I moderated a 36th Congressional District candidate forum that shed light on the complexities of a leading domestic issue and on the politics of coastal California.
The event Tuesday night, at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, was for candidates in the May 17 election to replace Jane Harman in the 36th Congressional District seat, which runs from Venice through the South Bay. The subject was health care and the event was sponsored by organizations involved in the issue.
These candidate events are crapshoots, as I have learned during years of covering them. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when only three of the 16 candidates showed up. They were Mayor Mike Gin of Redondo Beach and businessman Stephen Eisle, who are Republicans, and liberal activist Marcy Winograd, who is a Democrat. Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who was ill, sent a representative. Nor should I have been surprised by the size of the crowd—small.
I didn’t use the format I’d been given as moderator—to allow two minute replies, rebuttals, summing-ups. I let the three talk and talk. With just three candidates and a small audience, I liked the idea of a long discussion, sort of like an old-fashioned candidates’ night in someone’s front room.
The district is heavily Democratic and one of the Democrats is favored to win. As evidence of how liberal the district is, even among many Republicans, Gin, Eisle and Winograd, in answer to a question from the audience, all said they favored stem cell research. You’d probably get the same answer in most places in Coastal California, the most liberal part of the state. Maybe not, however, in Inland California.
Elizabeth Forer, who heads the Venice Family Clinic, asked the candidates how they thought institutions such as hers can continue to deliver health care to the needy in view of shrinking state and federal appropriations. Dr. Gail Anderson, medical director at Harbor-UCLA, wanted to know how the new health care law would affect public hospitals. Dr. David Meyer, who heads LA BioMed, a non-profit research institution, wondered about federal funding for institutions such as his, which has made many important medical discoveries.
In their answers, the three candidates revealed much about themselves and their philosophies. Eisle replied to all the questions by talking about using a business approach, taking pages from the Republican playbook, which didn’t seem to have much relevance to the daunting problems of the Venice Family clinic or Harbor-UCLA’s emergency ward. Gin was the pragmatic South Bay pol, talking about convening citizens committees to come up with solutions to problems that have long stumped politicians and academics. Winograd favors Medicare for all, which might solve the problem but is politically impossible at this time.
The discussion gave me a sense of these candidates as people. The audience, which seemed to be composed mostly of health professionals, appeared to be paying attention. At least nobody left. Some of the time it was boring, like a seminar. But campaigns need more such seminars when the issue is as complicated as this one. I wish there had been more candidates and a bigger audience.