Garamendi, Harmer face off for District 10 seat

October 23, 2009 7:06:58 PM PDT
A special election for the East Bay's 10th Congressional District is coming up soon, and it pits California's well-known Democratic lieutenant governor against a relatively little-known Republican. The district covers central Contra Costa County and stretches from Fairfield to Livermore as well.

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In the September primary, Democratic candidates got nearly twice as many votes as Republican candidates. So yes, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, D-Calif., is the heavy favorite.

Garamendi has the big name endorsements, big name recognition, and he's running in a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic. So why is his opponent smiling?

"First of all, we're happy warriors here," says Republican attorney and candidate David Harmer who is taking on the lieutenant governor with a cadre of volunteers and says his polling shows it's going to be close. "If you apply the very same turn out that we experienced in the September 1 open primary, this is a two-point race."

Harmer's strategy is to energize Republicans, primarily on national issues and most prominently, government bailouts.

"The notion that we can fix the economy by borrowing more and more and more from the future I don't think finds any traction with the people of this district," he says.

"A lot of that money was put into the state budget that kept teachers in the classroom, kept bus drivers delivering the kids to school,"says Garamendi.

Garamendi defends stimulus spending and blames Republicans for the recession.

"George W. Bush -- the economic collapse occurred during his watch and Obama now has to pick up the pieces," he says.

On health care reform, both candidates say it is needed. But on the need for a publicly funded insurance option, they could not be more divided.

"It will act to curb the enthusiasm of the insurance companies to screw the customers, which they do," says Garamendi. "I was insurance commissioner for eight years of my life."

"Saying the public option is the cure for occasional malfeasance on the part of insurance companies I'm afraid just isn't borne out by the facts," says Harmer.

Harmer says a government-funded insurance program will be no better and he says the same about Social Security.

"Give individuals ownership of their own contributions so they've got the assurance that their retirement is going to be there and they won't discover that when it comes time to retire, that Congress has dissipated it all and now can't afford to make good on its commitments," he says.

"Did we forget about the last three years?" says Garamendi. "Did we forget about the great financial crash of America where your 401K is now a 201K?"

Garamendi says Social Security is secure and just needs to be adjusted from time to time. Harmer call it a shell game.

"There is no trust fund. That's an accounting fiction. It's a bunch of IOUs," says Harmer. "One part of the government owes it to another part of the government and whose left holding the bag? The American taxpayers."

On education, Harmer has been a strong advocate for a voucher system.

"I proposed a system where individuals who leave the public school system would take with them only half the public funding, so the other half would stay behind for the use of kids who remain behind," he says. "It's a win-win situation."

"Once again, if you're wealthy, it works because now you've been given a lot of tax money to add to your own personal wealth so you can go off to some private school," says Garamendi. "That's what it amounts to."

The two make for a lively debate, but they have yet to meet at the same event.

"All I know is a lot of people have invited us to joint appearances and he's found a reason to dodge every one," says Harmer.

Garamendi's campaign says his schedule has just been too busy. But ABC7 political analyst Bruce Cain says that actually to Harmer's advantage.

"What he doesn't want to do is get into a confrontation with Garamendi and make everybody aware that there is an election," says Cain.

In a district where just 29 percent of registered voters are Republican, compared to 47 percent Democratic, Cain says Harmer should be running a stealth campaign.

"That is, don't talk to any Democrats, don't get them riled up, but just go to every hardcore Republican he can find and do a silent campaign saying, 'look we can sneak up on these guys if you all show up,'" says Cain.

The one and only forum featuring both Garamendi and Harmer is scheduled for Monday night at St. Mary's College in Moraga.

You can watch interviews with both candidates, along with video statements from the other candidates in the race below:

The election takes place November 3.

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