The College Democrats of Cal State Fullerton held a candidate forum for the 39th Congressional District of California in the Titan Theatre on Saturday. They hosted six Democratic candidates looking to win the seat soon to be left open by retiring Republican incumbent Ed Royce.
Congressional candidates Jay Chen, Gil Cisneros, Sam Jammal, Mai Khanh Tran, Andy Thorburn and Phil Janowicz were in attendance.
Although the candidates are running against each other, there was a sense of unity against Republican opposition, particularly the incumbent Royce.
“Ultimately it’s about getting a Democrat elected in this seat. It’s not about personal ego. It’s not about titles. It’s about moving this district forward,” Jammal said.
39th district Dem Ted Rusk stood outside Titan theater protested his exclusion from the forum. pic.twitter.com/e7uDPetE0K
— Jacob Tatham (@JacobTathamCSU) March 4, 2018
Ted Rusk, another Democratic candidate for the 39th District protested his exclusion from the forum outside of the venue.
“If you ask these candidates: ‘Will you secure a border in exchange for getting green cards for all the undocumented?’ they won’t answer that. I will,” Rusk said.
College Democrats President Andrea Guzman said Rusk was not invited because the College Democrats did not like some of his previous statements, especially regarding the Latinx community. However, she added that Rusk and other candidates were also excluded from the forum due to lack of space in the theater.
During the forum, candidates took turns answering submitted questions from the audience regarding topics such as gun control, health care, immigration, hate speech and the #MeToo movement.
A strong stance on affordable health care was agreed upon across the board but hit especially close to home for Janowicz, a former CSUF chemistry professor who explained how he had an emergency appendectomy that would have been otherwise unaffordable if not covered by the California Faculty Association.
“I didn’t go bankrupt because of a medical necessity. That’s an experience that everyone should have,” Janowicz said.
Discussions also tied back to CSUF when the candidates were asked about their stance on hate speech versus free speech, particularly regarding the controversial visit of Milo Yiannopoulos to campus in October.
“We don’t have to like it and we can advocate against it, but I don’t think we should ever cut them off,” Cisneros said.
Tran agreed with the importance of free speech based on her experiences growing up in communist Vietnam, but felt there is an exception in the case of Yiannopoulos because the rhetoric in his speech affected the safety and security of the community.
Thorburn thought the booking of Yiannopoulos had less to do with free speech on campus and more to do with poor judgement by college administrators, especially when public money is being used.
“When students invite a speaker, I think they’re covered by free speech, and I agree with Sam that speakers should pay their own security costs,” Thorburn said.
Of the six candidates in attendance, all are running for office for the first time except Chen, who lost the general election for the 39th District in 2012.
“I think that’s really important because Congress isn’t an entry-level job,” Chen said. “You need experience working with the other side, getting things passed, working with constituents. I think at the end of the day, voters are going to want to see that in their candidate.”
The six will be competing against other Democrat and Republican candidates in the primary election on June 5. The top two candidates from that primary, regardless of party, will compete for the seat in the general election on November 6.