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Congressional candidates present views at Friday forum 

Candidates for 24th Congressional District

Candidates for the 24th Congressional District left to right: Bill Ostrander (D), John Uebersax (I), Benjamin Lucas (D), Salud Carbajal (D), Justin Fareed (R), Helene Schneider (D), Katcho Achadjian (R), Steve Isakson (I), and Matt Kokkonen (R).

Forum sponsored by the American Association of University Women

–A candidate forum for the 24th Congressional District, sponsored by the Atascadero chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), was held Friday evening at the Atascadero Public Library. Nine candidates were asked questions from the audience. Each candidate was allowed one minute to answer the questions. Candidates attending the forum were: Katcho Achadjian (R), Salud Carbajal (D), Justin Fareed (R), Steve Isakson (I), Matt Kokkenen (R), Benjamin Lucas (D), Bill Ostrander (D), Helene Schneider (D) and John Uebersax (I). California’s 24th congressional district is currently represented by Democrat Lois Capps. Capps announced in April 2015 that she was not seeking reelection.

Members of the audience wrote questions on cards, which were passed to the AAUW moderator, Shirley Summers. The questions included the candidates’ positions on pay equity, campaign finance reform, each candidate’s top three priorities for congressional action and how would each candidate act on his or her top priority, the Affordable Care Act, the Phillips 66 Oil Train, the EPA Clean Power Plan, which candidates would sign the “No new taxes” oath, and Syrian refugees.

The candidates responses were limited to one minute and occasionally ran out of time before being able to deliver a complete answer. At one point Ostrander requested the response time be changed to 90 seconds to allow for all of the candidates to give more complete answers. Summers decided to continue with one minute response time so all of the audience questions could be answered.

How the candidates answered to the questions

–All of the candidates agreed that pay equity is important. Carbajal, Ostrander and Schneider said promoting salary transparency is a necessary step towards pay equality. Carbajal and Isakson both said they would support sanctions to enforce equal pay. Isakson said requiring equal pay when awarding Federal government contracts is one solution he would consider. Lucas said changing the mindset is the the best approach and he would start with empowerment programs from young people. Fareed favors favors a merit-based system and said the “best talent is not gender specific.”

While all of the candidates favored ending Citizens United and said they favored campaign finance reform only Ostrander and Isakson placed reforming campaign financing in their top three priorities for congressional action. Schneider, Ostrander, Lucas, Isakson and Carbajal all included education and student debt in their top three priorities. Schneider, Lucas, Carbajal and Kokkonen named immigration reform as an issue they would address. Kokkonen, who immigrated from Finland when he was 16 years old, said he would “stop the illegal invasion.” Carbajal said he would work to extend the same opportunities he and his family had when they immigrated from Mexico.

Candidates were asked whether or not they favored repealing the Affordable Care Act and if so, how would it be replaced. Kokkonen and Fareed said they would repeal the ACA.  Kokkonen favored replacing it with tax credits and Fareed said he would like to see market-based solutions. Isakson, Achadjian, Schneider, Carbajal and Ostrander would not repeal the ACA but agreed that the influence of medical insurance companies on the cost of premiums and within congress needs to be changed. Achadjian favors adding more medical insurance companies. Isakson said allowing people to purchase coverage across state lines would help reduce costs.

Achadjian and Fareed both said that that Phillips 66 proposed spur extension to accommodate increasing the number of oil trains traveling through the county is a local government issue. Carbajal, Isakson, Ostrander, Schneider and Uebersax are all opposed to the spur extension project and the increased rail traffic. Schneider and Isakson pointed out that rail traffic is governed by federal oversight and laws and Isakson said that federal oversight makes oil train traffic a congressional issue. Kokkonen supports the rail spur project.

All of the candidates except Kokkonen agreed that carbon emissions and climate change need to be addressed. Kokkonen said climate has always been changing and doesn’t believe climate change is an issue. The specific question about the EPA Clean Power Plan was not directly addressed by any of the candidates. None of the candidates said they would sign the “no new taxes” agreement. The “no new taxes” agreement is a popular term for an agreement sponsored by the conservative Americans for Tax Reform and that the majority of Republican representatives at both federal and state levels have signed.

Fareed and Kokken do not support accepting Syrian refugees unless a screening process is in place. Achadjian supports accepting the refugees if they are vetted first. Carbajal, Isakson, Schneider and Ostrander support accepting refugees, although Carbajal said he thinks that security considerations need to be addressed. Ostrander pointed out that there is a 22 to 24 month vetting process for all refugees before anyone is admitted to the US.

Election and voter registration dates

–The primary election is June 7 and the general election is November 8. Deadline for registering to vote in the primary is May 23 and to vote in the general election is October 24.

The district contains all of Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County as well the Los Padres National Forest in Ventura County.

24th district map

California’s 24th Congressional District.

Learn more about the candidates

–Learn more about the candidates from their websites:

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About the author: Reporter Jackie Iddings

Jackie Iddings is a contributing reporter and photographer for the Paso Robles Daily News.