With the June 8 primary elections for the Democratic candidates of the 37th Congressional District fast approaching, the second of two forums took place last Saturday at Sacred Heart Church (SHC) in Compton. Republican candidate Star Parker is running unopposed and was not invited to attend the forum. The 37th District has not had a Republican representative since Al McCandless was voted into office in 1990.
SHC Parish Life director and event coordinator Margarita Flores said the forum was an effort to provide people with the awareness that they need to have to make wise decisions for their community. “This is an area that is in the periphery,” Flores said. “They are on the border and do not always have that much representation.” The four Democrat contenders are publisher Lee Davis, attorney Terrance Ponchak, Professor of American Government Peter Mathews, and incumbent Laura Richardson. Approximately 75 people attended the event. (Mathews and Davis have run for the seat in previous elections.)
Although the candidates have engaged in individual efforts to make themselves known, the two Compton forums have been the only opportunities for constituents to meet these potential representatives in a community-sponsored environment.
All of the candidates arrived on time for the forum, with the exception of Richardson, who did not appear until the final discussions. The congresswoman said she had been on a flight returning from Washington.
The first forum, which was also hosted by SHC, only included Richardson (she was reportedly late for that forum as well) and Mathews in attendance. The other two congressional candidates, Ponchak and Davis, said they had not been notified about it.
According to Ponchak, the pattern of attendance at the forums was advantageous for Mathews. The attorney said that since Richardson had been Mathews’s only contender at the first forum, Mathews had had a chance to strengthen his stance against the congresswoman while being able to pinpoint his position against the two other contenders, himself and Davis, at the second SHC forum. “He (Mathews) is picking them off one at a time,” Ponchak said. Both Ponchak and Mathews claim they do not accept funds from special-interest groups, making it difficult to sustain large campaigns as well funded as Richardson’s.
Richardson’s campaign funding and political track record, however, did find themselves in Mathews’s crosshairs during the forum. He criticized the congresswoman’s collection of corporate lobbyists, which, according to the 25-year-long professor, include Exxon Mobil, Chevron-Texaco, Pfizer, and Blue Cross Blue Shield, among others. “It is time that Congress gives up their corporate habit, giving the power back to our people right here,” Mathews said. According to the professor, a cornerstone of his campaign is to close corporate tax loopholes to free up money to pay for jobs, education, universal healthcare, and to eliminate the federal debt.
Richardson has also received an onslaught of bad press regarding the ethics of her home foreclosure, which, according to reports, was reversed by the lender. Alleged helicopter tours of the 37th District, which includes Signal Hill, Compton, Carson, most of Long Beach, Willowbrook, and parts of South Los Angeles, have also strained her reputation. The flights were reportedly for 19 of her staff members and required two Los Angeles County Sherrif’s Department helicopters. It has been reported by local media that the flights cost taxpayers more than $20,000.
Ponchak has resided in the district since 1954 and stated that his platform is based on common sense, fiscal responsibility and jobs. “I am a father of three grown children. I feel that I have a feeling as a parent that knows what mothers, fathers and grandparents go through in parenting their children, taking care of family needs, and dealing with school problems,” he said.
Immigration and Arizona’s recently passed law, SB 1070, which has been widely criticized as supporting racial profiling, was a heavily discussed topic at the forum. According to Flores, the community which surrounds SHC is 95-percent Spanish speaking.
Ponchak claimed that he is for immigration. “It makes no common or practical sense to try to send close to 12 million people back to where they came from,” he said. He suggested there are five reasons why people come to the US: to find work; to be with their families; to flee persecution in their homeland; to become US citizens; or to do harm within the country. If he is voted into office, Ponchak said he would support the passing of temporary work-permit legislation.
Davis declared her campaign supports improving job placement for convicted felons, ending the war in Iraq, and immigrants’ rights. “As a federal representative, you can legislate on the federal level to make things like SB 1070 illegal,” she said. “You can say it violates the Civil Rights acts, and anything that violates the Civil Rights acts is federal territory.” In addition to protecting immigrants’ rights, Davis also promises to prevent elderly abuse.
In addressing the rights of immigrants, Mathews stressed the necessity of fair trade over free trade. He claimed that policies enforced by the North American Free Trade Agreement do not provide living wages in developing countries. “Congress has to cut fair-trade policies with Mexico, not free trade,” Mathews said. “And that would help people stay in their own country and enjoy their own work that pays living wages.” He also supports a universal, single-payer healthcare system that he insists would cover people at a cost that is 40-percent less.
No other forums have been scheduled before the primary elections. Whoever wins the Democratic primary election will run against unchallenged Republican contender Star Parker.