Audrey Denney, Doug LaMalfa spar in forum
A forum this week between Republican U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa and Democrat Audrey Denney was the one opportunity this election season for residents of California’s 1st Congressional District to compare their priorities with that of the candidates.
Denney began her opening statement at the Wednesday forum, streamed online, by comparing the current state of affairs to what it was when she and LaMalfa sat down together for the first time two years ago.
“A lot of changes have happened since the last time we talked and honestly, not for the better,” said Denney, challenging LaMalfa for the second time for his seat.
Denney noted the psychosocial weight of the global pandemic and an unemployment rate — 11.4% as of August 2020 — that is double what it was in 2018.
LaMalfa also recalled the 2018 election in his opening statement and highlighted the importance of working with the federal government to address the wildfire crises in California.
“Two days after the election we had a disaster of unparalleled proportions,” LaMalfa said, referring to the Camp Fire.
LaMalfa said state and federal government need to work quickly and in harmony and prevent and respond to crises.
When asked to share his views on the causes of the region’s record-breaking wildfires and identify possible solutions, LaMalfa said he would not speak to whether the “dramatic increase in pace and scale” of the local flames was human caused.
“I’m not here to debate what percent is human caused or nature caused, but we need to talk about what to do about it,” LaMalfa added, “instead of making more schemes to use climate change as a means to take money from … people.”
LaMalfa said his district could consider using biomass collected from cleared “overcrowded forests” to create electricity.
“It’s not cheap but neither is solar or wind,” LaMalfa said. “The jobs are in our backyard, cleanup is in our backyard and it helps meet the California state requirement for renewables.”
Denney said she was tired of the media using the local devastation for photo opportunities, and also disillusioned by the partisan leaders who participate in the climate change blame game.
Denney said LaMalfa has a history of voting against increased environmental protections, and said proper management requires updated technology and collaboration between local governing bodies and native tribes.
Denney noted that over 50% of the land in the district is public land, and of that 57% belongs to the federal government. Because of that, Denney expressed faith in having and promoting use of stewardship contracts.
Denney said the farm bill — a bill primarily focused on food and agriculture that is renewed around every five years — may be an appropriate conduit for everyone on the spectrum to create an “integrated resource management plan.” Denney said the farm bill could include the interests of both loggers and environmentalists.
Denney said forest management can be integrated into the local economy if the domestic timber industry was managed better.
Pivoting topics, Denney said PG&E needs to be better regulated amidst claims of dated power infrastructure and almost random power shut-offs. Denney cited a quote from the incumbent in an article published Feb. 7 in The Union which the Congressman said PG&E needed “more freedom” from the oversight of the California Public Utilities Commission. Denney said LaMalfa was not likely to require the private utility company to be accountable to its customers given its PAC’s donations to his campaign.
LaMalfa said he sought to reduce the sporadic power shut-offs by loosening restrictions on permits, and bypassing slow forest service bureaucracy.
“We’re supposedly the most advanced state, but we have power shut-offs because it’s windy and hot,” LaMalfa said.
As the conversation steered into watershed management, LaMalfa expressed interest in constructing dams in several different waterways in his district.
Denney said she constantly seeks out more integrated solutions.
“Every dollar of greenhouse reduction funds can go into forest management,’ Denney said.
Denney said the U.S. government ought to take immediate action to allay the affects of climate change to once again establish itself as a world leader and set an example for bigger polluters, like India and China.
Denney said donations from Exxon and Chevron to LaMalfa’s campaign may cloud his understanding of the climate crisis.
LaMalfa expressed doubt about the detrimental effects of climate change, but applauded the nation’s environmental accomplishments so far.
“We’re the only country to see reductions in recent years,” LaMalfa said. “That’s assuming that 0.04% of our atmosphere being CO2 is a big deal.”
LaMalfa celebrated the concept and use of internal combustion engines, and lamented the loss of hydroelectric dams and the nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo.
Regarding COVID-19, LaMalfa said it is up to constituents to determine the amount of risk they want to take on when venturing outside.
Denney said LaMalfa’s individualistic take on a global crisis was selfish and has had real implications. Shasta County’s positivity rate is indicative of its role as the epicenter for the anti-mask movement, Denney added.
“Wear your damn mask,” Denney said. “Politics has no place on the table in a global pandemic.”
LaMalfa said given the prediction that two million Americans would die at the beginning of the pandemic, he feels that the current administration has handled the crisis as well as one could have.
Pivoting to health care, Denney said the congressman voted five times to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, an imperfect piece of legislation that many of his constituents rely on.
“The ACA is not what its name implies for people who pay for it,” LaMalfa said. “We have an amazing health care system with amazing doctors and amazing pharmaceuticals.”
“Many things are developed in this country,” LaMalfa added. “We’re not in socialist country. We have the ability to innovate and create.”
According to the California Health Care foundation, over 15 million Californians are insured by some facet of the ACA.
Denney and LaMalfa agreed that the district needs better access to broadband to cultivate an intelligent and able workforce.
Denney said if the major providers are unable to service a particular area, it’s the local authority’s responsibility to ensure that other broadband providers have access to the opportunity.
The forum concluded with LaMalfa saying that “systemic racism does not exist.”
LaMalfa added that it was the Democrats who supported slavery pre-Civil War. “Racism exists and we’ve always been somewhat aware.”
Denney said the impact of structural issues that make life harder for people based on the color of their skin can be measured. She cited health care outcomes, and acts of violence as just a few.
“My core belief as a human being is that all human beings are inherently equal,” Denney said, adding that she hopes to lead the district throughout her tenure with that core belief in mind.
The forum was sponsored by Western Nevada County’s League of Women Voters, whose mission is “to promote political responsibility through informed and active participation of citizens in government.” It was moderated by attorney Jennifer Granger.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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