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Congressional candidates spar in Modesto forum
Five men who want to become the next congressman representing the 10th Congressional District - including Ceres - turned out at a debate last week hosted by the Latino Community Roundtable.

Incumbent Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, fended off attacks on his record while challengers Chad Condit, Jose Hernandez, Mike Barkley and Troy McComak explained to voters at the King-Kennedy Center why they should replace him.

Ceres residents who were at the event included Teresa Guerrero, Daniel Padilla, Ken Groves, and Condit family members Dovie Smith, Adrian Condit and Cadee Condit.

The candidates answered questions posed to them about issues facing the Latino population, including jobs, education, immigration and insurance reform.

Denham said the most critical issue facing the Valley is the jobless rate, which is twice the national average. He said he's invited President Obama to the visit the Valley to see why the Valley's economy is unique in its dependence on water for jobs but no visit has ever been made. He said he authored HR 1837 more more water storage.

Chad Condit said jobs and educational opportunities are key but sounded his campaign theme.

"The Latino community...ought not to be caught in partisan failure, the partisan rankering."

Condit called for strengthening local business and agriculture.

"The Central Valley gets lost in Washington D.C. because we're caught between two parties that are going to insist on their priorities are more important than the Central Valley," said Condit. "So Latinos and everyone else need an independent voice in Congress. We don't need to get caught in the partisanship because it hurts more than it hurts anyone in the country.

Hernandez, a former NASA astronaut said his top four priorities are "jobs, jobs, jobs and education." He advocated a federal version of the Dream Act which extends college financial assistance to students in the country illegally.

Barkley, who described himself as a "progressive," said the U.S. needs to bring back manufacturing jobs that went overseas. He made numerous references to his website.

"We need to get behind the Dream Act," said Barkley. "We need to get behind respect for Latino community and our governments at this point are somewhat ignoring them." Barkley went to say the government needs to shorten the statutes of limitation for those who are found living in the country illegally to five years.

"Right now it's infinite," said Barkley. "Infinite is like homicide, bank robbery and conspiracy to pick vegetables and I think that's not right."

Barkley said he likes the AFL-CIO model including a worker visa program.

McComak said immigration policy needs to be amended and calls for a registration system for all illegal aliens "not an amnesty but to see who's here and how we can get them registered and on the path to citizenship." He said too many productive undocumented workers are too afraid of being picked up by immigration enforcement officials (ICE).

Condit said he also supports a federal 'Dream Act," calls for U.S. borders to be secured with the military and a path for citizenship for people "who have been here a long time."

"We don't need a silly fence or a silly wall. We got military - we should have a military presence on both our borders and make our country safe against terrorism, against drug, against human smugglers. That's important."

Hernandez wants immigration reform that allow Valley farms to receive seasonal labor.

"We also have to do it in a fair and human way," he said.

Denham, too, called for comprehensive immigration reform but noted shutting down borders and an e-verify program will "not solve all of our problems."

"We absolutely need to have a secure border .... that has the presence of both law enforcement and the military so we don't see the type of methamphetamines that are coming up across that southern border."

A state-operated e-verify program in Georgia did not work and won't for California agriculture, said Denham who likes a guest worker program.

Candidates were asked their feelings on a Secure Communities program that would allow local police to arrest those here illegally. Hernandez opposes local enforcement of federal law. Barkley could not answer the question and passed. McComak supplied a vague answer.

Denham said there is nothing wrong with all levels of law enforcement collaborating to enforce law.

"If there are people breaking the laws, we have no boundaries between state, local and federal jurisdictions," said Denham.

Condit supports he supports "Secure Communities" but said racial profiling is not warranted. But he called on Denham to respond to the question about the federal Dream Act.

"I know he's a good politician and dodged the question," said Condit.

Denham later explained that he is opposed the Dream Act, preferring to give educational benefits to veterans who lay their life on the line for the nation's defense.

When asked about President Obama's health care reform act and specifically what can be done for health care access to under insured and uninsured Latinos.

Barkley supports a Taiwan version of comprehensive health care. Hernandez supports Obamacare noting NASA insurance failed to cover but $10,000 of medical bills to treat his son's broken arm.

McComak was stumped by the question about the Affordable Care Act, frankly stating "I don't know what that is."

Denham said while access is an issue, he against the federal government mandating that the public buy a product. He stated his opposition to an "unelected board of bureaucrats" determining which procedures get covered or not. Competition, such as opening up the ability to buy insurance across state lines, is a way to drive down insurance costs and make it more affordable.

Condit said he didn't like the mandates either, especially mandates on small businesses.

When asked about the Jobs Act, Denham, Condit and Hernandez said they liked it, while Barkley called it "deceptively named."

Denham said he wants to see the Senate take up a bill to save Medicare which offers no changes to coverage for those 55 and older.

Condit is opposed to privatizing Medicare, supports taking Social Security off the budget, and cutting military operations in the Middle East.

Hernandez said a voucher system for Medicare and privatization won't work. He is opposed to Bush era tax cuts and wants to spend war efforts in Afghanistan on building infrastructure in the U.S.

Barkley said he supports a balanced budget made possible by "blowing a hole in the war department" and adding "the oil companies won't like it."

McComak said the tax code is "ridiculous" and made "for people who are ultra wealthy."