Rep. Tom McClintock and challenger Art Moore sparred in a debate Tuesday marked by fierce character attacks that generated audience groans but put some distance between the two Republicans.
It was still dark out at 7 a.m. when the candidates took to their lecterns for the hastily planned, 60-minute exchange before about 100 people at Auburn City Hall. The three-term incumbent from Elk Grove and political newcomer from Roseville, running to represent the Placer County-centered district, took questions from the crowd on issues ranging from the national debt to climate change to fire protection.
But it was issues of character and who has the better temperament to lead the rural district, which incorporates Yosemite and Lake Tahoe and runs to Fresno, that coursed through the forum.
Moore, a 36-year-old combat veteran and Army officer, opened by saying it was cowardly of McClintock to pull out of a previously planned event because he wanted campaign representatives to review questions in advance. The Auburn native then reprised a familiar critique, thanking McClintock for “driving from your district, the (neighboring) 7th District, to my district, the 4th District, and making yourself available to the voters to answer their questions.” The line drew applause, but also rebuke from McClintock supporters.
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“We are so ineffective, that some congressmen and women don’t even live in the districts that they represent, including my opponent,” Moore continued. “And beyond that, a Congress that’s so divided, that they are willing to shut down the government last year with real catastrophic affects to our national security posture in the world, and also businesses’ ability to create and sustain jobs.”
McClintock, who sided with majority House Republicans during the partial government shutdown, said he could rent a room in Roseville as Moore has done to satisfy the residency issue. But he said he’s been upfront with voters about buying his Elk Grove home at the top of the market and planning to move into the 4th District when his family could recoup their loss. He said the home lost about half of its value, but that they have recovered a quarter of the value in recent years as the market recovered.
“If you think that the most important issue facing our nation is that I live a few miles outside of the district, then by all means vote for Art Moore,” McClintock said. “But if you think that a deficit consuming our nation is the great issue facing our country, I would like you to take a look at the years and years of work I have put in on these issues.”
“I respect your service to our country,” he told Moore later in the debate. “I wish you would respect me for my service to our country fighting to defend our Constitution here at home. ... The way that we defend our Constitution at home is through the votes that we cast. That is no disrespect. That’s a simple fact.”
The incumbent and former Thousand Oaks state lawmaker, 58, was skeptical of Moore’s pledge to build bridges across party lines in Congress, saying if Moore called McClintock a coward on the House floor, he would be censured for his remarks. McClintock noted he has served decades in the state Legislature and then in Congress, while Moore never registered to vote until the June primary.
Moore said he followed a tradition that’s been followed in the Army officer corps for decades – and a practice used by Gens. Eisenhower, Marshall and Patton – to abstain from partisan politics while serving in uniform “so they can give unbiased military advice to their commander in chief.”
“I am very proud of my service, and I think that it’s really dishonorable and disrespectful for my opponent to be sending out those mailers and trying to pit veterans against veterans about this voting issue,” Moore said. “I have voted more times in the 4th District than my opponent,” he added.
Moore, who said he is largely self-funding his uphill, intraparty challenge, said McClintock is contributing to government gridlock with what he characterized as the congressman’s rigid ideology and unwillingness to compromise.
“It’s not enough to just say the speech and give the Lincoln quote,” Moore quipped, noting that he has endorsements from former California Gov. Pete Wilson and former GOP Rep. George Radanovich. “What kind of coalitions are you building?”
McClintock said a bill he authored to dedicate 40 acres of surplus Bureau of Land Management property to the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians for housing was one of just 163 signed into law this past session. Citing the nation’s spiraling debt, he also rejected claims that he hasn’t done enough to bring funding back to the district, saying the government has wisely done away with such earmarks to allow a more competitive budgeting process.
At various points in the event, the crowd became restless as the candidates returned again and again to the issues of residency and voting records. The debate was sponsored by the Auburn Chamber of Commerce’s “Meddlers” forum.
Elinor Petuskey, a Democrat from Newcastle, rose to tell the candidates she had grown tired of the parsing over voting records, drawing applause. Petuskey, 75, wanted to know where the candidates stand on man’s responsibility for global climate change.
Moore, who needs a large share of the district’s Democrats to win on Nov. 4, said he would not describe himself as a “climate-change denier.”
“I think that humans do play a role in the shaping of the environment, and we need to be good stewards,” he said. Still, he said now is not the time for the U.S. to adopt unilateral protections that would put the country at a competitive financial disadvantage with others like China and India. He called for a global effort in attacking the issue – and for the U.S. to lead.
Arguing that the planet has been warming on and off since the last Ice Age, McClintock said carbon reduction efforts would do little to stop the warming. Meanwhile, he said, environmental efforts have been used as an excuse to shut down coal and petroleum production through a process called fracking. He called for pushing for a world “in which we don’t give a damn what the Saudis think.”
On the economy, McClintock argued the U.S. is suffering through a “lost decade” under President Barack Obama because the Democratic president has turned his back on job creators. He wondered aloud how effective a congressman could be if he pledges, as Moore has, not to spend his time attacking the president.
Moore said it’s that kind of finger-pointing that has driven Congress into inaction.
“Yes, I am not going to be the type of Republican that’s constantly in the news attacking our president on national security issues and other things that aren’t even the business of Congress. It’s the Senate’s role to handle these foreign affairs.”
McClintock pounced, accusing him of abdicating the House’s responsibility. Then, in a conspicuous overture to Democratic voters, McClintock read from a letter from former Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich that discussed the “joy” of working with him to “demonstrate the triumph of principle over politics.”
Asked by a member of the audience if he ever said Social Security should be “abolished,” McClintock said no, though he acknowledged authoring an opinion column in college that he said suggested the system amounted to an “unfair tax” on the young by the old.
He said he has been working as a member of the House Budget Committee to restore Social Security to fiscal solvency to allow it to meet its obligations into the future. Addressing entitlements, Moore said seniors should be concerned about Social Security and Medicare because they are not being funded enough. He said he opposes any version of privatization of Social Security.
On fire prevention and protection, an issue debated across the fire-prone, 10-county district, McClintock called for a complete overhaul of environmental laws, citing an 80 percent decline in the harvest of timber out of national forests. Meanwhile, he said there’s been a large increase in the number of acres destroyed by fires.
“Since we have consigned our forests to a policy of benign neglect,” he said, “we have watched increasingly frequent and fierce forest fires and devastation by disease and pestilence. I have fought hard at least to be able to salvage the timber that’s been killed by the fires.”
McClintock said a bill he carried on the topic died last year in the Senate although he met with Democratic leaders and took their proposed amendments.
Moore agreed that the Congress has neglected to properly manage national forests.
“If we would spend the right, smart investments upfront to manage our forests, then we come out on top because we save 20 times the cost that it takes to put the fires out,” Moore said.
But he said McClintock too often is unwilling to work with Democrats on their bills. He said it was easy to vote no, but tougher to take a stand and be accountable. Said Moore: “This is a character race.”