By Amy Sylvestri • San Leandro Times
Republican Hugh Bussell and Democrat Eric Swalwell faced off in a Congressional candidates forum in San Lorenzo last week, with Bussell taking a more aggressive stance than incumbent Swalwell.
Swalwell committed a gaffe when asked about his environmental policy when he gave an obviously canned answer.
“When I look out on the children here tonight, I wonder what kind of planet we are leaving them,” said Swalwell.
Only problem? There were no children in the room, which drew a few laughs from the crowd.
Otherwise, the two men gave mostly unsurprising answers during the League of Women Voters’ forum last Wednesday at the San Lorenzo Village Homes Association, though Bussell often was more animated in his answers, often emphasizing that he is not a career politician.
“This isn’t something I’m going to be doing for the next 40 years like the last guy who held this seat,” said Bussell, referring to Pete Stark and possibly to Swalwell’s potential future. “I’ve been out there working the same way you have. I’m a businessman. Washington doesn’t need more lawyers.”
Bussell is a former teacher and current tech worker. He was laid off two years ago and says he knows the struggle of trying to find a new career in middle age.
Swalwell is a former assistant district attorney and Dublin City Councilman.
In the June primary, Republican Bussell took about 25 percent of the vote in a district that is about 25 percent Republican. His challenge has always been to expand his voter base.
When asked what is the most pressing issue facing Congress today, Swalwell said continued economic growth.
Bussell agreed that a “good, solid economy is vital.”
Asked if troops should be sent to fight ISIS on the ground, Bussell said that troops were withdrawn from the Middle East prematurely to begin with.
“The real question is, ‘Why were they pulled out in the first place?’ That was a huge mistake,” said Bussell. “They left a power vacuum.”
Swalwell said that ISIS is a serious threat and that he recently traveled to the Middle East himself to consult there and he thinks America should be cautious with policy there. He said he supports strategic airstrikes, but not a ground attack that could get U.S. troops mired in years of warfare.
“ISIS is a great threat,” said Swalwell. “I went over there to meet with leaders. However, we should not forget the mistakes of 2003.”
When asked about the current trend toward the militarization of local police forces, both candidates came out against the use of armored vehicles and other military tactics.
“There are areas in the country where police are out-gunned and out-manned,” said Bussell. But he added that he has seen circumstances where police have used armored vehicles to serve warrants on minor things like student loan collection, unnecessarily escalating circumstances and creating violence.
Swalwell agreed, saying police militarization has been on the minds of many since the shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer and the subsequent riots this summer in Ferguson, Missouri.
“We owe it to every person in this country to do everything we can to hold law enforcement officers to a high standard,” said Swalwell. “Armored tank-like vehicles do not serve local police departments very well and hurt (public) perception.”
On the topic of “Obamacare,” the candidates were decidedly split, with Swalwell a major proponent, citing his work in Congress to help get the health care plan in place.
“I support the Affordable Care Act,” said Swalwell, “It is not perfect, but let’s mend it, not end it.”
Bussell is not a fan of the government health care plan.
“How did we get in this mess?” Bussell asked the crowd of around 100. “Why should I have to talk to Mr. Swalwell about my health insurance? Do I talk to him about my car insurance?”
Bussell called Obamacare “a huge intrusion” into the relationship between patients and doctors and said he didn’t even really want to see insurance tied in with people’s jobs let alone with the government.
The forum was moderated by former San Leandro Mayor Shelia Young, who made jokes and instituted a policy of asking the candidates to remain standing after finishing every other comment, as the person who answered last one question would be answering first on the next question.
Both men often naturally just sat down after finishing, causing confusion and Young to lose her place several times.
In closing, the two Congressional hopefuls said that they would do their best to represent District 15 – which includes parts of unincorporated San Leandro, San Lorenzo, Castro Valley, Pleasanton, Dublin, San Ramon, Hayward, and Livermore.
Swalwell said he would continue to shuttle between Washington D.C. and home nearly every weekend. He said that he has logged over 435,000 miles commuting coast-to-coast in order to keep in touch with his constituency.
“I ask you to send me back to Washington D.C. to serve the community that I grew up in,” said Swalwell. He said that he not only puts in the time and miles, but makes an effort to serve the under-served, including veterans, students, seniors, and women.
“I show up and I stand up,” said Swalwell.
Bussell promised to be a different, independent voice, without ties to big business or traditional politics.
“My goal is to be in Congress working for you and to get the government out of what they don’t need to be involved in,” said Bussell.
The election is Tuesday, Nov. 4. Visit www.acgov.org/rov to see a sample ballot..
CAPTION 1: Hugh Bussell
CAPTION 2: Eric Swalwell