The three Republicans hoping to unseat Congressman Josh Harder this year sounded more alike than different during a Tuesday, Jan. 7 debate forum held at the Stanislaus County Agricultural Center in Ceres.
Bob Elliot, Ted Howze and Marla Sousa Livengood are vying for a shot at representing the 10th Congressional District. All three have a wealth of public service to their credit, grew up on family farms and shared like-minded opinions on a majority of political topics.
“That’s the great thing about having three Republicans up here,” Howze said at one point during the forum. “I think we agree on about 90 percent of the issues up here.”
The candidates found common ground on nearly every question asked, from agreeing with President Donald Trump’s decision to launch the airstrike that killed Iranian military leader Qassam Soleimani to supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, or Dreamers. There were rare moments, however, where differences were apparent.
The second question of the night asked Elliot, Livengood and Howze to explain what sets them apart from their other Republican opponents.
“I’m a wife, I’m a mother of three and I come from a middle-class family. We’re lacking representation of conservatives raising children back in Congress,” said Livengood. “I have a different perspective for pro-life matters because I’ve grown three bodies, and when you look at my experience, I’ve worked on the Hill and have political experience none of my opponents have in this race.”
Livengood ran an unsuccessful campaign for California’s 9th Congressional District in 2018. It was her first attempt to become an elected official after a long career serving in roles that focused on Central Valley transportation, economic development and job creation, like her time as the Legislative Affairs Manager for the San Joaquin Regional Transit District and her tenure as Congressman Richard Pombo’s Legislative Director, where she worked on agricultural policies in Washington, D.C.
Elliot, a San Joaquin County Supervisor and former member of the Tracy City Council, believes his military service gives him a unique perspective in Congress compared to that of his competitors. During his 30 years in the Army, he collaborated with officials of all nationalities, religions and beliefs while deployed on diplomatic assignments. He retired as a colonel with the Special Forces.
“I was able to learn how to work with all of that, and it’s prepared me uniquely for a continuation of that lifetime of service,” Elliot said.
Howze said he has gone through life “pulling himself up by the bootstraps,” tending to duties on his family farm as a boy and ultimately working as a firefighter to pay his way through college before becoming a veterinarian. The second-time congressional hopeful – he came in third during the June 2018 primary – said he still always found time to coach youth football in between long days on the job and serving on the Turlock City Council in the past.
“I’ve shown the ability to organize and build multi-million-dollar businesses,” Howze said, referring to the Turlock Regional Industrial Park he played a hand in bringing to the city during his time on the council. “To have the vision to go out and show how you bring high tech agricultural manufacturing into this Valley and provide thousands of jobs that pay high wages…I’m the person uniquely qualified to help bring jobs here.”
The candidates also differed slightly in their top three priorities for the district. Elliot said his first goal would be to maintain a “strong and robust” economy by attracting more jobs. He said he helped bring 13,000 more jobs to San Joaquin County during his time as a supervisor and supported taking the “regulatory handcuffs” off small business owners and farmers. His other two priorities would be to enhance both public safety and national defense, as well as ensure fiscal responsibility and individual initiative amongst constituents.
Livengood noted that former Congressman Jeff Denham’s 2018 defeat was a “real loss” for District 10 farmers and assured the crowd her first priority would be to protect agricultural rights.
“We need to ensure our growers have the tools they need, like access to labor and water, crop protection, tools and equipment,” said Livengood. “I will champion those issues back in Congress.”
She said that being a mother, combatting the rising cost of healthcare would be another priority for Livengood if elected, as well as working to bring more jobs to the Valley.
“Why are we driving over the hill to the Bay Area for jobs? Why aren’t we attracting those jobs for the skills we have here and making sure our skill base matches that?” she asked.
Howze’s top priority would be to “fix our broken immigration system for people who want to legally immigrate here,” adding, “it should not take 15 years and $20,000 worth of fees to become a citizen.”
In addition, Howze would look to reduce regulations on business owners and farmers, and would work on presenting a bill in Congress that would prevent abortions on fetuses with a heartbeat.
“I want to end the gruesome practice of late-term abortions,” he said. “I’m going to try to make abortion as rare as possible in our society.”
All three agreed dismissed Democrats’ efforts to impeach Trump as partisan politics at their worst.
“This has all been a manufactured crisis that’s put us at risk,” Livengood said. “Our representative and his colleagues have created a circus and forgotten about families here struggling to pay healthcare…it’s a sham and it needs to go.”
“This whole impeachment process has been aptly described as a circus,” he said, stating his belief that the impeachment was politically-driven and that the president didn’t break any laws. “We don’t need to have politicians decide who’s president — it’s up to the people. Let them decide.”
The entire impeachment process showed Howze that America is highly polarized, he told the crowd.
“What we still see from (the Obama Administration) today is this partisan effort to remove a duly elected president of the United States. It has created an even deepening divide in this country and tribalism like we’ve never seen before…there are friends losing friends and family members who won’t talk to one another over what’s going on in our nation’s capital,” Howze said. “It’s sickening and it needs to stop. We need to get back to having differing ideas, but respecting one another.”
Impeachment talk raised the question of how well each candidate would be able to work with the president. While all three looked forward to working with Trump, Howze had the chance to answer the question first.
“Quite well,” he said with a smile, garnering a raucous applause.
Following the debate, Howze earned the endorsement from the Republican Party of Stanislaus County with a committee vote.
The next chance voters have to hear the three Republican candidates will be during a public debate hosted by the Modesto Bee on Wednesday, Jan. 22 at The State Theatre, 1307 J Street, in Modesto. They’ll be joined on stage by the Democrats Harder, Mike Barkley and Ryan Blevins. Tickets may be obtained by registering for tickets on the Bee’s website.
California’s primary election will take place on March 3. Voters must register by Feb. 18, and vote-by-mail ballot requests must arrive by Tuesday, Feb. 25. Personally-delivered ballots must be delivered by the close of polls at 8 p.m. March 3, and mailed ballots must be postmarked on or before March 3 and received no later than March 6.