Democrats talk Trump, guns, environment during candidate forum

Congressional candidate Katie Hill speaks during a forum last month at Vincenzo's Pizza in Newhall. Seated from left to right: Scott McVarish, Bryan Caforio, Mike Masterman-Smith and Jess Phoenix.
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Calls for President Donald Trump’s impeachment, fighting the gun lobby, campaign finance reform and military spending were among the topics discussed between six Democratic candidates looking to challenge incumbent Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, during a candidate forum Thursday evening.

Attorney Bryan Caforio, homelessness nonprofit executive Katie Hill, geologist Jess Phoenix, pharmacologist Mike Masterman-Smith and immigration attorney Scott McVarish discussed a number of issues in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Vincenzo’s Pizza in Newhall with two private security guards at the entrance. Northridge neighborhood council representative Diedra Greenaway was invited but did not attend.

When asked to respond to a question on womens’ rights, McVarish called for the impeachment of the president.

“The ‘MeToo’ movement is so important at this moment in time more than ever because of who we have in the White House, because of President Trump,” he said. “We have a sexual predator and most likely a rapist in the White House and there’s a huge segment of America that’s okay with that. That man must be impeached, he must be impeached. From day one, I will be pushing for impeachment.”

Answering a question on foreign policy, Caforio said he would lean on the State Department and that Trump was flirting with nuclear war.

“It’s terrifying to have this guy in charge, it’s terrifying to have him playing around with possible nuclear war against at least two different countries right now,” he said. “We need to be building up our allies, cooperating with them and spreading the effort of keeping peace. We need to be investing in diplomacy and making sure we are finding smarter solutions because a very small investment through the State Department can pay dividends in saving lives and keeping expensive, fruitless wars away.”

On gun control, Hill said the country has “an epidemic of gun violence,” but said she herself is a gun owner and that most owners see responsibility as key.

“We are absolutely in favor of common-sense gun solutions like universal background checks that ensure we can keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists and domestic abusers, waiting periods to ensure that people in a mental health crisis can’t buy a weapon and giving our law enforcement the resources they need to be able to deal with illegal gun trafficking,” she said. “If we can get rid of the influence of the gun lobby, we can start to have real conversations that are actually going to move us forward.”

When asked about the environment, Phoenix referred to her career background.

“Who is totally sick of our elected officials going, ‘Well, I’m not a scientist, but.’ I am a scientist and climate change is real, there is no Planet B, and I have dedicated my career to founding and running an environmental science research organization that teaches kids, the next generation, how to do science,” she said. “I know the threats to our environment are going to impact our entire country and the world because climate change is a threat multiplier.”

When asked by a moderator whether they would commit to withdrawing their name from the primary ballot by the early March deadline if they were not one of the top fundraisers, none of the candidates said they would do so.

“I don’t think this is about winning on fundraising because the Democrats are winning without money right now,“ Masterman-Smith said. “We’re winning on our ideas.”

According to Federal Election Commission records, Caforio leads fundraising with $466,617 in total receipts received up to the most recent filing period in September. Hill raised $444,736, Phoenix raised $126,183 and Greenaway raised $4,257. Masterman-Smith and McVarish have raised zero dollars, according to the FEC.

Knight has raised $673,982 in total receipts, according to the FEC.

Two other Democratic candidates, Daniel Fleming and Kelan Farrell-Smith, did not participate in the forum, which opened with some of the audience raising their left fist during the flag salute. Organizers said the fist raising was to be in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

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