‘Talk of Santa Clarita’ hosts Democratic candidate debate

The candidates Jess Phoenix, Bryan Caforio and Katie Hill on April 28. Photo by Bruce McFarland | Looking Good Photography
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The Democratic challengers seeking Congressman Steve Knight’s 25th District seat had a heated discussion Saturday over issues of policy as the lead-up to June’s Primary Election continues.

Local podcaster Stephen Daniels, who hosts “Talk of Santa Clarita,” was moderator at the event. Daniels asked candidates Katie Hill, Bryan Caforio and Jess Phoenix over 20 questions about issues such as immigration and sanctuary cities, gun control, homelessness, the environment and criticism of President Donald Trump’s administration.

The debate got heated in the first half when Hill brought up negative literature she believed Caforio had distributed about her at the state Democratic Party convention, after Hill defended her refusal to sign Caforio’s “People’s Pledge” to keep dark money independent expenditures out of the race — which the other two candidates had signed.

During the debate, Caforio said he ran for office because of the 2016 election results, his disapproval of how Knight handled controversy around the Aliso Canyon leak and the Chiquita Canyon landfill expansion and dissatisfaction surrounding Trump’s health care policy.

“I think no one else running in this race, including our current representative, has the skills or expertise to serve subpoenas, cross examine witnesses and hold this president accountable,” Caforio told the Signal on Tuesday. “There’s so much corruption and dysfunction in D.C. that we need people cleaning up the mess.”

At the debate, Phoenix also cited her reason for running as inspired in the wake of the 2016 election, and bringing a knowledge of science and green technology to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Committee, which Knight currently sits on. She said that for too long, people had been sending “professional fundraisers” into office but that she believed in doing the hard work.

“I’m committed to basing my positions in evidence and facts,” Phoenix said on Tuesday. “I understand the federal grant-making process because as a scientist, I’ve been through that process and could replace Steve Knight (on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee) because I’m an actual scientist.”

Hill said at the debate that she had the idea to run in February 2017 when a friend Facebook messaged her about her district being highly contentious for this election. Her reasons for running centered on her history and expertise from working on homelessness and Medicare. She touted her unique background as a lifelong Santa Clarita resident and family history of public service as further backing for her decision.

“There are a few things that highlight my campaign,” she said on Tuesday. “And it’s a commitment to service and to representing this community in terms of my background and my roots and my real experience that matter to us locally. It’s clear I’m doing this not because i want to be a politician — I’m doing this because I care.”

The candidates all expressed support for S.B. 54, a state law that limits cooperation between California law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. The city of Santa Clarita is considering May 8 whether the city will join a federal lawsuit by the Trump administration against the law. Caforio, Hill and Phoenix all said they supported immigrants residing in the city and were opposed to City Councilman Bob Kellar’s stance on “opting out” of the law.

“We really can’t deny the fact that our country was built by immigrants,” Phoenix said Tuesday. “And immigrant work adds so much to our economy. We want to keep families together, but it’s an economic issue, as well. The reality is we have members of our community that may not be documented, but if we remove them, our economies also suffer.”

“The Trump administration is being flatly unconstitutional (about suing California for S.B. 54),” Caforio said Tuesday. “And frankly that’s something normally conservatives would agree with — the separation of federal and local government.”

The possibility of Santa Clarita opting out of sanctuary cities is “the wrong approach,” Hill said.

“This is about us not having to use local resources for a federal policy that goes against our values,” she said. “Whatever happens at the city council level would have no effect on the county Sheriff’s Department. The county is what controls our law enforcement. To take a stance saying we want to opt out shows me nothing more than grandstanding that we’re not welcoming to people that look different than us.”

Regarding DACA recipients, Phoenix and Caforio supported full protections, while Hill supported stricter border security so current young immigrants wouldn’t have to wait longer for protections.

On gun control, Hill said she favors control but that she comes from a family of gun owners, and she and her husband currently own guns because they lived far out in rural Agua Dulce. Hill said this makes her more qualified to be a moderate who could appeal to gun-rights supporters when enacting restrictions. The other two candidates supported gun control, and did not own guns.

Daniels told The Signal on Tuesday he used an anonymous committee to pick the topics that would be questions. He had interviewed the candidates multiple times, he said, so he was trying to find questions where they couldn’t go immediately to their talking points.

“If I had a question about gun control, I’ve listened to them talk about guns, and I thought about what can i do to put it in a different perspective,” he said. “So I asked them very specifically: ‘What do u tell someone who has an AR-15?’ That’s a bit more direct than just asking about the gun policy, but it’s more applicable because you’re going to run into those people in Congress.”

Daniels was pleased at the format and the candor of the candidates.

“I told the candidates upfront it was going to be like a podcast,” he said. “That if I don’t feel they’re answering fully, I’m gonna call them out on it. I think in some ways, when I pushed them a little, they ended up answering better.”

All three candidates told The Signal they were pleased at the turnout of curious viewers, Daniels included, noting there were about 500 in attendance.

“Usually at these debates, you have the same activists, but I didn’t recognize two-thirds of the group in attendance,” Daniels said. “I think the people are really passionate about this election in particular.”

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