Students, community members, faculty, and news stations filled La Jolla Country Day School on Monday. The private school's Advance Placement Government and U.S. History classes led a forum between Republican Carl DeMaio, a former member of the San Diego City Council, and U.S. Representative Scott Peters (D). Both are seeking to represent California's 52nd Congressional District.George Mitrovich, president of the
San Diego City Club, called the forum to order and encouraged the audience to become active participants in the "Athenian ideal of democracy." The two-hour event showed that though the coverage of the race has been displayed as divisive and dirty, it can ultimately be a resilient process.
Though both candidates fell folly to modern-day politics of personal attacks and partisan gridlock, the students willfully continued the conversation with substantive questions. Ensuring that the candidates stayed on topic with their answers, the students gave each candidate an opportunity to fully discuss their platform, and how their efforts are in the interests of their constituency.
According to Jonathan Shulman, who teaches the AP Government and History class, the purpose of the forum was to address audiences and issues outside of those covered in the mainstream media. For the candidates, it was a chance to answer the questions and not be diverted by their opposition's commentary.
DeMaio answered every question with ease and confidence: Russia needs stronger economic sanctions; immigration reform needs to be done in a series of single-subject bills; securing the border starts with better funding and the use of drones.
"These politicians can't balance a checkbook, why are they telling us how to live our lives?" He said on the subject of personal freedom.
The theme that colored most of his answers, however, were pointed attacks on his opponent.
Peters' answers, though not as well-delivered as DeMaio’s, offered explanation and insight about issues and policies, like the necessary foundation for a social security safety net, the balance of the county's ability to carry a certain amount of debt, and the Ebola scare.
On his support for Senate Bill 744, the immigration reform bill, and how he would garner support from the Republican Party, Peters said:
"What we need is a compromise -- the Senate bill is a compromise. Its a compromise between Republicans and Democrats. It had 69 votes in the Senate that would deal with all those issues. It would provide permission slips, if you will, to let people into the county; it will amp up border security way beyond what Democrats say they wanted. It is a compromise." - U.S. Rep. Scott Peters
"The CBO -- the Congressional Budget Office -- has indicated that would lead to 5.4 percent economic growth over the next 20 years and it would lower the deficit by $800 million and help social security funds," he added. "So, I am asking for your help to advocate that we at least get a vote. I was a city council president and we voted on things -- and I never thought that for political reasons, those things would be held up."
The first-term congressman stated that it is partisanship that has held up regulation on Internet service providers, produced lackluster progress on the deficit, and has encouraged ignorance on climate change.
Both candidates were then asked about their slew of negative campaign.
"I am proud of the fact that I ran positive ads talking about my work in city hall, saving the city from bankrupcy, reforming the city, and putting money back into community service programs -- after school programs and libraries," DeMaio said. "We made government work in San Diego and isnt that what it is all about? So my ads has been focusing on my record as a reformer."He blames the negative campaign atmosphere on the power of Super PACs.
Peters said it was okay for campaign attacks to be about disagreement on policies or legislation he was involved in; what is not okay is attacks on his personal integrity and the integrity of his family.
In closing, DeMaio addressed the students by saying, “This is your county and your future, demand action from both parties.”
Peters thanked the school for being engaged in politics and challenging the nation’s lack of participation.
“With your participation, we can talk about issues like the climate in a louder way," he said. "Continue to participate, and be a model for the rest of the county to follow.”
Both candidates call for voter participation as they continue into the political wringer that has left those staying up-to-date on the race following a thread of back and forth partisan attacks -- a social obstacle course that is too commonly displayed and covered in American politics today.
As both candidates acknowledged, and as exemplified by the successful structure of the forum, it is up to students, voters, and the media alike to be intelligently engaged in democracy -- for the future of American politics and the ideals of democracy.
Image: U.S. Rep. Scott Peters (left), Carl DeMaio (right)