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Busby and Bilbray Express Divergent Views on Key Issues in Congressional Race

By Barry Jagoda | May 26, 2006

Congressional Race
From right, Brian Bilbray, Republican, and Francine Busby, Democrat, leading candidates in a special election to fill the seat of ousted Congressman Randy Cunningham faced off in a debate and conversation moderated by UCSD Arts & Humanities Dean, Michael Bernstein, at left.  The program, "The Body Politic" will air several times in coming evenings on UCSD-TV

Congressional candidates hoping to fill the seat of convicted felon Randy “Duke” Cunningham came to the university Thursday. Democrat Francine Busby sat down with Republican Brian Bilbray for a UCSD-TV conversation/debate moderated by Michael Bernstein, professor of history and dean of Arts and Humanities.
           
Prompted by Bernstein’s questions, the candidates reached nearly unanimous disagreement on such topics as immigration, the war in Iraq, congressional reform after corruption scandals, health care and finding a new airport for San Diego. Later, moving to the Cross-Cultural Center, the candidates faced a roomful of about 30 students. After a half-hour of discussion, in response to a UCSD undergraduate asking if the candidates saw admirable qualities in each other, Busby and Bilbray finally found common ground. “She’s a good Mom,” said Bilbray. “He’s a good family man,” said Busby.
           
Otherwise, their positions were completely divergent. On immigration, Bilbray favors a measure recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives emphasizing border enforcement; Busby, who wants a guest worker program not included in the House proposal, supported what she said was a more comprehensive U.S. Senate bill and asked what her opponent would do about the 11 or 12 million persons currently in the U.S. illegally.  Bilbray said he did not want to reward “lawbreakers” and that the “real problem is the employers who hire illegal workers.”
           
Busby said she had opposed the War in Iraq when she ran for Congress two years ago and that she was one of a only a few office seekers who took that position. She said she had supported the war in Afghanistan but “somehow Osama bin Laden morphed into Saddam Hussein.”  Busby added, “we are spending $9 billion a month on the way and we must be honest for people in our country, in Iraq and with the troops, letting them know that we are not there indefinitely and that we must set benchmarks for our departure. We are considered occupiers and 80% of the Iraqis would like us out of their country.”  Taking a different perspective, Bilbrary said, “First of all, we do not cut and run, and we do not send signals to the terrorists in Iraq or anywhere else in the world that we are abandoning our troops in the field or anywhere.”  Expressing optimism about changes in the Iraq government, Bilbray said that U.S. troops had taken up a larger training role, which is reducing casualties. “We’ve seen a marked change in the fatality issue. Frankly, Iraqis are fighting and dying for their own country more and more every day.”

Congressional Race
UCSD Student Affairs LEAD Director, Bill Howe, standing at right, introduces congressional candidates to a group of UCSD students who sought answers to a broad range of questions

Bernstein asked how do you regain the trust of voters, particularly with the scandals in the home district. “That is the centerpiece of what I am running on,” said Busby.  “The American people are crying out for a government that works for them.  No more gifts from lobbyists, no private funded travel. I will ask elected candidates across the country to join me in calling for open government.”  Bilbray said, “I think the first priority is transparency and we passed a lot of laws when I first went to congress in 1995.  There is still more to do, not allowing members of congress to put in private so-called earmarks for funding.  Ethics is always an issue to point fingers at. We have to remember that the great majority of elected officials are honest men and women and that there are a few that have been caught but the great majority are not violating the law.”
           
Voters are still concerned about access to health care and worry about pension plan funding so how would you address these questions, asked Bernstein. “When I’ve gone around the district talking with voters the number one issue has been health care,” said Busby. “We have 45 million Americans who are uninsured so I think this is a huge issue that everyone is talking about except Congress. We need to give smaller employers access to larger pools to bring the cost down.”  Bilbray emphasized his historical experience in Congress working on this issue and said it was necessary to work with the health care industry.  “In all fairness, we need to let states experiment to see what works, for example Massachusetts has just had success.  Sometimes the best way is to work locally and let the federal government learn from local experience.”

Finally, in what approached an agreement, both candidates were pessimistic about a joint military-civilian airport for San Diego at the Miramar marine airbase: “I oppose it and voted to stop joint use when I was in Congress,” said Bilbray.  “Well, national security must come first and the military would have to give it’s okay, so I think we need to look for alternatives, particularly increasing capacity at Lindberg.”

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