Congressman Josh Harder and Ted Howze, the man who wants to take his place in Congress, traded barbs last week in what could be the only debate this election season. The debate was hosted by the Turlock Journal in the office shared with the Ceres Courier.
Harder, the incumbent Democrat congressman, and Ted Howze, a Republican Turlock veterinarian, squared off Wednesday night at the same time Mike Pence and Kamala Harris were debating in Salt Lake City.
The first question centered on what could be done to help the Valley recover from economic hardships caused by the government restrictions relating to COVID-19. Harder said the Valley typically takes longer to recover from economic hard times and said the pandemic needs to be brought under control. He related that Congress and President Trump’s approval of the CARES Act meant many small businesses like his father’s Modesto business to remain open and stave off layoffs. He said the country needs another relief bill but said Howze opposed more stimulus.
Harder turned to Howze and said: “The real question to Mr. Howze is why do you think 70,000 people in our community deserve to lose their job just so you can score political points?”
Howze answered that jobs are one of his highest priorities and mentioned how as a Turlock city councilman he was instrumental in starting the Turlock Regional Industrial Park.
“I did not oppose the CARES Act in principal for helping to save small businesses,” said Howze. “The reason I opposed the way it was written was because my opponent and his allies in Congress spent billions of dollars propping up large corporations instead of the Valley. We had numerous businesses here in the Valley that didn’t receive a single dime of PPE money.”
Howze said the reason there hasn’t been a second stimulus round is because Congress is playing politics and pushing for “an ideological wish list trying to score more than $500 billion for illegal immigrants and not for American citizens. And I would ask my opponent why are you willing to put non-citizens ahead of American citizens and help our business owners here in this country?”
Harder agreed that more needs to be done and said he is frustrated at leaders on both sides. He said President Trump’s unwillingness to work on a new package until after the election is “unacceptable.” He defended his vote on CARES as saving 70,000 jobs in District 10 and accelerated testing turnaround times from two weeks to two days.
“If you are going to vote ‘no’ on a bill like that, that saved 70,000 jobs in our area I think that’s frankly not the representation the Valley needs,” said said while looking at Howze across the news room.
Howze replied that Trump wants to help save jobs but Democrats and Harder “are holding him hostage in Congress and don’t tell me you’re not because you don’t vote any way than what (Speaker) Nancy Pelosi tells you to.”
The second question centered on the future Social Security. Howze said he is the only candidate who will ensure that Social Security and Medicare “is absolutely saved for today’s seniors and for future generations of American citizens.” The Republican said his first bill in Congress would be to exempt all Social Security payments exempt for federal taxes. He said Harder has his head in the sand and pretends like the programs won’t run into funding problems and said the waste, fraud and abuse needs to end.
“We need to pay today’s recipients more,” said Howze.
Harder said he supports a bill called Social Security 2100 which makes the system solvent for another 80 years and beyond by making “millionaires and billionaires are paying their fair share – right now they don’t – they actually pay less into Social Security than everybody else. That’s not right. If we fix that we can make sure that we’re continuing to strengthen Social Security while expanding benefits.”
Harder began ripping into Howze regarding a statement made in an old interview with the Turlock Journal which was clipped and used in an attack ad against Howze. The clip mentioned how the age at which someone can collect Social Security could be raised to 70 make the program more solvent. It was just one of the ideas Howze said Congress could consider being phase in over time. Harder said the proposal would be “devastating to seniors.”
He said: “Mr. Howze, I don’t understand why in the world you think Valley seniors deserve to wait longer for their well-earned retirement.”
“Well listen, Josh,” fired back Howze, “you can clip all the little sound bites all you want out of a discussion of potential solutions that anybody would discuss if they were looking into the future but I’ve clearly said over and over again that retirees have earned these benefits, therefore they’re entitled to them because they’ve earned them. I’m looking for ways to make sure that those benefits exist, yes not only for today’s retirees at a higher level but that that those benefits exist for future retirees.” He said Congress has tragically failed “to get anything done.”
Harder continued pressing Howze, saying: “I don’t know if you were lying then or lying now but I think it’s pretty clear that voters can’t trust a word you’re saying.”
A question from a community member asked what each man would do to protect Americans from going bankrupt because of the rising costs of long-term assistance due to old age.
Harder said the first step is not cutting Social Security and Medicare and address costs of prescription drugs. He said diabetics in the Valley pay 11 times the cost of insulin than what is paid in Australia. Harder said the bill would allow Medicare the ability to negotiate directly with pharma. He then went off the topic and discussed how he increased COVID testing at care facilities.
Howze repeated that he has no plans to cut Social Security or Medicare. He criticized Medicare’s fee for service billing model which subjects the program to “absolute abuse.” Howze said a flat fee model would eliminate costs.
“You can say it all you want and you can Photoshop as many pictures of me with scissors, which is pretty disingenuous, the argument doesn’t carry,” Howze told Harder. “The Valley knows the difference. They know what I stand for.”
The topic of water resources came next. Howze said Harder is bragging about obtaining the first water storage project for the Valley in years but referred to an opinion piece written by water analyst Wayne Lusvardi that said Harder’s bill was a “waterless water storage plan.” He said Democrats have consistently blocked water storage projects in California and accused Harder and Rep. T.J. Cox of killing amendments that would have allowed Shasta Dam be raised for more storage space.
“We have to build new dams … and we have got to hold this water back that’s running out to the ocean every year … to help our farmers.”
Howze said raising the spillway at Don Pedro Reservoir could help Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts for a year but it doesn’t happen because environmentalist control Democrats.
Harder said his HR 2437 wasn’t “waterless” and that his bill allocated the first new federal dollars for water storage projects since Don Pedro. He said Howze would rather pay attention to a Los Angeles column than go to talk to Del Puerto water district officials. He also took a jab at Howze saying he’d get nothing done in D.C. because his own party doesn’t support him.
“I’ve been out to the Del Puerto Water District,” answered Harder. “You haven’t secured federal money for anything other than an environmental impact report because that’s a private project to build that dam. Half the people in Patterson are up in arms about it because the EIR doesn’t make it clear if they’re safe below the dam.”
Harder added that he has the support to nearly double the water capacity of Los Vaqueros Reservoir north of Livermore.
When asked about climate change, Harder made a link between California wildfires and climate change and called Howze a “climate denier.” Placing a methane digester on every farm in California, the congressman said, would be the equivalent of taking five million cars off the road.
Howze said while we must be good stewards of the earth he fought fires in the mountains and knows “we are not taking care of our forests, either the state or federal.”
“We need to come back to logging as a responsible practice and then … that will stop a lot of these wildfires that you guys want to point to because of your environmentalist backers as being completely caused by global warming. It’s not. It’s a lot of bad policies from Democrats in Sacramento.”
Howze said he also favors giving incentives for the development of new green technology, “not just the heavy hammer of ‘you’re going to stop doing this next year.’”
He said requirement for solar panels on all new homes is one reason why housing costs have risen.
Harder agreed there is a problem with forest management in California but said we need to get to the root cause of global warming that will create more income for farmers.
The debate grew more animated with the subject of dreamers and DACA. Howze said he supports a pathway to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants and said he has coached some and found them to be “as American as many of us.” That program should include paying fees and signing up for a program.
Harder said he cosponsored a DREAM Act for a pathway to citizenship and attacked Howze for a Feb. 8, 2018 that compared illegal immigrants to “foreign invaders and pedophiles.”
“We did no such thing Josh and you know it. Good for you and your Democratic operatives for digging up a hacked Twitter account that you want to make hay out of,” responded Howze, who said Harder can only win by attacking. He suggested Harder had no mayors supporting him.
Harder further blasted Howze saying Republicans denounced the old social media posts. He suggested that Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu, Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra and Supervisor Terry Withrow all withdrew support for Howze.
“If your own party doesn’t want you to serve in Congress then frankly why should anyone else?”
Howze accused Harder of “outright lying” and said both Vierra and Cantu support his candidacy. He also said he doesn’t “lick the boots of party elders” like he does Pelosi’s.
Vierra refuted Harder’s claim the next day, saying he still supports Howze.
A question arose about financial assistance for college. Harder said while college costs are rising rapidly, assistance is not. He said that’s why more than 70 percent of students graduate with debt to the tune $30,000 per year. His solution is to allow Pell grants to allocate more funds each year to students and to bring back federal work study programs cut by Trump which allowed students to work for an income.
Howze agreed about Pell grants being underfunded and reinstating work study programs while suggesting that students should be able to borrow below prime rate.
When asked about police and racial tensions, Howze said George Floyd’s treatment would upset anyone. He said he’s against throwing out all the good officer just because of some “bad eggs.” He also condemned the violence of rioters and called out Harder for killing a bill that condemned violence.
“Defunding the police is probably the worst idea I’ve ever heard of,” said Howze, who called for more dollars for police training as he condemned racial profiling.
Harder said he voted for a police reform bill to ban chokeholds and a national oversight board for officer misconduct. He said most police officers are doing “an incredibly difficult job as best they can” but that “bad apples” need to be weeded out of departments.
Howze said local police have expressed to him the frustration of dealing with homeless who are arrested only to be out on the streets the next day. He said a bill he supported would put social workers in police departments to help deal with mental issues.
Howze accused Harder of being unwilling to call out Antifa and Black Lives Matter rioters.
Regarding healthcare and pre-existing conditions, Harder said everyone in the Valley should have access to affordable medical care. He called for the strengthening of Obamacare legislation. He noted that the Valley is short on doctors and that he supports a school loan forgiveness program for physicians who practice in areas of greatest need.
Howze said American healthcare insurance system needs to be fixed. He said he believes in options for affordable healthcare that covers pre-existing conditions while Harder wants a “complete government control of healthcare” with a Medicare for all plan costing $32 trillion. Howze said he does not want private healthcare systems taken from 170 million Americans.
Harder denied he wants to take away private healthcare plans.
When the subject of homelessness came up, Howze said “we do not have a homelessness issue in this district; we have a criminal vagrancy issue.” He said police need to be allowed to enforce quality of life laws to get people off the streets and into diversionary and job training programs. Harder said he sees homeless people everywhere because of the cost of housing and an epidemic of mental health and substance abuse. He called for a FEMA type approach to getting people back on their feet. He also talked about a bill “that would embed social workers in police departments so instead of a cop with a badge and a gun showing up to a homeless person you would have somebody who would actually get that person access to the help that they need.”
Howze said Gov. Newsom and Democrats refuse to enforce quality of life laws which in turn allows people who steal up to $900 worth of goods in stores to get away with it.