A contentious and sometimes hostile debate between District 52 Congressional candidates Scott Peters and Carl DeMaio addressed America’s most pressing issues Tuesday night.
Voters were able to see what sets the two apart during NBC 7’s hour-long Conversation with the Candidates.
Incumbent Congressman Peters, a Democrat, and former San Diego City Councilman DeMaio, a Republican, are racing for California’s 52nd Congressional District, which stretches from Coronado to La Jolla and reaches inland to Scripps Ranch, Poway and up to Rancho Bernardo.
Registered voters in the district are split 34 percent Republican, 32 percent Democrat and 29 percent unaffiliated, which means it is anyone's race.
The first issue debated Thursday was ISIS. The U.S. began airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria Monday, but some military experts say without ground troops, we will not see an end to the terrorist group.
Both candidates were asked at what point they would support U.S. boots on the ground to fight ISIS.
DeMaio said the crisis would have to pass two key tests: make sure it is an issue of national security and ensure there is a thoughtful, common sense strategy to win.
He believes ISIS has clearly established itself as a threat to national security, but as to the second point, he said, “I don’t believe the president has laid out an adequate strategy.”
DeMaio expects the U.S. will find that airstrikes are inadequate.
“If we have to build a case for an expansion, that has to be something that the American people will support,” DeMaio said, “and that’s where the administration and Congress should not treat this as a Democrat issue or a Republican issue. This would be an American issue.”
In response, Peters described ISIS as a tremendously dangerous force with better equipment, funding and tactics than Al Qaeda.
“And we know that around the world, not just in the Middle East, there are people in dark rooms and even caves planning to hurt our country and our families, and we have to go to those places and stop them,” he said.
He supports a multi-strategy plan laid out by the Obama administration and military commanders. The effort starts with airstrikes to degrade the enemy, the congressman said, and continues with developing a stable political system in Iraq.
Allies in the area and international governments equally interested in the region’s security must also take part in the fight, according to Peters.
“Part of it is the equipment and training of some Syrians who will be carefully vetted on the ground,” he said.
THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE
Next, the candidates took on the issue of immigration – a topic especially important to Mexico-bordering San Diego.
Peters and DeMaio were asked if they have any policy ideas or initiatives that would break the gridlock.
Peters countered the assumption that nothing gets done on the issue by saying the Senate passed on a bipartisan immigration bill last summer, though the House has yet to put it up for a vote.
In the measure, he claimed he supported its increased border security and tenants aimed at deficit reduction and economic growth.
According to Peters, the undocumented workers in the U.S. should pay a fine, start paying their taxes and earn a path to citizenship while staying here.
“In biotechnology, we’re sending people home who we educate to cure diseases and start jobs in other countries instead of keep them here,” said Peters.
DeMaio’s issue with the immigration bill is its complexity, thousands of pages filled with special interest agendas, he said.
What gets crowded out are the points everyone agrees on, like border security, he said.
By tightening up our borders, DeMaio claims we can prevent a system that allows people get to run to the front of the line while improving national security.
“But members of Congress constantly want to put poison pills in these bills that become thousands of pages long, and they sit there and they point fingers at each other,” said DeMaio.
ABOUT THE CANDIDATE: SCOTT PETERS
Scott Peters earned his undergraduate degree from Duke University and attended New York University School of Law. He was an environmental lawyer before going into politics.
The attorney-turned-politician served on the San Diego City Council from 2000 to 2008, becoming the first council president after the switch to a strong-mayor form of government.
Peters lost his bid for the city attorney's office in 2008, and he was termed out of office as a councilman the same year. In 2009, he became a commissioner of the San Diego Unified Port District.
In 2012, he successfully challenged then-Rep. Brian Bilbray for the 52nd Congressional District.
He lives with his wife in the La Jolla. They have a son and daughter.
ABOUT THE CANDIDATE: CARL DEMAIO
Carl DeMaio attended Georgetown University where he earned a degree in International Business and Politics.
Before running for office, DeMaio started The Performance Institute, a for-profit think-tank that provides training for government officials.
He later founded the American Strategic Management Institute, which offered financial and management training to corporations. Both companies he later sold.
DeMaio moved to San Diego in 2002 where he began speaking publicly and backing efforts aimed at city government reform.
In 2008, he ran and won a seat on the San Diego City Council representing District 5 as an openly-gay man and a self-described government watchdog, later backing Proposition B which put before voters a plan aimed at drastically re-tooling city worker's retirement benefits along with changing the cost to taxpayers.
After one council term, DeMaio ran for mayor, advancing to the run-off before losing to Bob Filner.
DeMaio's partner is Jonathan Hale, the owner of a San Diego based marketing firm targeting the LGBT community.