During a debate in Palmdale on Thursday night, the candidates in the 25th Congressional District race — incumbent Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, and his Democratic challenger Katie Hill — voiced their views on policy issues, agreeing occasionally on the causes but ultimately differing on their solutions.
The Palmdale Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters hosted the one-hour event at the Larry Chimbole Cultural Center, barring photography and video or audio recording.
In their opening remarks, the candidates differentiated themselves based on their backgrounds. Knight talked about being a voice for the aerospace industry, veteran care and small businesses, all of which he said he’d advocated extensively for during his time in Congress.
Hill, former executive director and CEO of the statewide organization PATH helping homelessness, talked about being against big corporations and insiders, and in favor of fixing issues in Washington, D.C., were she to be elected.
The audience that lined up outside and filled the room was made up of a large base of Hill supporters, intermittently cheering as Hill gave her opening statement, asking people to raise their hands at the questions: “How many of you think Washington is working? How many of you don’t?”
The debate questions touched on local issues ranging from homelessness and veterans, to national events, such as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 presidential campaign and the process of confirming Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
Hill and Knight came close to trading shots over proving bipartisanship.
“I grew up in a bipartisan family,” Hill said, touting her Democrat mother and Republican father as an example of understanding bipartisan cooperation. “And this community is equally bipartisan, one of the most in the country. I think that people like me and others like me running across the country are going to be the ones to lead that change and say we’re not about loyalty to one party.,”
“(Congressman Knight) likes to talk about being bipartisan, but, unfortunately, his record doesn’t track,” she said.
Knight in response said that 80 percent of his bills were co-authored by bipartisan members of Congress. He also stated that he is ranked 69th on a bipartisan index scored by the nonpartisan organization The Lugar Center, which ranks members of Congress by how often they work across party lines.
“I’m in the top percentage when it comes to being bipartisan,” he said.
To Hill he said: “During these two debates, I’ve heard a lot about how, ‘Republicans have done this, Republicans are bad.’ Republicans are almost 40 percent of this valley.”
“I’m not talking about Republicans,” Hill said in response. “I’m talking about Republicans in Congress.”
On gun control, Hill and Knight agreed on needing more responsible gun ownership but differed on priorities.
Hill, a gun owner herself, said she supported the Second Amendment but sought to crack down on gun lobbying and the corporate money involved. There was also a need to pass legislation for universal background checks and extended waiting periods, she said.
She gave Knight credit for his recent statements on refusing money from the National Rifle Association, but “hope(d) his voting record can reflect his refusal to take NRA money.”
Knight said that his history as an LAPD police officer meant he’d seen the impacts of many shootings. He touted a “comprehensive mental health package,” as the first priority for gun reform, and talked about responsible gun ownership as a secondary concern.
Hill said she was committed to ensuring the aerospace economy would continue to function, were she to be elected. However, she said she would not undercut Knight’s broader experience with aerospace, saying that she appreciated what he has done for the community in that regard.
Knight said in regards to border security that a stronger border was key to solving immigration issues and that a wall was necessary to an extent.
“We need to bring in new technology in certain areas, and build a wall in certain areas,” he said. “There is a lot of drugs, crime, sex trafficking and terrorism that can go over the border.”
Hill agreed that border security mattered, but said that federal money was allocated to separating and deporting families that weren’t a threat more than investing in “smart immigration law.” She emphasized the priority of strengthening those laws.
In regards to sanctuary cities, Hill said that they were a “political term” and was unfair to people coming from violent situations.
Regarding homelessness, Knight said he believed the best solution was to use community development block grants to reduce homelessness from a local level, citing his recent amendment to the appropriations bill increasing CDBG funding by $100 million.
Hill talked about her work in passing the countywide Measure H while at PATH, and cited that the fight against homelessness centered on L.A. County’s housing shortage and recent “gutting” of the state’s low-income tax credit program.
When asked about national events, the two agreed that Mueller’s investigation and the Kavanaugh testimony hearings should continue.
Knight said that the confirmation of Kavanaugh was an “interesting issue,” and spoke of the need for testimony from Christine Blasey Ford, who had brought forth sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh.
Hill said she had suffered sexual violence, and could attest to how hard it was for a survivor to come forward. She said that the expectation that Ford sit next to Kavanaugh and handle interrogation was unreasonable.
When asked about what Congress should do if the White House fires Mueller, Knight said he supported the special counsel investigation, and that it should be timely and “not politicized,” and he has always supported it.
Hill said the investigation should be supported by having a Congress in place that can hold the White House accountable.
“It doesn’t matter what Congressman Knight votes if Congress doesn’t hold the White House accountable,” she said. “Which is why we need a Democratic supermajority.”
The candidates were also asked if they believe the “midterms are a referendum on President Trump,” and both disagreed.
Hill said that President Trump was a “symptom, not the cause” of a broken system.
“People don’t feel the effects of this booming economy Congressman Knight is talking about,” she said. “We recognize Trump is problematic, but I will work with President Trump if I am elected.”
Knight agreed the midterms were not a referendum, and that it was up to individual candidates to show the benefits of their candidacy in the upcoming elections.
“This is not a referendum, but it is going to be about candidates showing their case — have you done your work to represent your district?” he said. “I believe I have, and it shows in my record.”