Politics

Gray, Duarte spar over issues in early Congressional debate for open Valley seat

With the general election just over one month away, the two candidates in what is expected to be one of the nation’s tightest Congressional races met earlier this week for a debate. 

Asm. Adam Gray (D–Merced) and nursery owner John Duarte (R–Modesto) are facing off for Congressional District 13. 

Duarte led the primary by 3.4 points in a district that was drawn by the California Redistricting Commission to give Democrats over a double digit lead in voter registration. 

The debate was hosted by McClatchy, and the following are some of Gray’s and Duarte’s answers to some of the election’s top issues: 

Abortion

Question: What do you think of Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R–South Carolina) 15-week abortion ban proposal? 

Duarte: “I’m a moderate on abortion. I believe women should have access to abortion for the first three months, and I will vote against any effort to nationalize abortion law, period.” 

Gray: “I think it’s a terrible idea, and that’s why I’m a coauthor of Prop. 1 here in California to put in the Constitutional protections for a women’s right to choose and reproductive healthcare choices. I think you’ve got to send somebody to Congress who’s going to take a stand against frankly extremist politicians who want to do things like ban abortions in the cases of incest and rape of 11-year-olds. It’s outrageous. Those kind of bills, we need a Congressperson who’s going to take a tough stand against them.” 

Water policy

Question: What do you think of the proposed Delta water tunnel project? 

Duarte: “It doesn’t do much, it really doesn’t. We need to flush a certain amount of water into the Delta to keep the salt back. We need to pump that water back at the Delta at the right place and time. The Delta water tunnel doesn’t create any water, and it’s going to cost a ton of money. We should be building more dams, raising more dams, and there are a lot of down to earth recharge basins, levy improvements, flood control and storage assets that we can put in a lot of irrigation districts throughout the state that would have a lot more positive impact on farmers than a very expensive tunnel program in the Delta. We simply need to manage the Delta for humans and rebalance away from fish. The fish in the Delta are dead. For 20-30 years now we’ve been flushing our water out to the ocean. The smelt have not recovered. The salmon have not recovered, and human’s in the south Valley are seeing lung disease, pediatric lung disease at levels they’ve never seen. We’ve got Valley Fever, asthma, emphysema. We’re creating a dust bowl in the south Valley with no environmental gains in the Delta. So it’s a matter of management more so than infrastructure. We can talk about that infrastructure. You want to pour some concrete, build a dam, raise a dam, do some real good.” 

Gray: “I think we’ve got to solve the Delta legal issues to solve California’s water problems. It serves as kind of the linchpin of California water. What I’d like to see us do is move away from these project by project – I hate this project, I support that project, this partisan political approach. We need to be spending billions on our water infrastructure, and that means raising existing dams, dealing with the Delta either via tunnels or putting in or making permanent the rock walls that keep the salinity back. We need to beyond that invest in groundwater recharge, flood plains. We are so far behind. A third of the snowpack is going to be gone by 2050, and if we don’t build the storage to capture the water in the wet years, agriculture and the entirety of California’s going to be in trouble, and this country’s going to be in trouble because we produce two-thirds of the fruits and vegetables that this country eats. So we need a big New Deal like water vision that involves billions and no one project is going to be the solution, but rather embracing a comprehensive package A to Z.” 

High gas prices

Question: How can Congress help ease financial burdens of families, including prices of gas? 

Gray: “Well for one I think we need to start looking at agriculture as an issue of national defense, and I think the federal government frankly ought to step in and see what they can do to stop states from regulating agriculture to death – 800 percent increases in regulatory costs here in California for agriculture. Farmers are producing twice as much food with the same amount of water we had in 1980. That’s not going to make sense long term. And I think the federal government can play a role in dealing with those regulatory issues by circumventing some of the state actions. Second, I think we need a major investment in water storage to back up the cost of water and the long-term prospects in the west. We just did something like $8 billion investment in the western states on water. That’s a drop in the bucket for what we really need. On energy costs, we’ve got to start making investments that aren’t discriminatory towards some communities towards others. We’ve got a state right now that gives tax credits to wealthy Californians to purchase Teslas while at the same time raising the cost of gas and utilities for people in this district. We need to have a renewable energy policy that actually doesn’t balance its book on the folks that can least afford to pay the bill. I think Congress is going to pay a role by investing real money in infrastructure, energy infrastructure, certainly investing the key tax credits where they need to be as well.” 

Duarte: “Really simple, get water on the farms, drill American oil, develop natural gas to its full potential in every state. The politicians in California have voted through the New Green Deal, the gas tax, cap and trade. Every green energy fantasy that’s been voted through in Sacramento has been on the backs of working families throughout this state and particularly in this valley. The working families in this valley are paying 66 percent more per kilowatt than the national average. I’m going to to knock on doors through the Valley. You have water in the farms, drill American oil, get your high cost of living under control. Most of the time in the afternoon, 104, 105 degrees, the screen door is closed and the main door is open. These families are ventilating their homes in the middle of the summer. I’m drinking electrolytes, I’m wearing shorts, I’m doing this three-four hours a day during the campaign here. This is their life – can’t afford to put gas in the tank, dinner on their tables and cool their homes. It’s ridiculous. Career politicians have gotten us here. It is very simple. We need to develop domestic energy as a matter of opportunity and affordability for families in the Central Valley.” 

2020 election

Question: Was the 2020 election stolen from Donald Trump? 

Duarte: “The 2020 election is final. It’s done. We have a president. His name is Joe Biden. We don’t like him very much, but he is our president. He will be president for two more years, and then we will elect a new president. God help us, let’s get to it as soon as possible. Meanwhile I want to go back to Washington D.C. and shut down the Biden-Pelosi agenda and not make any more large spendthrift overly regulatory mistakes that fall on the back of working families throughout this district until we get an administration that cares about the working families throughout America. And that we don’t have today. What we have today is more green energy nonsense, more subsidies more tax credits going to wealthy families on the coast for solar panels, and higher energy costs and gas costs and food costs for working families throughout this district. So we have a president, hopefully we’ll go back to Washington with enough new members to tie his hands, and then we’ll get some policy that’s good for working families right here in the Valley.” 

Question: So you agree we had a free and fair election in 2020? 

Duarte: “We had a legitimate election. There are some changes I’d make, but it’s done. It’s over. We have a president and we’re moving on to the next election.” 

Gray: “The answer’s no, and it doesn’t take 90 seconds to explain it. This is exactly the problem, and this is the choice voters have in this election. If you want an elected official who’s afraid to take on their own party when their party’s wrong, then my opponent’s the guy for you. He’s going to equivocate about whether or not was the election stolen – I don’t want to tick off these people. No, the election was not stolen. It was a free and fair election. We’ve got to start taking on the folks in our own parties, just like I’ve taken on the folks in my party that tried to steal our water in this district, that’s the kind of leadership we need in D.C., period, the end.” 

Rebuttal from Duarte: “Mr. Unequivocated is getting $3 million out of Nancy Pelosi for his campaign. He will hardly go back there and be a moderate or independent. Not one Democrat, not one Blue Dog or otherwise, voted against the inflationary disaster we know as Build Back Better. My opponent is going back to Washington D.C. to help Nancy Pelosi cover her agenda, and I’m going back to stop Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi until we can get some sensible leadership in this country.” 

Rebuttal from Gray: “My record speaks for itself. I’ve stood up to my own party when I needed to. I’m the only one in this race who has.” 

Immigration

Question: Should we consider flying migrants from the border to New England? 

Duarte: “When immigration at the border is left in a leadership vacuum as it is now, and we’ve got fentanyl, we’ve got crime, we’ve got people from all over the world coign through the southern border with no accountability at levels we’ve never seen before, you’re going to see different efforts step into that leadership vacuum. These governors are under stress and they can’t bring attention to it, so looking for a way to solve problems for their constituents in their states where they’re being forgotten by leaders in Washington D.C. We elected Joe Biden with the authority he needs to work that border. Our communities in the Valley are seeing more drugs, more crime, more gangs come across that border. And those burdens are being borne not in the gated communities and the luxury high rises. They’re being borne in the working communities throughout this country. So yes, some governors are coming up with let’s call it creative solutions to address the issue. Maybe it is or isn’t what I would do, but I certainly don’t blame them for trying something different to get that leadership vacuum filled by Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi who we elected to keep orderly law throughout America.” 

Gray: “I think that’s absurd. Using people as props to make a political point isn’t reaching across the aisle or trying to create some kind of opportunity for immigration reform. What we really need is both parties – on the Democratic side people to stop acting as if a secure border and a sane immigration system for law abiding citizens who want to come here and make a better life is somehow at odds. And on the Republican side you’ve got Republicans who will privately acknowledge, ‘Well I won’t vote for it because there’s just too many people in my district who are anti-immigrant and anti any kind of real immigration reform.’ At the end of the day it’s a question of sitting down, figuring out how to have a secure border. We’ve got the best military in the world. I know we can do that. And at the same time dealing with the issues of quotas from different countries and how are we going to have an immigration system that doesn’t require someone to take 18 years. And we should know that here in the Valley, a valley built by immigrants from all over the world. This is a place where people have come, worked hard, built a business, an opportunity. Our agricultural economy thrives on the hard work of immigrants from all over the world. So it’s a problem that ought to get fixed, and it’s got to be fixed by both parties working together and acknowledging where they’re being ridiculous.” 

Homelessness

Duarte: “If you want to go to root causes on homelessness, we could empty the jails. These pro criminal policies have emptied the jails. These no bail policies have decriminalized all kinds of criminality. Many of us unfortunately know people who’ve had drug addiction problems, and many of us know that a stint in jail for a year is oftentimes the only time they clean up and get off their drugs. What we’re doing now is we’re putting our communities at risk by not incarcerating criminals, freeing the criminals back onto our streets. So once we get past the criminology failures that have come out of career politicians in Sacramento for decades now, we’ve got to go to the economic opportunity. We destroyed people’s economic opportunity over COVID. We had total insensitivity to small business owners, restaurants, restaurant workers. We sent them home without income, without work. We broke businesses. Those are all families under increased economic stress. No inflation’s coming on top of that. These families are under even more stress. Steady jobs, balancing their books, a financially stable home life. The prospect of home ownership because interest rates used to be low until inflation hit us. All these things make it difficult to raise a stable, happy, healthy family. And as we tear the fabric of our working families apart, we’re going to incur more criminality, more mental health issues and more homelessness. So we’ve got to correct the big problems, and we’ve got to treat criminals like criminals.” 

Gray: “During my tenure just in this district alone we’ve brought $30 million in from state government to help with homelessness, and we’ve done projects here in Stanislaus County and Merced County has a new nearly 100 bed shelter. We absolutely do have to start addressing the root causes of homelessness, and it has to do with drug addiction. It absolutely has to do with not having sane criminal justice policies that through early release – Prop 47, Prop 57 – we’ve taken away the teeth for example of drug courts, for courts to actually step in and force people to deal with their addiction issues. That’s important policy. We don’t have that right now here in California. There was a bill that came through the legislature from one of the LA members, and it was another tax on some kind of a real estate transaction or something to raise another several billion dollars in LA. And I said, ‘You know, for every several billion dollars we give LA, skid row gets seven blocks longer.’ This isn’t working just throwing money at the problem. We’ve got to look at the systems. And that means doing tough work and it means sitting down with county officials, city officials, law enforcement officials. It means giving our law enforcement officers the support so they’re not out there being mental health workers, which means funding mental health programs and drug addiction programs. It’s a comprehensive solution. It’s tough, and it’s not going to fit good into 30 second soundbites in the campaign, so I can guarantee you it’s not going to be solved in this campaign or any other campaign. It’s going to require people working together across party lines and both state, federal and local with a willingness to take on the systems and restructure things.” 

Electric cars

Question: What do you think of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ban on gas-powered cars after 2035? 

Gray: “I think it’s silly to constantly set goals that most of the time the elected officials who are setting the goals aren’t even going to be there, because we have term limits in California, to see them through. And what we ought to be a lot more focused on are what are the near-term steps we can take to make sure that we have additional renewable energy, more electric cars in the marketplace. And you could make an argument that electric cars have been taking off in the marketplace. Companies like Tesla here California have had success selling consumers on those choices, and those are choices that will be good for energy policy. But we ought to stay focus on how do we year by year – it would make more sense to me, for example, to set an annual goal on renewable energy of x percent versus we’re going to get 70 percent by 2045 when I’m not going to be here to follow through on that decision. Let’s look at how do we move the needle five percent every year. How do we get more electric vehicles into the marketplace every year with tax credits and other decisions. I think that’s the better way to do it. I think the rest of that is it makes one side really happy and it makes the other side angry, and it’s just politics and it’s not good public policy.” 

Duarte: “Electric mandates or electric everything is just part of the green energy fantasies that’s coming down the backs of working families in this district. The governor, one of Adam’s top endorsers, Gov. Newsom that we voted in this district to recall by a little margin, wants you to have an electric furnace, not a gas furnace. He wants you to have electric big rigs. We can’t even get our products, the almond growers in this district can’t even get their product exported. Everybody’s under economic stress because of idiocies in our logistics already, and we’re going to ban not only certain diesel powered trucks that now make California logistics different, but we’re going to cut over to all electric big rigs on a certain time frame before the technology’s ready. We’re going to have electric heaters in our house that won’t work when the grid’s down. Then we’re going to have electric cars that may or may not serve our needs economically all on fixed time frames irrespective of when the technology and the capital’s actually in place to deliver. This is all part of the whole green energy fantasy which sounds really good to well off folks over on the coast and really comes down hard on the backs of working families here in this district and it needs to be called out for what it is. It’s purely economic discrimination. Solve the rich people’s problems, give them rebates, take working families and just crush them a little bit more because we have some green energy fantasy that we think is a nice thing to talk about as we head off to run for president. It’s nuts, and it should be called out for what it is.”

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.