In a rare opportunity to have the two candidates of a race being closely watched throughout the region, we present a virtual debate between Republican Tom McClintock and Democrat Brynne Kennedy.
The two candidates are vying for the 4th Congressional District seat and below publicly discuss their viewpoints on issues of great importance to our community: the economy in a still-raging pandemic, wildfire, and housing solutions.
Zooming out, the geographically large and geologically diverse district four stretches from Roseville to the Nevada border down to south of Yosemite and the Sierra National Forest. It also encompasses the Eldorado National Forest, the California side of Tahoe, and Kings Canyon National Park. It is mostly rural and notably scenic; its natural resources are vital to the rest of the state. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, it had 711,815 residents, 86% White, 4.3% Asian, 1.7% Native American, 1.1% Black, and 12.6% Hispanic.
Politically, as of 2018 the district was categorized by BallotPedia as Republican +10, meaning that in the previous two presidential elections, the results were 10 percentage points more Republican than the national average.
The district has been represented by Republican Tom McClintock since he first won his seat in 2008 in a narrow victory over Democrat Charlie Brown. While in office, McClintock has been the primary sponsor of six bills that were enacted. He sits on the House Committee on Natural Resources and the House Committee on the Judiciary, as well as subcommittees on terrorism and homeland security, immigration and citizenship; water, oceans, and wildlife; and national parks, forests, and public lands. His voting record has earned him a score of 3% in 2019 from the League of Conservation Voters; a 99% lifetime grade from Americans for Prosperity; and a current score of 21% from the ACLU.
Since his inaugural election, McClintock has handily defeated challengers from other parties and within his own in general elections. In 2018, Democrat Jessica Morse lost to McClintock, but with the narrowest margin since he was first elected. This year’s challenger, Brynne Kennedy, secured more votes in the primaries than Morse did in 2018.
Their fundraising has been neck and neck. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Kennedy has raised $1,456,882 and spent $1,100,342 so far in her race; McClintock has raised $1,353,687 and spent $932,359 so far. While recent polling data is sparse, a late-July Lake Research Partners-conducted survey of 650 district four residents (weighted toward Placer and El Dorado counties) found the candidates nearly even, but with McClintock leading: 45% were for McClintock while 42% went to Kennedy.
For this written debate, McClintock and Kennedy answered the same three questions, then each was given a chance to read the other’s perspective and provide a rebuttal.
1. Tahoe is a decidedly tourism-based economy, and shut-downs of nonessential businesses and discouragement of travel has hit the region hard. Additionally, we have seen local spikes in cases during peak visitor weekends, and Placer County spent weeks on the state’s pandemic watch list.
Rep. McClintock, you voted against parts of the initial COVID relief package in March. Can you explain that vote, and how you propose we combat the economic effects of the virus in this region?
Tom McClintock: I supported the CARES Act, the principle COVID relief package that established the Paycheck Protection Plan, to keep small businesses afloat and provided the $1,200 direct cash payments to families. But I warned at the time that the forced lockdown was doing more harm than good and that there was no substitute for immediately reopening the economy.
I opposed the so-called Families First Act. It required small businesses to front up to three months paid leave to employees at a time when those businesses had already lost their cash flow. Within days, businesses began laying off employees to avoid this liability, needlessly costing millions of workers their jobs.
The forced lockdowns have been the most self-destructive folly in our history. The government must allow businesses to reopen, protect them from frivolous lawsuits, maximize regulatory relief, and guarantee low-interest loans for employers whose liquidity has been devastated.
Brynne Kennedy, you have outlined pandemic response as a priority in your campaign. How would you have voted on the March bill? And what’s your plan for combating the economic effects of this virus in Truckee/Tahoe?
Brynne Kennedy: Containing the virus makes safe and sustained economic recovery possible. That’s why I supported the March Families First bill to scale up testing, tracing, and treatment, and took action to personally source PPE for local hospitals while providing neighbors with vital health information and other relief resources.
It’s also why I supported bipartisan relief for local businesses, schools, and workers, and called on politicians to fix flaws in program design that produced a fragmented response and left too many without the help they needed.
COVID-19 exposed structural issues that have deepened their economic effects, like a lack of reliable broadband infrastructure and inadequate incentives for investment away from densely populated cities. As the only candidate in this race to build a business or meet a payroll, I see these issues through the lens of firsthand experience, not politics. And I won’t let partisanship stand in the way of delivering real solutions.
2. We are squarely in the middle of fire season and at the moment, multiple fires rage largely uncontained. Describe your plan to address the increased threat of wildfire and outline your specific abilities to get support in Washington for your proposals.
BK: My plan embraces science and supports aggressive forest management, infrastructure modernization, and tax and regulatory reform. I’ll build support by focusing on public safety and creating good paying jobs — not playing partisan politics.
Our new state/federal partnership with the private sector will dramatically expand forest thinning efforts and the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act — which will support these efforts while strengthening our $15 billion outdoor recreation economy — are important first steps.
But more must be done.
Our power delivery system sparks many fires because it has outlived its design life. I’ll work to ensure maintenance of these systems, while expanding incentives that increase access to cleaner and safer energy alternatives. I’ll work to streamline environmental regulations so they prioritize safety — particularly in high growth areas. And I’ll work to update our tax code to promote additional job-creating incentives for solutions we need in our local communities around vegetation management and home hardening.
TM: For four years I chaired the Federal Lands Subcommittee of the House natural resources committee and focused that committee’s work on addressing the forest crisis. We produced landmark legislation to restore scientific management to our forests and restore a proper balance between tree density and the ability of the land to support it.
My legislation, signed into law as part of the WIIN ACT, expedited the removal of excess timber for fuels reduction and increased federal funding for forest management in the Tahoe Basin by $150 million. This has dramatically reduced the time and expense required for permitting fuel reduction projects and made possible the Lake Tahoe West project that will treat more than 60,000 acres — more than ever before — including nearly 20,000 acres of mechanical thinning under this new authority, reducing wildfire risk and restoring forest resiliency.
I have since introduced legislation to expand this reform throughout the federal lands.
3. Along with much of California, the Tahoe region faces, and has faced for years, a housing crisis, with increased anxiety and insecurity during the pandemic. What solutions to the regional housing issue do you believe show the most promise?
TM: California’s expensive and restrictive housing regulations have forced median home prices to twice the national average. The rate of new construction permits is about half the national average and a fraction of what population growth requires. The result is a chronic shortage of housing, causing unaffordable prices, rising homelessness, and middle-class flight. Yet California continues to add new regulatory requirements, while local governments continue to constrain new housing permits. Zoning is strictly a local prerogative, but undue restrictions come with a steep price. There is only one long-term solution: Reduce the regulatory requirements and allow the supply of new housing to meet demand.
BK: Several solutions have shown promise in addressing both the cost and supply issues at the heart of the housing crisis — including modular building, cohousing, cap and trade financing, expansion of ADUs, and the streamlining of local zoning and permitting regulations.
To facilitate responsive policy making, we need a new representative in Congress that’s willing to engage in close collaboration with state and local leaders in our community. We can use our tax code to attract more affordable and workforce housing investment to underserved regions. Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) — a Reagan Administration initiative that’s helped finance millions of new units — can be modernized to encourage more supply where the affordability gap is most acute.
During this pandemic, I support bipartisan efforts to extend the eviction moratorium and rental assistance programs — tied to clear public health benchmarks that can expedite a safe and sustained re-opening of our economy while promoting re-employment.
We asked each candidate to read the other’s responses to the three questions above and consider how their campaign platform differs. Here are their rebuttals:
TM: Our differences come down to a choice between freedom and central planning; between individual choice and command-and-control bureaucracy.
The answer to our neglected forests is not more bureaucracy imposing ever more expensive restrictions on removing timber overgrowth. It is to streamline the process, as we have in the Tahoe Basin, assuring both a thriving economy and healthy forests. The federal government should not be acquiring new lands until it can take care of the land it already holds.
The answer to our housing crisis is not more government programs that override local zoning and force subsidized high-density projects into our communities. Rather, we need to reduce the restrictions that have made housing so needlessly expensive.
The answer to our electricity shortages is not more expensive and unreliable alternative energy mandates, but rather the freedom to harness the most affordable and reliable forms of electricity available to us: hydroelectric, nuclear, and natural gas generation.
The answer to the security and safety of our communities and our nation is not to release felons and criminal suspects onto our streets while stripping law-abiding citizens of their Second Amendment right to self-defense, and it is not “open borders.” It is to secure our borders, defend our rights as Americans, and restore the rule of law.
Most importantly, the answer to this dysfunctional and dystopian era of lockdowns and school closures is not more of the same! The forced home detention of an entire population for months on end will be looked back upon as the most self-destructive folly in our history. Those nations and states that stayed open have generally suffered lower mortality rates from COVID-19, with far less damage to their economies.
I have supported the research and development of therapeutics and vaccines and the lifeline support programs to preserve jobs, but I have vigorously opposed the damage that lockdowns have done not just to livelihoods but to lives. The lockdowns have set in motion a terrible toll of deaths due to suicides, drug and alcohol abuse, deferred health screenings, and increased poverty.
In short, freedom works. It’s time we put it back to work.
BK: To get our economy and communities back on track, we need to contain COVID-19. Yet Rep. McClintock was the only California representative in either party to oppose the Families First Act to help our communities do just that. He opposed oversight of relief funds to make sure CARES Act funds weren’t squandered by political cronies, while advocating a bailout for special interests that fund his campaign. He’s refused to wear a mask to protect others, openly attacked public health measures to help safely reopen schools and businesses, and opposed two subsequent bipartisan COVID relief measures — even as nearly 200,000 Americans have died and tens of millions have lost their jobs. Worst of all, he voted to leave our nation and our most medically vulnerable unprotected from coronavirus — voting to slash the [Centers for Disease Control’s] budget for controlling pandemics, voting dozens of times to take healthcare away from 20 million Americans, and repeatedly voting to slash the Social Security and Medicare benefits our seniors have earned through a lifetime of work.
Tom McClintock offers nothing but blame on housing or wildfires because he refuses to live here, stand up to special interests, or work with anyone with different ideas than him. He has taken tens of thousands of dollars from PG&E and failed to hold them accountable for proper maintenance of our power system. He denies the scientific consensus on climate change, has opposed efforts to fund the forest service, and even opposed The Great American Outdoors Act, a bill signed by President Trump that will create jobs and address the maintenance backlog that threatens our public lands and surrounding communities. He’s abandoned our first responders, opposing healthcare for the heroes of 9/11 three times, and stood silent as federal fire prevention funds for California were illegally diverted to unrelated programs.
Tom McClintock is rated the fifth most partisan member of the U.S. Congress, and former California GOP Gov. Pete Wilson called him “the first to criticize and last to help the team.” Instead of working across the aisle on solutions, he’s spent 40 years trying to sow chaos, division, and gridlock at taxpayer expense. To get our country back on track, we need leaders who will work with any party or president to put our community first. Tom McClintock won’t. I will.