A packed candidate forum in Newport Beach shed light on the field of eight Democratic hopefuls looking to oust the 48th Congressional District incumbent, Dana Rohrabacher, who silenced speculation about his future intentions this week.
“I am unequivocally running for re-election,” Rohrabacher said in a statement posted Wednesday on his campaign website. “I’ve never run away from a fight over things I believe and I’m not about to start now.”
Earlier in the week, two other prominent Republican congressmen, Darrell Issa of Vista and Ed Royce of Fullerton, announced their plans to retire and not seek re-election in 2018.
Their districts are two of the four Orange County congressional districts held by Republicans. With their departure, the Cook Political Report wrote that voters will likely “lean Democratic” in the November election.
The forum, hosted by the Aliso Niguel Democratic Club at the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort, shed light on the field of hopefuls looking to represent the 48th District.
“Two down, two to go!” said ANDC President Annie Wright to the cheers of more than 700 people who filled the tent. “We are going to flip Orange County!”
The fourth Orange County congressional district in play is represented by Mimi Walters, a Republican from Laguna Beach.
The forum proved that the candidates vying to represent the Democratic party on the November ballot agree on most issues, including a goal of unseating Rohrabacher, whose district spans the coastline from Seal Beach to Laguna Niguel. They also pledged to support the June primary victor.
Affordable healthcare was championed by the candidates, many of whom proposed a single-payer, universal coverage system.
“It is preposterous to think that we can afford to go to war and spend billions of dollars, but cannot provide healthcare for our own citizens,” said Omar Siddiqui of Costa Mesa.
He outlined support for preventative care, regulation of drug prices, and rewarding patients for healthy lifestyles.
Laguna Beach candidate Michael Kotick stressed the urgency of healthcare, noting the congressional debate suggesting that as many as 32 million people could lose coverage. They tossed around those numbers like it was nothing, he added.
“That’s like filling up Angel Stadium 700 times, that’s how urgent this is,” Kotick said. “We need to stop playing politics with people’s health. We need to get more healthcare to more people.”
Pharmaceutical companies should be held accountable, as contributors to the opioid addiction crisis, he suggested.
“This is a national emergency, and we need to act now,” he said.
Regarding climate change, the candidates were united in their support for renewable, clean energy and creating “green-collar” jobs in the burgeoning industry.
Rachel Payne, of Aliso Viejo, said Orange County residents are vulnerable to climate change.
“Climate change is real and it’s now,” she said. “And the people who suffer from fires and flash floods are climate refugees. It’s happening.”
If elected, Kotick said his first priority would be to halt any new drilling scheduled the for California coast.
“We will fight to ensure that we don’t see oil drills littering our coastline. One thing is for sure: we see the GOP’s reckless environmental policy on full display – one that will impact generations of Americans if it remains unchecked,” he wrote in an email.
On gun control, all of the candidates favor tougher laws and standing up to the National Rifle Association. But it was former Marine and current gun owner Tony Zarkades who got the applause.
“I think we should go to Google to design a background check that is fast and accurate,” proposed the Huntington Beach candidate.
He said that Democrats have been unsuccessful in moving gun control legislation because they’ve been “gutless,” but also because they’ve chosen the wrong people to sell it.
“You want to see a face that could be the face of gun control? Look at this face. An ex-Marine. I’ve been shooting guns all my life. I speak their language. They’ll trust me,” he said to perhaps the largest cheer of the evening.
Siddiqui spoke passionately about immigration and creating a new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals bill that includes a path to citizenship. He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King as well.
“We may have all come on different ships, but we are all in the same boat now,” he said.
Both he and Kotick are the sons of immigrant parents.
Throughout the night, the candidates voiced their support for all people, particularly in the LGBT community, and blasted the recent tax reform in Washington.
When it came to the sheer number of candidates, the group seemed undaunted.
“This is what democracy is supposed to look like,” Payne said of the field of challengers.
“We should be happy that we have eight great candidates running for office,” Zarkades said of the Democrats in the running.
In addition to the eight Democratic challengers, there are four other candidates: Two Republicans, a Libertarian, and an Independent.
Independent challenger Kevin Kensinger of Aliso Viejo said the Democrats are not the answer.
“At each event, the front runners have only ever talked about three people: President Trump, Dana Rohrabacher and themselves. They never talk about you, the voter, the middle class or any real actionable agenda and legislative solutions,” Kensinger pointed out in an email.
Paul Martin, one of two confirmed Republican challengers, was also critical.
“All eight Democrats in this race offer the same failed platform of bigger government through raising taxes on the middle class. If Republicans want to keep this District 48, Dana Rohrabacher is not the answer; they will need to choose a candidate who is moderate,” Martin said via email.
Forum attendee Kim McDaniel of Laguna Niguel said she supports and volunteers for Laguna Beach Democrat candidate Harley Rouda.
She will remain a Rouda supporter, she said, citing his active participation in demonstrations in the last year.
“He truly impresses me with his honesty and integrity,” she said. “In the past year, my family and I have attended four rallies plus the Women’s March, and Harley’s always there. He shows up.”
She came away from the forum feeling energized.
“I felt a lot of unity in the room,” McDaniel said. “Lots of hopeful people gathered tonight, hopeful that together we will turn Orange County blue.”