EAGLE ROCK — Congressional candidate Robert Lee Ahn criticized his opponent, Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, for contributions he received from pharmaceutical donors during a debate May 25 between the candidates seeking the 34th Congressional District seat June 6.
In a bitter exchange in an otherwise civil forum held at Occidental College, Ahn cast himself as a candidate outside of traditional party formation, while Gomez said what matters is his record in support of a progressive agenda for all California residents.
The two are competing for the 34th Congressional District seat in a special election June 6.
Ahn accused Gomez of receiving contributions from drug companies between 2013 and 2014, despite the fact Gomez recently co-sponsored legislation to enact a government-run health care program, or a single-payer’s system.
“All my career, I’ve been fighting for the little guy,” Ahn said. “As an attorney, I have the training to fight for health care for all.
“The ultimate goal is to have a single payer’s system, but when you take tens of thousands of dollars from pharma, how can you let go of it?
The Sacramento Bee reported Gomez received $33,850 from the pharmaceutical industry before the vaccine debate to inoculate all school children regardless of their parents’ religious views. Gomez, who was elected to the Assembly in 2012 and was re-elected in 2016, also received contributions from the agribusiness Monsanto and banks.
Gomez called his opponent’s arguments “void of reality,” and emphasized labor groups such as the California Nurses Association have embraced his candidacy to fill the congressional seat vacated by the appointment of Xavier Becerra to replace U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as California attorney general.
“I’m not afraid to stick up for the little guys,” Gomez said. “I’ll continue the fight to have affordable and continuous health care for all.”
Ahn criticized the influence the drug companies had in Sacramento, and said a single payer’s health care program cannot operate until the pharmaceutical companies are thrown out of politics.
During the 90-minute debate, the candidates talked about improving income levels of the district’s residents, how to solve the housing crisis, street disrepair and maintenance, and the possibility of making community college free across the nation.
About 300 people attended the forum.
Ahn indicated he backs a measure to make two-year public colleges free, and proposed to increase budgets for public education, instead of slashing them, as outlined by President Donald Trump last week.
Gomez said he would target programs to streamline resources for poor and first-generation college students, and overhaul student-work programs, or Pell Grants to invest resources for crucial needs.
“I’ve seen students who receive $2,000 or $3,000 dollars, and don’t know how to handle that,” he said.
Ahn and Gomez criticized current Secretary of Education Betsy De Vos for lax regulations on private charter schools and agreed her lack of oversight on voucher-supported education is troubling.
Ahn, a former member of the Los Angeles Planning Commission, said he supervised the creation of 10,000 new housing units and pledged to work with public and private developers to increase the supply of affordable homes in the district.
Gomez pounced on that statement, saying a backlog of 30,000 applications for low-rent apartments, or Section 8 housing, inhibits residents from improving their quality of life and stated he will line up more housing for them across the state.
“Your numbers sound good, but we need much more housing than that,” Gomez said.
The candidates said the country is at risk of losing many of the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution and vowed to fight President Trump against attempts to curtail political speech. Both said Trump has tendencies of being a racist.
“As a party, we need to take the fight to Washington,” Ahn said. “This administration is out of control and we need to fight them back. I believe in personal liberty. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. This is a land of freedom for all individuals that is what makes this country great. We have to weigh clear and present danger in our society.”
Gomez said Trump is the most controversial figure in the history of American politics, declared himself part of the resistance and promised to battle Trump’s anti-immigration agenda and the executive order targeting peaceful Muslims who want to visit the country.
He introduced an Assembly bill that calls Trump’s measures “racist and xenophobic,” and backed legislation to treat immigrants who live and work in this country with or without legal documents with respect.
“His policies need to be taken back,” Gomez said.
Chris Ramirez, a student and part-time security worker, attended the debate to hear the candidates’ stance against Trump, and to see who has the best platform to help Democrats win back the House of Representatives in 2018.
“Either candidate will represent us greatly in Washington,” Ramirez said. “Tonight they gave us a sense where we disagree with Trump on immigration and health care.
“Both come from immigrant families,” Ramirez said. “We need a discourse of tolerance and a huge change in conversation.”