Herger’s hot seat

Seven of eight congressional candidates square off

Candidates for U.S. Congress, District 1, participated in the debate: (left to right) Jim Reed, Sam Aanestad, Gregory Cheadle, Doug LaMalfa, Pete Stiglich and Gary Oxley. Just out of view is candidate Nathan Arrowsmith.

Candidates for U.S. Congress, District 1, participated in the debate: (left to right) Jim Reed, Sam Aanestad, Gregory Cheadle, Doug LaMalfa, Pete Stiglich and Gary Oxley. Just out of view is candidate Nathan Arrowsmith.

Photo By ken smith

Rep. Wally Herger’s Jan. 10 announcement that he would not seek re-election to Congress, where he’s served since 1978, has resulted in eight candidates filing to run for what is now, following redistricting, the 1st District seat.

Seven of those candidates took part in a question-and-answer forum on Monday (May 7) in the Chico City Council chambers hosted by the League of Women Voters. Under California’s new “top-two” primary system, the two top vote-getters in the June 5 election, regardless of party, will advance to the general election in November.

The chambers were packed, and the candidates offered some political fireworks that elicited cheers, laughs and, at times, groans from the audience.

The candidates (Michael Dacquisto did not attend) fielded questions from local reporters and audience members on topics ranging from the federal crackdown on marijuana dispensaries to how to fix health care. Candidates had 30 seconds to deliver both their opening statements and answers to questions in a format that tested both policy and patience.

They came out firing. Republican state Sen. Doug LaMalfa touted that he’s the only candidate with an “A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association.” Republican Gary Oxley declared his love for the Constitution while holding up a small replica of the document, a prop that would reappear throughout the night.

But Republican Sam Aanestad, a former state senator from Grass Valley, stole the opening remarks when he stood and said, “A lot has been said about pledges. I’m going to take a pledge, and I’d like to have you all join me right now.” With that he put his hand over his heart, turned to face the American flag behind him and began reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Patriotic pressure forced almost everyone present to join in, and the mediator’s reluctance to stop the pledge allowed Aanestad’s opening to break the 30-second rule.

A reference to the Farm Bill, which is up for reauthorization this year, had most candidates decrying farm subsidies. The exception was LaMalfa, whose family owns a rice farm in Richvale and has received more than $4 million in federal subsidies over the past 15 years. He said subsidies are necessary to keep America’s farms competitive. Democrat Jim Reed of Fall River Mills noted the Farm Bill was important in that it helped start the food stamp program.

A discussion on possible rural Post Office closures also was largely tame, though Happy Valley Republican Gregory Cheadle got some laughs with the comment, “If every congressperson had to get their check in the mail, there would be a solution overnight.”

When asked what makes him different from the other candidates, the lone African-American candidate looked at his opponents, pointed to his bald head and quipped, “Oh, my hair?”

The question, “Do you believe there’s such a thing as human-caused climate change?” elicited a range of responses. LaMalfa declared, “I believe in human-caused climate change inside this room with the air conditioner, or inside a packing plant where they’re keeping your vegetables cool, or when you pray for rain.”

Aanestad said America can’t go it alone in protecting the environment: “I don’t see why we should put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage.”

Reed was the only on who said he believes in climate change: “I started out as an electrical engineer, so that gives me great respect for science and scientists,” he said. “This is not even a controversial issue anymore. The top scientists have concluded that global warming is man-made.”

The evening’s proceedings remained mostly civil and largely unheated until Nathan Arrowsmith, a Democrat from Red Bluff, responded to a question about energy resources.

Ignoring the timekeeper’s pleas to stop, Arrowsmith gestured and shouted: “The United States is bankrupt! They’ve got to pledge these resources to foreign countries! That’s why they’re stealing our resources! And these men right here won’t tell you that, they won’t tell you the truth!”

That debate was followed by one featuring the three candidates running for the 3rd Assembly District seat—incumbent Republican Dan Logue, Tehama County Supervisor and farmer Bob Williams, who is also a Republican, and Democrat Charles Rouse, a retired postal worker.

The answers provided by these three candidates indicated they are much more closely aligned politically than those running for Congress.