Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, and Democratic challenger Emilio Huerta clashed sharply in a debate last week over water, air quality, immigration and political attack ads.
The pair, vying for the 21st Congressional District seat, displayed different styles during the hour-long exchange.
Valadao was aggressive, jumping on Huerta’s statements, criticizing his opponent, eating into the Democrat’s time and speaking over debate moderator Evan Onstot from KSEE-TV in Fresno.
Huerta was more measured and, though he took some swings at Valadao’s policies and actions in office, stuck closely to his campaign talking points.
Debate moderators Onstot and Jim Scott of Bakersfield station KGET-TV went right for the hot button as the debate began, asking the two candidates about the political attack ads launched against both over the past two weeks.
An independent ad by the Democratic House Majority PAC, on Huerta’s behalf, tries to tie Valadao to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Huerta said he thought the content of the ad was good. Valadao called it dishonest.
Valadao didn’t stand up against Trump, Huerta said, until it was politically expedient. And he’s never called for Trump to step down as the Republican candidate.
“The best they can throw at me is to try and connect me to someone I’ve never supported,” Valadao said.
Valadao said he supported Trump’s Republican primary opponents and, when Trump won the nomination, said he couldn’t support either party’s candidate.
Then Valadao took the defense when moderators asked him about the attack ad he launched against Huerta this week.
The ad claims Huerta took advantage of low-income families to make a $1 million profit on a land deal made with a farmworker charity more than a decade ago.
Scott pointed out that the California attorney general investigated the deal and said it was legal.
“Maybe it’s not illegal,” Valadao said. “But is it ethical?”
Huerta said the ad misrepresented what happened. He has dedicated himself as a labor organizer, nonprofit leader and attorney to helping low-income families have a better life.
The pair moved on to immigration, where Huerta said Valadao engaged in a political ruse with his expression of support for a path to immigration reform.
“In March of this year he signed on to a House resolution to petition the Supreme Court to overturn (President Barack Obama’s) executive action on” Deferred Action of Parents of Americans and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Huerta said.
Valadao said he wasn’t voting against immigration reform for “Dreamers” and the undocumented parents of children born in America. He supported the resolution because he believes Obama overstepped his authority by taking executive actions to push forward his immigration agenda.
On water, Huerta attacked Valadao’s inability to pass legislation that would bring more water to the Valley.
Huerta, questioned by moderators about how he would do it better, said he would reach across the political aisle, reach out to Northern California water interests and bring people together – something Valadao’s legislation hasn’t done.
Valadao said that proves Huerta hasn’t even read his measure. The language of the bill was pulled together with both Democrats and Republicans, and Northern California water interests were included.
Valadao, a Kings County dairy farmer and son of Portuguese immigrants, has won the district handily in the past two elections despite Democrats having a big edge in voter registration over the GOP.
Political observers note he has been careful to do the work of the district and take moderate stances on hot-button issues like immigration reform.
Huerta, the son of United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, is a Bakersfield lawyer who grew up in the farm labor movement, served on nonprofit boards and has been active in Democratic politics.