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Caldwell, Carbajal square off on COVID-19, economy, energy in virtual forum Saturday
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Election 2020

Caldwell, Carbajal square off on COVID-19, economy, energy in virtual forum Saturday

From the What you need to know: This week's top headlines series
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Candidates for the 24th Congressional District seat showed more differences than similarities when they faced questions from local journalists and constituents Saturday afternoon in a virtual forum hosted by KEYT.

Incumbent Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, and Republican challenger Andy Caldwell, of Santa Maria, who is executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, responded to questions about how they plan to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy, oil production, alternative energy, wildfires, health care, gun control, police reform, school funding and more in the 4 p.m. forum.

Scott Hennessee, evening news anchor for KCOY and KKFX, moderated the forum and asked questions posed by the public, while additional questions were posed by veteran Santa Barbara area reporter Jerry Roberts, Josh Molina from Noozhawk and Lisa André, reporter for the Santa Maria Times, Lompoc Record and Santa Ynez Valley News.

The candidates were given 45 seconds to answer each question, although they frequently exceeded that limit, and if one candidate mentioned his opponent in an answer, that candidate was given an additional 30 seconds to respond.

Asked about their plans to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and stimulate the economy again, Caldwell stuck by his belief that we should only isolate the vulnerable population, have the rest of the public wear masks and practice social distancing and allow businesses to operate to develop herd immunity and get the economy moving.

“We shut down the economy, but we didn’t shut down Walmart, Target and Costco,” he said. “We shut down the mom-and-pop businesses. … People can sit on a plane, but they can’t go to church. … We’ve got to get back to science.”

But Carbajal said public health officials are scientists whose guidance should be followed.

“We shouldn’t have to choose between health and the economy,” Carbajal said. “Public health [officials] and the governor are trying their best to balance those.”

He said the federal government should provide funding to help small businesses weather the pandemic.

Considering the destructive wildfires that have plagued California in this and recent years, the candidates were asked whether the focus should be on climate change or forest management.

Carbajal said climate change is driving the increase in destructive wildfires and is the most important issue facing the nation, but he also said firefighters need to be provided with the necessary tools to manage the forests properly.

Caldwell blamed the wildfires on forestry officials allowing forests to grow to 10 times their natural density by not allowing logging and prescribed burns, resulting in 140 million dead trees in this state.

“Only now, because people died [and] hundreds of millions of dollars in property has been destroyed [people are saying] maybe we need to rethink this,” he said.

Carbajal said he supports California’s effort to eliminate fossil fuel vehicles by 2035.

“I support the governor’s bold action [and] bold vision” to deal with the climate change crisis, Carbajal said.

But Caldwell said it’s an impossible goal.

“Vehicles have gotten cleaner and cleaner, and I think hybrids are the way to go,” he said, adding the state doesn’t have enough electricity generation capability for its existing demand, much less an all-plug-in fleet.

Caldwell also supports oil development on the Central Coast to provide blue-collar jobs and to decrease the country’s dependence on foreign oil as a matter of national security.

“We are an oil rich region,” he said, adding we also have the most stringent regulations, and he questioned where rare earth elements will be found to build batteries and solar panels and how those will eventually be disposed of.

Carbajal said he opposes any expansion of oil development on public lands and offshore, and he said all oil companies operating now must be required to show they can do so safely.

He also said alternative energy from offshore wind generation facilities and solar plants can provide additional jobs and boost the local economy while protecting the environment.

The candidates were also asked how to get the right and left sides of the aisle to work together and to unite the country as a whole.

“The best thing to do is model the way, to be civil,” Carbajal said. “We have more in common than our differences.”

He said that many inequities have been created over the years for people of color, low-income people and women in health care, education and the economy.

“We have to appreciate each other’s differences,” Carbajal said.

Caldwell said equality is the foundation of America and its constitution but in recent decades that has changed.

“We started emphasizing multicultural [and] that started to make distinctions among us,” he said. “We have to stress unity, we have to teach unity.”

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