By Rick Closson, ISB Staff Writer
This was a squeaky clean political town hall meeting unlike any we’ve seen for some Republicans. It was held jointly by three local representatives coinciding with the visit of California’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra. A popular 12-term Congressman, Becerra was tapped this year by Governor Jerry Brown to be California’s first Latino Attorney General when Kamala Harris was elected Senator. The Attorney General serves a 4-year term and Becerra will be on the 2018 ballot, perhaps partially explaining his visit to Santa Barbara.
The Fe Bland Forum was filled to capacity as the town hall began with introductions by Santa Barbara City College President Anthony Beebe. In addition to on-stage participants Becerra, Congressman Salud Carbajal, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, and Assemblywoman Monique Limón, the audience was filled with other current local officeholders from mayors to city councilmembers to education board members. In particular the introductions of former Congresswoman Lois Capps and former Santa Barbara mayor Marty Blum brought enthusiastic applause.
Congressman Carbajal laid out the ground rules. Written questions for participants had to be submitted in advance. No applause; no booing. His opening statement was followed by Senator Jackson’s, followed by Assemblywoman Limón’s, followed by the Attorney General. Each speaker laid out in general terms how his or her offices have been working for constituents and citizens of California. Then came written questions from the audience, read by Beebe.
“How much will California cooperate with the federal Bureau of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE)?”
Becerra mentioned the TRUST Act and the more recent TRUTH Act, both California measures addressing the federal/state immigration interface. As California’s top law enforcement official, Becerra made clear state and local agencies will follow applicable laws to protect California residents against federal overreach.
Becerra referred to a letter his office has submitted in support of maintaining the current DACA program. Carbajal added that he co-sponsored the American Hope Act (HR 3591), which would codify President Obama’s Executive Order and extend protection to all youths brought to America by their parents instead of only college students, and the BRIDGE (Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy) Act (HR 496). Because the BRIDGE Act is bipartisan (and for other reasons), it stands a better chance of passage. Jackson emphasized that California makes special efforts to protect all its residents, and Limón recounted her actions as a Santa Barbara Unified School District board member to make schools “safe spaces.”
“What is your position on universal healthcare?”
This was an easy question and each speaker, in turn, belted the softball out of the park. Our Assemblywoman said the Assembly is looking for a successful path for passage, but hasn’t voted on it yet. Our Senator noted her chamber has passed a bill but even if California creates a law, it will be better to have national universal healthcare. Our Attorney General told us he sponsored single-payer healthcare bills when he was in Congress. Rep. Carbajal summarized they agree healthcare is a right – not a privilege – for all Americans, and warned that “the fight to save our healthcare gains,” i.e., the Affordable Care Act, is not over just because the Senate bill stalled. Unfortunately none of the participants put forth a vision for accomplishing this.
“What can be done about our president?”
This question provoked expected laughter from on and off the stage. Carbajal took a sober stance, advising to allow the three current investigations into the president’s campaign and connections run their course. Congress can do nothing without the results of objective investigations. He has co-sponsored a bill to create an independent commission to investigate international interference in the 2016 election (HR 356). Jackson reminded the audience of the bipartisan Watergate investigations, the importance of due process, and the maxim “we must put country before party.” Limón repeated that much of state legislation during her short time in office has been to parry presidential threats and protect Californians from federal overreach. Becerra opined that actions of the current president have reached the level of obstruction of justice and approach a case for impeachment. This brought prohibited applause from the audience.
“What is California’s approach to the differences between state and federal laws on cannabis?”
The Attorney General replied with a contrast between 21st century California and the 20th century federal laws. California has moved ahead and the federal government has moved backward. We have laws (State – County – City) to regulate cannabis throughout the entire producer/supplier/user chain. We will uphold those regulations while urging the federal government to catch up.
“What are your plans to protect California from the proposed HR 38 (Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act) that would allow non-Californians to carry concealed weapons in California if that is lawful in their own state?”
Becerra deflected the question by saying we would continue our current path – respecting the 2nd Amendment for law-abiding gun owners – toward statewide gun safety until the Supreme Court rules against us. Carbajal added that until the GOP-dominated Congress changes, we will not see sensible gun laws considered for passage. He mentioned his own Gun Violence Restraining Act (HR 2598) as an example of such sensible laws similar to what Senator Jackson did in California. His expectation for Congressional passage is not high.
Overall, this Town Hall meeting wasn’t a perfect interaction for the people who attended. It was more an opportunity for 4 elected officials to face a friendly crowd in a scripted situation. No direct questions from the audience; everything was filtered through staff. No follow-up for specifics when responses were incomplete or vague. Nevertheless we are fortunate to have sincere, articulate representatives at all levels of government. Each of the 4 speakers could have spent the entire hour alone answering questions productively. The single hour for this many informed and dynamic speakers was never going to be enough. For at least the 3 local representatives, we hope there will be additional opportunities for idea exchange.