Half a dozen hopefuls

Congressional candidates tackle big issues during local forum

From left to right: Jessica Holcombe, Marty Walters, Gregory Cheadle, David Peterson, Lewis Elbinger and Audrey Denney.

From left to right: Jessica Holcombe, Marty Walters, Gregory Cheadle, David Peterson, Lewis Elbinger and Audrey Denney.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

See for yourself:
The next League of Women Voters forums will be Wednesday, May 9, at Marsh Junior High. At 6:30 p.m., candidates for Butte County supervisor will take the stage, followed at 8 p.m. by those running for Butte County assessor.

‘We’re all here in collusion to replace LaMalfa,” David Peterson said to a brief round of applause. He was onstage Monday night (April 30) in Chico State’s Harlan Adams Theatre alongside the five other candidates vying for Rep. Doug LaMalfa’s seat in Congress.

The panel convened as part of the League of Women Voters of Butte County’s first forum ahead of the June primary, co-hosted by the university’s Associated Students and the Office of Civic Engagement. Each candidate—only LaMalfa declined the opportunity, citing a scheduling conflict—had a chance to answer questions posed by members of the league, the public and local media.

The main issues of the evening were both national and local in scope—Oroville Dam, health care, drug policy, mass shootings, Congress’ role in military attacks, homelessness and undocumented individuals. With four Democrats, one Republican and one Green Party candidate, their positions predictably varied, though all agreed that Congress—not the president—should have the authority to declare war, and all agreed something must be done to ensure better access to health care.

First up, the Democrats:

Jessica Holcombe, an attorney from Auburn, identified personally with a number of issues discussed during the forum. She was homeless for a time while growing up, she said, and she recalled when her sister got an ear infection and the doctor’s office refused treatment because they didn’t have insurance. She lost her hearing in that ear, Holcombe said. That’s one reason she’s a proponent for Medicare for all. Holcombe relied on financial aid to get through college and law school, and advocates for free public universities.

When it comes to drug policy, Holcombe is for taking marijuana off the federal Schedule I narcotics list. She also supports affordable rehab facilities, saying she had a niece who was able to kick her heroin addiction, but spent over $50,000.

As for undocumented individuals, Holcombe said she supports a path to citizenship for rural farm workers.

Marty Walters is an environmental scientist from Quincy who’s a big proponent for sustainable forestry as well as bringing sustainability-focused jobs to this rural region of the state. She took a pragmatic approach to many of the issues. For instance, she said undocumented individuals are here as a product of our economy and our desire to create low-wage jobs. She supports policy to bring people into full residency and added that work needs to be done to better understand the American labor market.

When it comes to responding to mass shootings, Walters said the first step should be to “fix the background check system and really make it work.” Like several of her fellow candidates, Walters supports legalizing marijuana federally.

Peterson, a small-business owner and self-described “extreme progressive” who ran against LaMalfa in 2016, said he aims to take money out of politics. He believes Congress should be required to act immediately on military actions. His idea for solving the problem with undocumented workers is to require wages of $20 per hour, with a 20 percent tax to be sent to their home country for infrastructure maintenance.

Chico native Audrey Denney, a farmer/educator, spoke to many of the issues, including Oroville Dam—for which she said she’d demand “reparations for the people of Oroville”—and undocumented workers, who she said are the victims of raids that put local families in fear of their loved ones being deported at any time.

When it comes to drug policy, Denney pointed to the fact that drug overdoses are lowering the American life expectancy. To curb that, she suggested holistic, community-based, locally controlled programs.

Green Party and the GOP:

Lewis Elbinger, a retired diplomatic officer from Mount Shasta and the only Green Party member on the ticket, touted many of the talking points highlighted by Bernie Sanders. Similar to Denney, he shared several personal stories that informed his position on different matters. For instance, as a reporter in Vietnam during the war, he saw the conflict first-hand. He proposes more proactive work to build peace.

When it comes to drug policy, Elbinger said his experience working at a methadone clinic convinced him that the war on drugs “needs to be ended.” A “conscious activist,” he supports legalizing marijuana federally and taking money out of the defense budget to support Medicare for all. In stark contrast to Denney, he believes that Americans’ right to education doesn’t extend to college.

Gregory Cheadle, the lone Republican on the stage and an “1856 Republican” at that, is a real estate broker in Redding. Many of Cheadle’s answers took on a somewhat confrontational tone centered on race. When asked about mass shootings, for instance, Cheadle, who is black, balked, saying the question ignores the issue of black victims of gun violence in inner cities.

When it came to health care, he said entirely too much is spent on drug overdoses and people need to take more personal responsibility. He also linked an increase in vaccines to the increase in autism, saying that will add to the health care problems in the country.