On Feb. 21, Jose Cortes participated in his first congressional debate. Three other candidates running to represent California’s 50th district — Nathan Wilkins, Lucinda Jahn, and Helen Horvath — joined him at Palomar College.

The debate was hosted by the League of Women Voters and MEChA de Palomar. Absent were candidates Henry Ota, Darrell Issa, Carl Demaio, Brian Jones, and Ammar Campa-Najjar.

Ota originally confirmed his attendance but never showed. Issa never responded to his invitation. Jones and Demaio declined their invitations, despite Demaio responding, “Sure,” when asked by Liberation News if he would debate Jose Cortes at Palomar College. Demaio also promised to debate Cortes after the Valley Center forum. Cortes and his supporters confronted Demaio after that forum, but Demaio refused to debate him.

Campa-Najjar also declined his invitation, citing a “prior commitment” for a meet-and-greet at a supporter’s home in a statement he asked the moderator to read. No such event is listed on Campa-Najjar’s campaign website calendar. In addition, MEChA members told Liberation News that Campa-Najjar did not decline the invitation until the morning of the event. Before declining, he inquired about who else would be attending and what questions would be asked during the debate.

The rules for the debate provided for questions written by the audience and submitted to moderators. Maybe that is what Campa-Najjar was afraid of.

‘No Party Preference’ candidates sound a lot like the Republican

The debate covered a variety of topics. When asked about how they plan to keep ICE out of communities in CA50, every candidate except for Jose Cortes gave responses that supported ICE and DHS. Republican Nathan Wilkins argued for strict enforcement of the border. Wilkins claimed the enforcement is to stop “rapists,” “drug traffickers,” and “mules.”

Wilkins also suggested “taking military action against the cartels.” Ammar Campa-Najjar and Brian Jones used similar reactionary talking points during the Valley Center Business Association forum.

Taking a different line, Jose Cortes called for radical, working-class community organizing to drive ICE and the other armed wings of the capitalist class from our communities.

When asked what each candidate would do to stop gerrymandering if elected, Lucinda Jahn urged people to talk to their state representatives about the issue. Additionally, she suggested that independent voters should use their individual voices. “There’s a voice in the middle that’s growing,” she claimed.

Horvath essentially parroted Jahn’s position. Nathan Wilkins promised to bring more entrepreneurship to rural communities.

Cortes retorted Jahn’s argument, saying:

“What we’re going to be doing is we’re building a movement to fight these institutional evils. We’re not just hoping that someone in a political office of power — someone in the halls of power — takes pity on us. We’re actually going to organize our people to do that. And then, just like any sort of gain that we’ve had, that’s how we actually get it.”

When asked if they support sanctions on sovereign nations, Wilkins, Jahn and Horvath found themselves in agreement once again. Wilkins, the most extreme on the issue, wants “bad actors” punished.

Cortes said this form of “collective punishment” is a war crime.

During her response, Helen Horvath went off on a tangent with a story about friends in the Pentagon who were killed during the Sept. 11 attacks. “We need to protect our borders and we need to protect the people who live here — and that’s you!” she exclaimed pointing at a row of MEChistas.

The $780 billion military budget was the core of the next question. It asked why politicians claim we cannot afford social programs while they give billions in tax breaks and payments to defense contractors. Jose Cortes pointed out, “It doesn’t take someone with an advanced degree to see that our incursions into Iraq and into Afghanistan, and into Libya have yielded nothing but instability, ethnic cleansing, and the displacement of millions.”

Horvath claimed without any sort of citation that the entirety of the budget goes toward providing for the basic needs of military personnel and creating jobs. Wilkins declared his agreement with Horvath. Jahn countered Cortes by claiming: “We’ve spent a lot of money on wars. I don’t think we’re in Iraq for the oil or any of those things that he [Cortes] has mentioned before,” prompting heckling by the audience.

Hoping to win back support, Jahn continued, “I think we’re there because we need a base in the region so we can be on the underbelly of China and Russia.”

Aside from Horvath on the pay gap, the capitalists stand together

When asked about the Equal Pay Act, Horvath promoted the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Jahn claimed that she herself had never been discriminated against in the entertainment industry. Therefore, she doesn’t see a need for it. Wilkins said that women workers who don’t like how they are being treated should just leave their job. He claims to feel that way because it’s what he’d want his daughter to do. Cortes promised to fight for all reforms that improve the lives of working and oppressed women, including subsidized or free child care.

The candidates were then asked what their first steps toward combating global warming would be. Horvath and Jahn promised to meet and work with experts and politicians on how to solve these issues. Wilkins blamed China for the oncoming climate catastrophe, ignoring the fact that the U.S. emits more CO2 per capita. Also worth noting is that the U.S. has a higher ecological footprint than the People’s Republic of China. Cortes suggested shutting down all U.S. military bases in addition to a complete overhaul of the current capitalist economy and shifting to a planned economy that prioritizes the needs of the people and the planet.

Horvath argued that shutting down all bases would be a “huge mistake,” saying it would undermine the relationships with NATO allies.

But NATO’s terrorism is responsible for the state of Libya today and the decline of living standards in former Yugoslav countries after the dissolution of the Federal Republic. NATO’s main purpose is to undermine progressive and anti-colonial movements around the world.

When asked about their plans to make housing more affordable, every candidate except Cortes was for the private market taking the wheel. Jahn does not even believe that finding affordable housing is an issue on the national level. Jose Cortes suggested that we start by filling the 80,000 empty homes in San Diego. He took it further, calling to fill all empty homes around the country, until each person is guaranteed a right to safe housing. He also promised to fight to expand rent control and other reforms like those in HB 1482.

Working-class unity versus neoliberalism

Following that question, each candidate was asked about their ability to work with other parties. Cortes promised to continue the work he has been a part of in building the anti-war movement with organizations like the ANSWER Coalition. He said he refuses “to play the same business-as-usual, status quo politics that got us into the very messes that we’re experiencing today … but people know that anything that we’ve won in this country came not when we appeal to our oppressors but when we show enough force of will and character to actually ask and demand it.”

The other candidates assured the audience that they are willing to work with Democrats and Republicans who fit their values. Horvath cited her work in the Navy to change military policy. She also added, “And as for you Mr. Cortes, you jumped on the stage at Valley Center and got kicked out. …” That comment backfired, drawing cheers from the Cortes for Congress supporters.

When asked to pick between siding with party, conscience or constituents, Jahn and Horvath took the opportunity to focus on their lack of party preference. Wilkins promised to always stick to his values.

Cortes broke the mold by saying that he promises to side with not only his working-class constituents but the global working class. He also said: “My conscience is what brought me into politics in the first place. I knew it was wrong that an unarmed man was shot and killed in the parking lot of my dentist’s office.”

Following that, the candidates were asked about what they’d be willing to give up to provide a path to citizenship for DREAMers. Jahn, Horvath and Wilkins all called for caution surrounding who are let into the country. Horvath even bragged about her previous occupation as a marriage and family therapist at an immigration holding facility. Jose Cortes argued that all migrants and refugees should be given full citizenship status. He also said that we should provide them with all basic needs, since it is U.S. wars and sanctions that drive them to flee their homes in the first place.

None of the candidates seemed interested in answering a question about the importance of the census. Cortes highlighted that folks should know their rights when giving out census data information.

When asked about the role of government in health care, only Jose Cortes called for a public health care system. He promised to fight for the abolition of private insurance companies entirely. His campaign pushes for a single-payer system that is free and universal. “Our belief is that the role of the government should be preserving people’s ability to have human dignity — like guaranteed housing, health care, and education.

Jose Cortes proposes real solutions to endless war

With regard to the War Powers Act and who has the authority to declare war, Horvath, Jahn and Cortes argued that no one man, especially the current president, should have the power to attack another country. Wilkins agreed regarding large-scale wars but said the president should have the authority to carry out anti-terrorism operations. He then praised Trump for illegally assassinating Iranian Lt. General Qassem Soleimani, who was in Iraq on a peace mission.

The candidates were then asked how they plan to care for working-class veterans. Jahn boasted about her internship at John McCain’s office. She also declared: “They [veterans] are our responsibility. We need to take care of them. … I’m a veteran myself.”

Horvath and Wilkins (a former Navy SEAL) took the opportunity to tout their own veteran statuses. Jose Cortes promised to fight for basic needs like health care, housing and education, arguing this is necessary to counter predatory recruiters and the fact that many people enlist for the benefits provided. He also committed to fighting to bring all troops home and to create programs that help heal the mental and physical health issues created by the conditions of war.

Short answers to questions

For the last few questions, the candidates were asked to only respond “yes” or “no.” Here are their responses:

1. Would you join the Belt and Road initiative and join China in the mission to help the Third World develop apart from the IMF and World Bank?

Nathan Wilkins: “[Laughing] No.”

Jose Cortes: “Oh, yeah.”

Helen Horvath: “I’ll say yes for now.”

Lucinda Jahn: “I’ll say no until I know more about it.”

2. Do you support the construction of a national bullet train system?

Jose Cortes: “Yes.”

Nathan Wilkins: “No.”

Lucinda Jahn: “No.”

Helen Horvath: “No.”

3. Do you stand with a woman’s right to choose?

Jose Cortes: “Yes.”

Helen Horvath: “Yes!”

Lucinda Jahn: “Yes.”

Nathan Wilkins: “What are we choosing?”

Moderator: “You don’t get to choose — yes or no.”

Nathan Wilkins: “Well, then, I’m not answering.”

Wilkins has run a staunchly “pro-life” campaign.

Jose is right: We need money for jobs, not war! Vote Socialist on March 3

After the quick answer round, candidates wrapped up with their closing statements. Then, they talked to constituents and headed home for the night. From start to finish, it seemed that Jose Cortes was the only candidate willing or able to grapple with the issues plaguing the workers of the world.

Jose Cortes is a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. He is on the ballot as the Peace and Freedom and Green Party candidate for California’s 50th congressional district. The San Diego chapter of Democratic Socialists of America has also endorsed him. If you live in CA50 you can vote for him in the March 3 primary.

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