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KPBS Hosts 52nd Congressional District Debate

Republican incumbent Brian Bilbray, Port Commissioner Scott Peters and former state Assemblywoman Lori Saldana participate in a debate for the 52nd Congressional District seat. KPBS "Evening Edition" host Joanne Faryon moderates.

The three major candidates for the newly redrawn 52nd Congressional District joined in a debate held at KPBS Television studios on Wednesday.


Live tweets about the 52nd Congressional District debate using the hashtag #CA52.

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The three top candidates for the newly redrawn 52nd Congressional District squared off in a debate held at KPBS Television's studios on Wednesday.

This was only the second debate among candidates for the congressional seat, so the debaters used it as an opportunity to tout their government experience and present their stances on a wide variety of issues.

Republican incumbent Brian Bilbray, Port Commissioner Scott Peters and former state Assemblywoman Lori Saldana - both Democrats - participated in the debate. KPBS "Evening Edition" host Joanne Faryon moderated.

The new district, created by last year’s redistricting process, includes Coronado, Point Loma, Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and parts of North County, including Poway and Rancho Bernardo.

Discussion among the candidates remained mostly civil, with only a few outright challenges. Both Saldana and Peters questioned Bilbray on his record of support for issues including regulation of gas prices, undocumented immigrants and building the Navy Broadway Complex headquarters on the downtown waterfront.

When asked what Congress should do to regulate gas prices, Saldana said Congress should enforce regulations to end speculation on fuel prices. She said 70 members of Congress have signed a letter to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission asking them to put into place regulations passed by the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, “making sure that they enforce the regulatory oversight that’s needed.”

Saldana said Bilbray has not signed that letter.

Bilbray responded that he’s “led the charge on developing green fuels such as algae,” and opposed ethanol.

“But we’ve also got to allow consumers to have that choice,” he said.

Bilbray countered by challenging Saldana on AB 32, the state bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which Saldana coauthored.

“Sadly, when AB 32 was passed by the assemblywoman, she didn’t exempt it from CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act), so that the scientists at UC San Diego that developed the green fuel technology could site their production here in SanDiego,” he said. “We’re talking 800 to 1,000 jobs were moved to New Mexico because we didn’t change the environmental and government regulation to allow the green option to be produced here in San Diego.”

Saldana tried to respond to Bilbray’s CEQA accusations during the next question – about whether the U.S. should go to war with Iran – saying to Bilbray, “you may have voted to weaken the Clean Water Act in Congress, but I would never vote to weaken the California Environmental Quality Act, that is not the purpose of AB 32.”

Later, Saldana challenged Bilbray during a question about support for building parks, or the new Navy Broadway Complex on San Diego’s waterfront.

Bilbray said although that was not his district, both the property owners and the Port of San Diego have asked him to get involved in these issues.

But Saldana disagreed.

“Mr. Bilbray forgets, you did represent that district in the '90s, when the base closure and realignment act was going forward,” she said. “You helped give land away at a loss to taxpayers, public lands at Liberty Station.”

She added that the developer in that deal is a supporter of Bilbray and Peters and that Bilbray has “a record of not protecting public lands in San Diego, and maybe you’ve conveniently forgotten that, but you did represent that area in the '90s.”

Peters said while he was chairman of the port, “we broke ground on the North Embarcadero Phase I, which is the project that’s been fought over for 14 years.”

“Something really cool is happening on the waterfront, you’re going to start to see that in about 2013,” he said.

Saldana and Bilbray later teamed up to challenge Peters on why he has not released his tax records. A listener submitted a question through the Public Insight Network about how each candidate planned to create distance from self interests when making decisions. Saldana said most of her fundraising comes from individual donors and that transparency is very important.

“I think if you really want transparency, Mr. Peters, do what I have done, what Mr. Bilbray has agreed to do, show us your taxes,” she said. “Let the people that you want to vote for you know more about your financial background.”

Bilbray echoed, “when it comes to transparency, you’re right, I’m willing to show my tax return, Mr. Peters may not, but heck, I think the world ought to know just how poor a congressman can be.”

Each of the candidates also presented his or her opinion on a variety of issues, sometimes answering simply “yes” or “no” to questions posed by Faryon.

Saldana and Peters said they would support overturning the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decision, “Citizens United,” while Bilbray said, although he does not like the decision, he will abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling.

"I accept it, I don't like it, but that's what being American is all about," he said.

Saldana and Peters also expressed support for President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act. Peters said there is “a lot to like” in the act, but that the government needs to work on cutting its cost. Saldana also said the act was “going in the right direction.”

Bilbray said he does not like the act, and that government should have worked harder to negotiate with insurance companies and to get “trial lawyers out of the operating rooms.”

Bilbray voted last January to repeal the act.

Saldana and Peters said they support same-sex marriage, Bilbray said he does not. Peters and Bilbray said they do not support legalizing marijuana, Saldana said she does for medicinal purposes. All three voiced support for the Occupy movement and said they consider themselves to be members of the 99 percent, not the 1 percent.

Peters also used the question to answer questions about his taxes.

“I want you to know I’m the son of a minister and a church secretary,” he said. “The government stood behind me so that I could get financial aid and go to college. I’m running for Congress to make sure every kid had the same opportunity I had.

“Now I’ve disclosed every investment that we have, all the holdings I have, anyone can see it, it’s on the Internet, I’ve got nothing to hide.”

The debate was broadcast live on KPBS "Midday Edition" from noon to 1 p.m. and will be rebroadcast this evening on KPBS "Evening Edition" from 6 to 7 p.m.

Although 10 candidates are running for the 52nd Congressional seat, KPBS decided to limit the debaters to the three whose favorability ratings are above 10 percent. KPBS used a poll conducted by the independent national polling company SurveyUSA, commissioned by KPBS partner 10 News (KGTV Channel 10).

More details on the poll and the decision to limit the debate are available in this press release.

Information on all candidates running for the 52nd Congressional District seat is available here.

Jack Doyle, an Independent running for the seat, also posted a video of his responses to some of the debate questions.

Election 2020 news coverage


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