In an open candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters, three of the four candidates running to serve the 10th Congressional District answered questions from the public Wednesday night, touching on topics including climate change, gun control, Social Security and terrorism.
Robert Hodges, Michael Eggman and Michael J. Barkley attended, while incumbent Congressman Jeff Denham - he was in the area at the time - was reportedly too busy to fit the event into his schedule. According to the League of Women Voters, Denham was invited to provide a statement explaining his absence but did not send one.
Hodges, a Turlock-born, Denair-raised farmer, serves as a Denair School Board member and volunteers his time to both the Denair Lions Club and the Denair Volunteer Fire Department. As a fifth-generation farmer, he manages over 600 acres of almonds and also bales hay.
Eggman is a beekeeper and almond farmer from Turlock. The Democrat also ran for Congress last cycle, receiving the most votes of any Democratic candidate on the ticket. In his opening statement at the forum, Eggman emphasized the fact that 20 percent of the 10th District lives in poverty.
"I'm running for Congress to fix the broken system that is failing this Valley," said Eggman.
Lawyer and ranch owner Barkley is running for the third time and described himself to the crowd as "socially liberal but financially conservative," using his two minutes of opening remarks to point out Denham and the other candidates' flaws.
"In Congress over the past six years, (Denham) has done virtually nothing except to vote to destroy Medicare, Social Security and shut down the government," said Barkley.
A series of questions from the audience followed the candidates' opening statements, all of which were written on three-by-five cards then read by the forum moderator. Though the candidates were only given one minute to answer each question, they made their opinions on each topic known - one of which was the issue of sustainable water supplies in California.
"Water is a huge issue," said Hodges. "It's very solvable...we have to start looking at desalinization."
Hodges' plan to help ease the drought in California is to build desalinization plants - either on or off shore - to take advantage of the water provided by the ocean and put it to good use, filling reservoirs and keeping both California residents and environmentalists happy.
While Eggman believes desalinization is a viable option as well, he also hopes to fund acclimation systems and upgrade irrigation systems - none of which Denham has done, he said. Barkley plans to produce an additional 36 to 44 million acre feet of storage with no tunnels, reducing the risk of flooding in the area but solving the water needs of farmers, cities and the entire Southwestern United States.
The candidates also answered questions on immigration reform. Eggman and Barkley both spoke in favor of fair, comprehensive immigration reform.
"I'm totally opposed to the way we've been breaking up families," said Barkley. "We need full fairness for everybody."
Hodges took a more firm approach to immigration.
"I believe that we need to build a wall," said Hodges. "We keep a huge hole in that wall and let people in legally, and then I think that we put our military bases along the border."
Hodges hopes to stop the "flood" of illegal immigrants in order to revitalize the nation's economy and lower the unemployment rate.
The candidates spoke for an hour on other topics as well, ranging from mental health to terrorism, but one of the final topics of the night was climate change and how each candidate will address the issue if elected.
"This climate crisis is real and it's hitting the Valley and the Valley economy first and hardest," said Eggman. "It kills crops, it kills livestock. It's been killing my livestock."
Eggman said he has lost nearly 75 percent of his bee colonies over the last two winters due to climate change, prompting him to take a stance on the issue that will work to mitigate its effects.
Barkley also plans to take immediate action in regards to climate change if elected.
"If we don't solve climate change, where we are sitting will eventually be 130 feet under the Pacific Ocean," said Barkley. "We need to not turn our backs on this."
Clean coal alternatives and emission reduction are just a couple of Barkley's ideas to combat climate change, along with terminating product relationships with China until they reduce their emissions as well.
While Eggman and Barkley made it clear that they have ideas in place to solve the issue, Hodges still wasn't sure if climate change is a genuine issue.
"I'm not sure if it's true or if it's not," said Hodges.
Citing reports of polar bears returning to their habitats in droves, Hodges speculated that climate change may just be a way for companies to make money off of green energy.
"We can look at green energy, I don't think green energy is a bad thing," said Hodges. "Setting unrealistic regulations on farmers and putting them out of business is not the way to do it. We have to work with people and feasibly reduce our emissions over the years."
The forum closed with the three candidates thanking the League of Women Voters for hosting the event and giving one final address to the crowd on why they deserve the 10th District's votes. The primary election will be held on June 7, with the top two candidates facing off in the general election.