Rep. Jeff Denham (R) and Jose Hernandez (D) are competing to represent California’s 10th District, which had its boundaries redrawn in 2011 by a citizens redistricting commission to include the city of Tracy south of I-205 and parts of Stanislaus County.
The change means Tracy’s former congressman, Democrat Jerry McNerney, is running to represent San Joaquin County north of I-205.
Denham is a 16-year Air Force veteran, business owner and farmer who has served one term in Congress representing the eastern part of the San Joaquin Valley.
Hernandez seeks his first elected office after working his way from laboring in Central Valley fields as a teenager to riding in space as an astronaut for NASA.
According to Denham, who spoke with the Tracy Press on Tuesday, Oct. 30, there is a “clear distinction” between the two candidates.
Although both Denham and Hernandez called the economy the most important issue of the election, they offered different visions for how to help the 10th District, an area that lags both the state and the nation in terms of unemployment.
Denham said better conditions for investment and business growth would boost employment — and that, he said, is the best thing elected officials can do for people who are struggling.
As owner of an almond orchard outside Atwater and Denham Plastics in Salinas, Denham said he has experienced the negative impact of nonsensical or contradictory regulations on business and agriculture, the region’s largest industry.
Denham said he is a strong advocate for the military, and pointed to specific initiatives he backed while in Congress including helping connect military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with local employers.
He also wrote the Veterans Skills to Jobs Act, which was signed by President Barack Obama and helps get military veterans the credentials they need to transfer their experience into civilian employment.
Denham added that increasing oil and natural gas production can help consumers by boosting supplies. He favors routing the controversial Keystone petroleum pipeline from Canada through the United States, and allowing states the option of opening more federal land to oil drilling.
“I want (America) to become energy independent,” he said.
Hernandez, who spoke with the Press on Monday, Oct, 29, also talked about improving employment opportunities in the Central Valley.
The Democrat, who worked for several years as an engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said businesses need incentives to locate in the valley, instead of elsewhere in the country or overseas.
“They (CEOs) look at the bottom line,” he said.
Hernandez said those who represent the San Joaquin Valley in Congress need to work “as a team” to create an environment in which commerce can grow. He also said working with municipalities to give temporary tax breaks could encourage businesses to set up shop, though it would be a mistake to only focus on large employers.
He also believes that business can never truly flourish without an emphasis on education.
Pointing to his own experience, in which he obtained a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in electrical engineering, Hernandez highlighted the importance of ensuring more valley residents have access to strong education and teaching kids how to learn, not how to pass standardized tests.
“I understand the needs of the valley from the perspective of the middle class,” he said.
Each man took a different stance on government spending.
Denham also focused on reducing what he called unnecessary spending.
“I’m someone who’s going to cut waste,” he said. “I’ve got a proven track record of doing it.”
Denham pointed to his record in Congress as proof, highlighting an effort he spearheaded to sell off surplus government-owned property within the United States and around the world.
He also emphasized his desire to cut the federal debt and deficit — Denham supports a budget proposed by vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan, which emphasizes reduced government spending. He also opposed raising the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011.
Hernandez said he’s not opposed to cutting spending in certain areas, including reducing U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. But Hernandez rejected Denham’s stance regarding the debt ceiling, saying he and other Republicans “held the economy hostage” by dragging their heels when it came to allowing the country to borrow more money.
“Everyone knew we had to raise the ceiling,” he said.
He also disagreed with Denham’s support of Ryan’s budget, saying that the changes it prescribes for Medicare will weaken the program, changing it to a voucher system in which seniors receive a stipend and then shop for their own health insurance. He also said the Ryan-backed budget would whittle down Pell Grants, a federal program that helps college students pay for school.
“We have to invest in our infrastructure and in education,” Hernandez said.
Denham said he supports Medicare as a program, but that changes are needed so that it doesn’t go bankrupt. Depending on whose estimate you use, Denham said, in six to 16 years, Medicare won’t take in enough money to pay for the expenses of seniors who rely upon it.
He said not discussing how to save Medicare from bankruptcy is “an injustice to the American people,” and that Democrats had offered no solid alternative plan since he’s been in Congress.
Hernandez admitted he doesn’t have a budget in writing.
“I don’t have a plan like the Ryan budget, but I have the reasoning to say, let’s do what works,” Hernandez said.
The two also offer a stark contrast when it comes to tax policy.
Hernandez favors raising the marginal tax rate on those with the highest incomes to help pay for investments in the country’s future, particularly in education. He said if those at the very top end of the nation’s income scale could “help the country” by paying slightly more in taxes.
“Those who can afford to be paying a little more in taxes ought to,” he said, though he said middle class tax rates should not increase.
Denham said he found it hard to understand how raising taxes would encourage economic growth.
Denham supports a flat tax-style system in which everybody would pay the same percentage of taxes, as opposed to the differing marginal rates of the current tax code. He said that while there could be two or three tiers to account for different incomes, he feels it’s important that “everyone needs to have skin in the game.”
Federal statistics show about 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal income tax, some because their income is too low, some because deductions reduce their tax liability, and some for other reasons.
Denham said he favors keeping only “a select few” tax deductions, including one that allows homeowners to deduct their mortgage interest from their tax liability.
Part of the reason he favors a simplified system is the certainty it would offer to individuals, investors and employers.
“We can debate how much in taxes we should pay, and how much regulation we should have,” Denham said, but he said business will continue to be shackled by tax code uncertainty and contradictory, excessive regulations.
Both advocated protecting the area’s agricultural base, and both said the idea to ship water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta through a peripheral tunnel isn’t necessary to improve the state’s chronic water shortages.
Denham said an “all-of-the-above” approach to increasing storage could ensure lower-than-average rain years don’t cripple Central Valley farmers. Hernandez said more surface storage in Northern California and improved aquifer recharge efforts in the southern parts of the state would help protect the economic engine of agriculture.
They both also sought to showcase that they can work with people of opposing ideology on certain issues.
Denham said his work on bills that have passed through the Democrat-controlled Senate and been signed by President Obama prove that he has a record of bipartisanship.
“I believe it’s obviously important to have good ideas and work in a bipartisan fashion to get this across the finish line,” he said.
Hernandez said he values good ideas above adhering to rigid ideological or party lines.
“Folks seem to be entrenched,” he said. “It should never be like that.”
• Contact Jon Mendelson at 830-4231 or email@example.com.
• AGE: 45
• FAMILY: Wife and two children, ages 14 and 16
• EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in political science from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
• EXPERIENCE: Sixteen years in the Air Force, rising to rank of staff sergeant; owner of an almond farm near Atwater; owner of Denham Plastics in Salinas; one-term congressman
• AGE: 50
• FAMILY: Wife and five children, ages 9, 13, 15, 17 and 18
• EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from University of the Pacific; master’s degree in electrical engineering from University of California, Santa Barbara
• EXPERIENCE: NASA astronaut; engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory