By Jason KUROSU
28th Congressional District candidates Adam Schiff and Steve Stokes discussed their views on current issues and policies Friday night at a candidates’ forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Glendale/Burbank. Incumbent Schiff has held a seat in the House of Representatives since 2001 while challenger Steve Stokes is an Independent Party candidate who works as a real estate broker and is the president of Stokes Mortgage Capital.
The forum was held at the Burbank City Council chambers and allowed for the two candidates to respond to questions from the audience regarding a range of issues, including candidate term limits, campaign financing and the role of corporations, sexual assault in the military and the Middle East.
Schiff identified strengthening the economy and addressing nationwide and constituency issues in a bipartisan manner as key goals, should he be re-elected.
Stokes said a concern for the state of the nation prompted him to run for Congress, from economic concerns to an increased opportunity for democratic participation.
Considering their respective positions as incumbent and challenger, Schiff’s opposition to term limits and Stokes’ support of them was not altogether surprising.
“The longer an individual is in office, the more disconnected they become from the problems and the lives of normal citizens,” said Stokes. “It also becomes a situation where the incumbents are courted by corporations for the ability to deliver legislation which benefits those special interests.”
Stokes cited that California has term limits for members of the state legislature and he feels that such limits would be beneficial for the national Congress.
Schiff countered that term limits have not been beneficial in California or in Congress.
“What it has accomplished is largely getting the representative to think about what their next elected position is going to be,” said Schiff. “I don’t think that has resulted in good governance.”
Schiff suggested redistricting reform as a better answer to limiting the power of individuals entrenched within the government.
“We have taken redistricting [in California] out of the hands of elected officials and the legislature,” he said. “I would like to see that done on a national level.”
The two candidates shared views on a number of other topics, but differed on the means of addressing those issues. On a similar note regarding misconduct of those in office, the state of corporate campaign contributions was decried by both candidates.
“One of the great concerns I have over the nature of our democracy is the way in which campaign financing has been perverted,” said Schiff, who cited Supreme Court cases such as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and Buckley v. Valeo as laying the groundwork for the current state of campaign contributions. “Corporations have a vital role to play in our economy but they are not the equivalent of individuals.”
“Contributions by corporations are impacting our democracy. I don’t think the framers of our Constitution ever had the intention of granting rights from the Bill of Rights to corporations,” said Stokes, who advocated campaign finance reform. “Disclosure is not enough. When wealthy individuals can contribute extreme amounts of money through PACs and be able to purchase elections, they disadvantage other citizens. Campaigning should be an exercise in ideas that benefit our democracy rather than a way to purchase influence in our government.”
Both candidates also agreed on raising the federal minimum wage and that student loan debt was an escalating problem.
“It is one of the most effective measures that we can take to lift millions of families out of poverty,” said Schiff, who described a minimum wage increase as good for families and the economy as a whole.
Stokes said a raise in the minimum wage would “provide a stimulus for those who are entering the work force.” Stokes said that the current minimum wage is “not a living wage” and that a focus on job training and education would also help people at the minimum wage level.
Regarding student loan debt, Stokes said, “Our economy is dependent upon a vibrant workforce.” He said he has a proposal to start a free online advanced degree program and also seeks to reduce the interest rates on student loans.
“It may be the next financial crisis in the country,” said Schiff, who related that he battled with student loan debt upon graduating from college. Schiff said he’s supporting a bill that will renegotiate student loan debt and will also work with universities to lower tuition fees and costs.
They also agreed on resolving an epidemic of sexual assaults in the military.
“It is an appalling blemish on the United States that we have such a prevalence of sexual assault within the military. No branch of the service has been immune and this requires us to take very strong action,” said Schiff, who said he supports legislation that would establish independent oversight of sexual assault allegations taking it “out of the hands of the chain of command.”
“Women need to be encouraged to participate in the military,” said Stokes, who said that education and discipline were two keys to reducing sexual assaults, including whistleblower laws.
Regarding the Middle East, Stokes said that national security is an ongoing concern, but was worried about how government responses have “had an impact on the fundamental core values of American society and the functioning of our legal process.” Stokes advocated “using every available peaceful measure to resolve our overseas conflicts.”
Schiff said that defeating ISIS was a high priority for him.
“If ISIS is allowed to hold ground and hold territory, it will be a sanctuary for attacks on the United States. That is one of their stated objectives,” said Schiff, who said confronting this “virulent strain” and “perversion” of Islam is a priority.
Despite these similarities in views, the candidates held their ground in their closing statements regarding bipartisan work in Congress on Schiff’s side and infusing new blood into the House on Stokes’ side.
“There are a great many people as Mr. Stokes’ makes mention of who are part of the problem in Washington, who spent too long there. There are some new members of Congress who are also a part of the problem,” said Schiff. “I went there to be part of the solution and that’s what I want to continue to do.”
“The folks in Congress shouldn’t be running based on needing to make any other statements than their work while in office,” said Stokes. “That should be the resume that guarantees reelection. I feel that we need to look at the records of our elected officials very carefully. This is a democracy, a representative government. We need folks to be involved to be able to resolve our important issues.”
The deadline for registering to vote is Monday, Oct. 20.