April 11, 2012 | The first forum featuring all three candidates in the 15th congressional district presented a load of fireworks and hints at how the race will shape up from here to June and beyond to November. Here's the skinny on the performances of Democrats Rep. Pete Stark, Dublin Councilman Eric Swalwell and independent Chris Pareja:
- "I think it's time in this country for us to believe health care is a right, not a privilege and we see that Republicans and some of my Democratic opponents subscribe to destroying Medicare as we know it."
- "If you're going to buy here in America, it should be made in America."
- Charged Swalwell with being anti-union.
- Pointed out Swalwell has never held a job outside of the public sector.
- Diminished Swalwell's ability as an Alameda County deputy district attorney by calling him "this pipsqueak."
- Used question about role of Constitution to sideswipe Swalwell with bribe charge.
- Stark said he has never accepted bribes, but some may believe campaign fundraising is taking money for political favors is akin to the same goal. He then said, "Generally, physicians will tell you I don't give them as much money as they want."
- Awkwardly answered Citizens United question by saying, if corporations are citizens, they should pay consequences like any other individual, instead of clearly saying he is against the Supreme Court ruling.
"That's not something you can dismiss. That's nothing some junior leaguer can bring about knowing nothing about what goes on in Washington."-Stark contrasting Swalwell's lack of experience with his own and trumpeting $3 billion in federal funds brought to East Bay by himself and Rep. Barbara Lee.
There were a host of charges levied by Stark against Swalwell's record. It remains to be seen whether the validity of those charges can be sufficiently proven. After the forum, when asked for proof of some of the allegation, Stark appeared hesitant in providing evidence.
Although it remains to be seen whether Stark's string of expletives toward Swalwell directly after the forum will affect any gains made Tuesday night, in the parlance of Stark, he dumped a shitload of potentially damaging charges on a candidate relatively unknown not only in his own Dublin, but in the entire 15th congressional district. Stark went in for the kill that many have been waiting for him to unleash. When confronting an unknown, the political playbook is adamant about composing an unflattering initial sketch of the challenger on your own terms before they have a chance to compose their own much more flattering narrative. If that was Stark's intent Tuesday night, then it was a successful performance. Calling Swalwell a "fucking crook" may also not be a bad thing for Stark in the end. Think of it this way: Stark is hoping to successfully hang words and phrases like "bribery," "crook," Swalwell "going to jail," on Swalwell while portraying him as anti-labor and absent-minded when it comes to voting in state elections. Swalwell said Stark couldn't hit a fastball, but he sure can still throw the high heater under the batter's chin with pinpoint accuracy.
- He nicely personalized his attack on Stark during his closing statement saying, "Why would a member of congress want to live in Maryland and not in his own district? It couldn't be because of the beautiful weather there or the beaches. It's because he think he can get away with it. It's because he thinks he's held this congressional seat long enough that he doesn't have to work for it anymore. It's why he doesn't live with you. It's why he doesn't listen to you. It's why he doesn't vote for you on the floor of congress."
- Noted Stark has not authored and passed a piece of legislation since 1994.
- Said he would defer taxes for businesses in their first year. Cited Hayward's B Street and its list of empty storefronts as a place this policy would help attract and keep businesses.
- Criticized Stark's resolution praising Dallas Braden's Mother's Day perfect game in 2010 in the shadow of Nummi's closure as if the two events were mutually exclusive. Besides, it's the East Bay, we love the A's!
- Returned to language some seniors are reading as ageism. Two weeks ago, Stark said until they build a rocket ship to get from the district to Capitol Hill for a quick vote, he would have to live nearby in Maryland. "We have invented those," quipped Swalwell. "Members of congress no longer take horses and buggies. They're called airplanes."
- Throw the script away! Swalwell's prepared opening and closing statements sounded like he was talking to the jurors instead of voters.
"I would go to a surgeon who has experience, but not one who hasn't performed a surgery since 1994."-Swalwell responding to a comment made by Stark highlighting his experience by equating it to opting for an experienced doctor to operate on a patient over an unexperienced one.
Using the Dublin's rosy financial as a template for the federal level is a very problematic statement. "We have balanced our budget without any cuts or any reductions in services. I don't know why we can't do that at the federal level." Dublin is one of the youngest and most rapidly-growing cities in the entire state, according to the last U.S. Census. Because it was created during a era when the power of labor unions was greatly diminished in the 1980s, it doesn't have the same liabilities as older East Bay cities. For instance, unfunded liabilities like city employee pensions are virtually non-existent in Dublin since much of it is outsourced to private companies. In a nutshell, Dublin's way of doing business is more like China than anything found at the federal government.
During the moments Stark was pounding away at Swalwell, he took the shelling like a champ and didn't pull out his own switch blade and start cutting back. That's important for the narrative of Stark being an undisciplined congressman behaving badly to continue to take hold. The unkind comments made by Stark afterwards may or may not be the gift some expect if he doesn't massage the rhetoric in his favor. Making a joke out of the allegations is good, if in fact, they are found to be mundane or completely untrue. Of course, this is politics and whether something is true or not really doesn't matter, so expect Stark to repeat the crook meme over Swalwell like a drumbeat. The first charge he should quickly attempt to debunk may be the most difficult. Swalwell cannot be elected if labor believes he is anti-union. Repeat: The East Bay will vote for a "fucking crook," but they won't elect a "fucking anti-labor crook."
- "Two words: absolutely not," he said when asked if he supports requiring people to purchase health care insurance. You may not agree with him, but the belief is baseline red-meat for conservatives.
- "If we get to the point where the government can force us to buy any product from any private business or from government, that's the door of tyranny being thrown wide open. What's next? Do I have to buy a years supply of berets for myself? I keep my hair relatively short. It's not required."
- On business issues, Pareja was at his best and his comfortability with the issue was obvious. He told a story of Carl's Jr. complaining about the bureaucratic red tape in California for simply getting a permit for a dumpster. "We can't manufacture hamburgers here cost-effectively, how can establish anything of value in our manufacturing base?
- Although, Pareja did well to lay out conservative fears of health care reform, he also advocated for alternative safety net programs to help those without insurance. That's opposites sides of the argument.
- Language portraying the Constitution as a quasi-religious document makes voters nervous in this district.
- Similarly Tea Party phrases like "the loss of our liberties on a daily basis," "freedom-loving people" and "tyrant" pull up images and adverse reactions linked to divisive pols like George W. Bush. The East Bay does not like W.
- Comments like "I'm a pro-legal immigrant. I believe this a country enriched by our immigrant population. That being said, we have a border security problem." and "I'm a brown guy, you can't call racist on me for telling the truth" are still interpreted as racism by liberal voters and being "brown" won't change their minds.
"Many people have not read the rulebook."-Pareja saying politicians need to read the Constitution. He then proceeded to hand two copies of the U.S. Constitution to both Stark and Swalwell. Classic.
While Swalwell and, to a certain extent, Pareja knock Stark for his residency in Maryland, they both advocate for using technology to connect representatives in their districts with Washington, D.C. Pareja first broached the idea and Swalwell followed. Most D.C. observers, though, say the gridlock in the Beltway is not with elected officials being disconnected from their constituents, but the lack of camaraderie among representatives on both sides of the aisle. Alleviating the divide in Washington isn't going isn't going to happen through Facebook any more than it does in any other interpersonal relationship versus interacting face-to-face.
If you weigh all the factors and base the evaluation on who made the greatest gains regardless of their standing in the race, then Pareja was the winner of Tuesday's forum. Sure, he's an unknown right-leaning independent, but he didn't look or sound like one. That's important to note because its an intangible that leads to other positives later on. Pareja sounded genuine, warm, and personable even when he was saying he wanted to repeal health care reforms and use Tea Party phrasing. He's not the scary or crazy conservative most East Bay voters expect. As Stark and Swalwell beat each other up, he stayed above the fray. Remember, this is a top-two primary. He doesn't have to knock Stark out in June, he just needs Stark to push Swalwell into third place. In addition, Tuesday night was Pareja's first time on the big stage and he was nearly flawless in his performance even for a grizzled veteran. Even if Pareja fails to advance to November, he has the potential to become the face of the Republican Party in the East Bay--whatever that means.