criticized Saudi Arabia and Israel and called for sanctions against Israel.
Eshoo followed up by noting that “we live in an age of terrorism” and that the vetting system for refugees was very stringent.
In their closing remarks, the candidates summed up each of their pitches for why they should be in Congress.
Harlow emphasized his focus on transportation and called for a system of high speed rail connectors between city centers and commuter suburbs to expand the areas in which housing is built.
Fox reiterated his concern about the national debt and his fears that the United States might follow the lead of countries like Argentina, Greece or Venezuela.
Eshoo said in her closing statement that she was focused on issues such as healthcare, a free and open Internet and supporting seniors.
A video of the debate is available here.
Contact Caleb Smith at caleb17 ‘at’ stanford.edu