KPBS (2010-08-23) Maureen Cavanaugh
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More Info: CA 50 Congressional District
Hunger Strikes, Water Rates And Drunk-Driving Fatality In East County
BY MAUREEN CAVANAUGH
, PAT FINN
August 23, 2010
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Congressional candidates so desperate for debates they're on hunger strikes. A water project is halted because of a sacred Native American site. And there are calls to establish a new Bridgette's Law. There are a number of interesting stories coming out of San Diego's East County, and it's time to talk about them on our East County Update. I’d like to introduce my guest. Miriam Raftery is editor of the East County Magazine
. And, Miriam, welcome back. It’s nice to see you.
MIRIAM RAFTERY (Editor, East County Magazine): Good morning, Maureen. It’s great to be here again.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s start with this very interesting, some might even say dangerous, political event in the East County, a hunger strike staged by two congressional candidates. Tell us who’s not eating and why.
RAFTERY: Okay. Well, we have Ray Lutz, the Democratic candidate for the 52nd Congressional District, and Michael Benoit, the Libertarian candidate. And they say that they are hungry for debate with Duncan Hunter, the incumbent congressman. Now, Duncan, he did debate opponents in the last election but not until October and this time he’s said he’s happy to debate them in the middle of October. But the problem with that is that voting patterns in San Diego have changed and in the last election, 60% cast absentee ballots and the absentee ballots are in the mail the first few days of October. So, I think, understandably his opponents are saying they think the debate should be moved up and held in August or September.
CAVANAUGH: Now this seems like a rather desperate measure to go to. First of all, how long has this been going on?
RAFTERY: Ten days.
CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh. And have you been getting updates from either Ray or Michael on how this is going?
RAFTERY: Well, I have. Last time I talked to them, I think Ray had lost about 16 pounds, which is quite a bit. He’s half the man he used to be, I think. And Michael also has taken off quite a bit. So it’s definitely taking a toll on them and I don’t know how much longer they’ll be able to keep this up safely.
CAVANAUGH: Has this been getting much reaction from constituents or the press?
RAFTERY: Well, it has. It certainly has drawn mixed everything from, you know, they’re nuts to people who applaud it and – and who see them as some sort of, you know, folk hero for taking on this issue of incumbents that won’t debate or won’t debate in a timely manner. They’ve also actually gotten quite a bit of national publicity. They’ve been interviewed on CNN News, Newsweek, Time, all kinds of major national media has kind of latched on to this story. And the other thing that makes it interesting is that the Congressman initially said he could not debate before October because of the legislative session in Congress but actually they’re adjourned, and he did manage to make it back to town for a Chamber of Commerce function that was only for elected officials, not the people running against them, on Friday night. And, you know, our other congressman, Congressman Filner, his schedule certainly shows him making many public appearances in the district over the next week or two. So, you know, it raises some interesting questions.
CAVANAUGH: Well, indeed. What has Congressman Hunter’s reaction been to these two hunger strikes?
RAFTERY: He’s basically refusing to address it. I happen to know that Mr. Lutz hand delivered a letter to him prior to the Friday night event or at the Friday night event, and he refused to look at it, refused to read it, said my office will send you a letter, you know, and has basically just refused to even consider the option of any debates before mid-October. They’ve said they hope somebody slips Mr. Lutz a Twinkie so he can live until the middle of October, but they just are so far pretty adamant about not budging.
CAVANAUGH: Do you have any feeling about if this strike will – this hunger strike would – these hunger strikes…
CAVANAUGH: …will actually get results in terms of a debate or not?
RAFTERY: You know, I don’t know. I can’t predict what Mr. Hunter will do. I think, you know, it would be a good thing for the public, I think, if he were to come out and be willing to debate. And, as I say, he did do five debates against his opponent last time and that was in the month of October so he certainly, you know, must consider himself a capable debater. So I’m not quite sure why he doesn’t want to do this. But I think the point of the strike is that even if he won’t, these candidates want to draw attention to the fact of how difficult it is to get media attention in this area of shrinking media. You know, there’s been races where they would never interview the – even major party candidates for some of the high offices around here. I recall a few years ago Darrell Issa, they said he was the richest man in Congress and even the Union-Tribune, they never ran a single story about his opponent that election cycle. And this is Congress, this is not a little local, you know, dogcatcher or something.