On Feb. 7, four candidates were set to take the stage at a California congressional district 50 candidate forum. (The 50th district encompasses the central and northeastern parts of San Diego County and a small part of Riverside County.) The event was hosted by the Valley Center Business Association at Maxine Theater. The three Republicans and Democratic front-runner Ammar Campa-Najjar were invited to participate and present their bourgeois perspectives to potential constituents. Jose Cortes, the only candidate on the ballot with two separate party nominations (Peace and Freedom Party and Green Party), was denied a slot at the forum.
As the moderator began to speak, Jose took the stage in an appeal to democracy. In conjunction with chanting supporters and cheers from the crowd, Jose proclaimed, “I appeal to the working class people of the 50th district to allow me a platform to debate these people who don’t have to work, who their whole job is running for office.”
He added, “I am an on-the-ballot candidate. I am defending the only opportunity I’ll have before the primary to participate.”
As can be seen in this video, he and some of his supporters were escorted out of the building by about half-a-dozen police — putting the anti-democratic nature of the event on full display. As Jose was being removed from the building, Carl Demaio said he would debate Jose later that night: “Let’s debate after the forum. I will do it. Stick around.”
Personal questions, but more of the same
After the intervention, the four candidates were introduced by a moderator. They each gave similar opening statements, pandering to broad bases.
Then, each candidate was asked questions specific to their campaigns and statements they had made. When asked about his promise to be the “most conservative congressman in San Diego,” Campa-Najjar doubled down.
“It’s a low bar to be the most conservative congressman in San Diego. They’re all liberals. The fact that I own a gun and live out there in rural East County — he [pointing to Demaio] has made fun of it before — makes me more conservative off-the-bat. It’s a low bar. You can be the most conservative congressman in San Diego County and the most progressive congressman in the 50th district,” he claimed.
When asked about his resignation from CA49 and his subsequent run in CA50, Darrell Issa said that he only stepped down from his previous seat in order to accept a position within the Trump administration. Issa fumbled over his words while trying to make excuses for his homophobic ads that attacked Demaio, who is openly gay. Demaio used it as fuel during his response to Issa, telling him to “own it like a man.”
All four bipartisan candidates endorse imperialist policies
After the round of personal questions came another moderator. Now, each candidate was asked to answer the same question. One of them was about the effectiveness of sanctions. Specifically mentioned were sanctions placed by the Trump administration on countries like Russia, Iran, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Issa, Demaio, and American Independent Party endorsee Brian Jones supported strong sanctions and tariffs.
Barely standing apart, Ammar Campa-Najjar argued that tariffs hurt local farmers but sanctions “do work to an extent.” He further parroted imperialist rhetoric and gave Trump credit for reducing “trade deficits with our trade partners.”
Carl Demaio argued that Democrats are responsible for “coddling” the DPRK. In response, Campa-Najjar claimed that Trump coddles the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and bashed Trump for meeting with Kim Jong Un, saying that, “He’s the only guy that actually met with this current dictator and held hands and crossed the border [between DPRK and South Korea] together.”
All of these are a far cry from the positions of Cortes for Congress. Jose Cortes opposes all U.S. sanctions, calling them an act of war. Instead, he places the blame for global economic instability on U.S. imperialism. He also calls for an official end to the Korean War and supports Korean reunification efforts.
When prompted about health care, each candidate spoke in favor of preserving private care. Campa-Najjar was the only one who pushed for a public option. Brian Jones called for eliminating public care and insurance companies entirely, reducing the doctor-patient relationship to a “provider-consumer” dynamic. In contrast, Jose Cortes demands free universal health care as a constitutional right.
When prompted about sanctuary cities and immigration reform, all three Republicans vehemently opposed progressive positions on either. Campa-Najjar pledged his support for spending billions of dollars on increasing security at the border. He also promised to deport “criminals,” “drug dealers,” and “terrorists.”
When asked specifically about sanctuary cities, Campa-Najjar argued that such issues should not be left up to local politicians. He gave no support for preserving sanctuary cities. Brian Jones called on the audience to fully support ICE agents, only to receive a chorus of booing.
Jose Cortes demands full rights for all migrants and refugees. He argues that their flight is fueled by U.S. imperialist economic and military policies.
Candidates seemed to disagree most on how to deal with the issues of houselessness and climate change. Demaio called for “tough love” on those struggling to find safe, affordable housing. He claims that a “Housing First” policy to tackle poverty “coddles” the houseless and drug users. Campa-Najjar called for a more empathetic role from the government and a boost in mental health services for veterans.
On issues of the environment, Brian Jones and Darrell Issa denied the legitimacy of the overwhelming majority of professional scientists who believe human activity is responsible for the climate catastrophe. When prompted about climate issues, Demaio said, “We are all going to die in 12 years anyway, so we might as well have freedom and convenience. … ”
Nobody on stage presented clear or coherent plans for either issue. Jose Cortes believes that housing is a constitutional right for all. He also believes that we need to restructure our economy for planned eco-socialism.
Two parties with similar agendas
Throughout the debate, it was clear that the four bipartisan candidates have far more in common than progressive voters might hope for. The candidates often found themselves agreeing with each other, and Campa-Najjar made several efforts to point out his own similarities with the Republican candidates. Carl Demaio made sure to attack socialism.
Despite inconsistent policy proposals and a mostly monotonous forum, one thing was made clear that night: A specter is haunting one of the most important congressional races in the country. The growing movement in support of anti-imperialism and socialism in San Diego is in large part being led by Jose Cortes, a proud member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
Jose confronted Carl Demaio after the event. Demaio did not “stick around” to debate Jose. Peace and Freedom Party voters demonstrated outside Maxine Theater in an attempt to interact with forum attendees as they exited. After meeting with potential constituents and taking media interviews, Jose Cortes and his supporters went home for the night.
Hardly a ‘democracy’
The working-class people of CA50 deserved to hear an anti-war voice that represents their interests on stage. They were undemocratically robbed of that opportunity at the candidate forum.
Each campaign has their work cut out for them in preparation for the March 3 primary, where only two candidates will be chosen to advance — regardless of party affiliation. Jose Cortes is the only candidate who openly opposes the top-two system, where a couple Republicans could end up being the only choice on the ballot for CA50.
Cortes is also the only candidate who advocates for socialism, a system that inherently brings more democracy than any capitalist regime. As Vladimir Lenin said in 1918, “Proletarian democracy is a million times more democratic than any bourgeois democracy. … ” The best way to make your vote count as a worker in the 50th congressional district primary is to vote socialist. That means casting your vote for Jose Cortes.
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