Candidates affirm stances at House District 20 debate

Republicans Mike Boudreaux and Vince Fong along with Democrats Andy Morales and Marisa Wood in the 20th Congressional District debate on Feb. 22(Courtesy of KGET news and Nexstar Media.)

Congressional District 20 candidates explain their views on current events and policy issues as primary election nears

BAKERSFIELD – Less than two weeks away from the primary elections, four candidates racing to take over the seat in Congress that was held by Rep. Kevin McCarthy for nearly two decades debated live from the KGET Channel 17 studio in Bakersfield.

Republicans Mike Boudreaux and Vince Fong faced off against Democrats Andy Morales and Marisa Wood in the 20th Congressional District debate on Feb. 22. Jim Scott, KGET’s managing editor and evening anchor, and Brian Dorman, evening co-anchor of CBS 47 Eyewitness News in Fresno, hosted the debate.

Moderators posed questions to the candidates that covered a wide range of national, statewide and regional topics that have been prominent discussion points in the news over the last year. Candidates stuck to the talking points they have centered their campaigns on and largely focused on voicing their own policy opinions rather than debating against that of other candidates.

All four candidates will be on the March 5 regular election primary ballot, and the top two vote-getters will move on to the general election on Nov. 5.

Boudreaux, Fong and Wood will also appear on the March 19 special election primary ballot along with six other candidates. Whoever wins the special election will hold office for just a few months as they fill out the rest of McCarthy’s vacated term.

Candidate backgrounds

Boudreaux and Fong both currently hold office; Boudreaux has been the Tulare County Sheriff since 2013 and Fong has represented the Valley in the State Assembly since 2016.

The two have expressed similar views related to abortion, on which both are adamantly pro-life, their support of former President Donald Trump and their belief that California’s progressive policies have gone too far.

Wood is currently a public school teacher in Bakersfield and has centered her campaign around advocating for children and her desire to fight for what’s best for Central Valley families in Congress.

Morales is the youngest candidate in the race at 24 years old and is currently a security officer. He holds a degree in criminology from California State University, Fresno, and was raised in Bakersfield. Morales spent much of the debate diverting questions back to his main policy goals of supporting a Green New Deal, Medicare for All and tuition-free higher education. 

Boudreaux stuck to his position as the law-and-order candidate with 37 years of law enforcement experience. He said his real-life experiences with addressing crime, specifically that related to drug and human trafficking, will help him advocate for those issues in Congress.

Fong has focused his messaging on how he has spent eight years in the State Assembly as a conservative voice for the Valley and is the tried-and-tested choice to represent the area in Congress. He also addressed his recent endorsement from Trump and his relationship with McCarthy, who endorsed Fong right out of the gate and who Fong worked with before joining the state legislature.

Dorman asked Fong if Trump’s endorsement of him came with any strings attached, to which he responded no.

Fong said that he “hoped” McCarthy assisted with getting the endorsement, but that his campaign has been working with people from Trump’s campaign to secure that endorsement and he appreciates anyone who helped.

Asked if he also sought out Trump’s endorsement, Boudreaux said no, though he would like to have it. He said he focused more on receiving endorsements from people and organizations who live in the district.

Boudreaux brought up endorsements he announced the week prior from State Sen. Shannon Grove and Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, and said it was no coincidence that Trump’s endorsement of Fong came shortly after that announcement.

“Mr. McCarthy pulled a political favor so that he (Fong) could have the endorsement of Mr. Trump coming into the election; right after our endorsements is when this came with the endorsement of Mr. Trump,” Boudreaux said.

Safety and security

Candidates shared their perspectives on the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, Israel’s war against terrorist group Hamas that has resulted in the killing of nearly 30,000 Palestinian people and rising crime rates in California.

All candidates agreed that the situation at the border needs to be addressed immediately and said they do not support tying border control to funding for the wars in Ukraine and Israel, because they are separate, serious issues.

Boudreaux and Fong said physical security and updated technology is needed at the border in order to address the situation.

On the war in Israel, Boudreaux said he fully supports sending money to Israel if needed, and went a step further to say that he supports sending U.S. troops to Israel with “boots on the ground” if that becomes necessary.

On immigration, Boudreaux clarified a statement he made in 2019 about supporting Obama-era immigration policies. He said that he is in favor of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for children who came to the United States before 18 months of age because they see themselves as Americans and should have a path to citizenship.

“There should be an available pathway for them in that regard, but not for people coming across the border illegally without the judicial process and legal avenue of entry,” Boudreaux said.

Wood said she does not support funding for Israel and while she agrees that protecting democracy in the Middle East is important, it should not come at the cost of civilians and children’s lives.

Morales said he does not support funding for either Israel or Ukraine, believing that money should be focused on solving problems in the country. On immigration, he said more resources are needed to ensure criminals are not coming into the country while still allowing in people who are looking to better their lives.

“Every time I talk to Central Valley voters, I talk to voters and they say they’re waiting years and years waiting for citizenship,” Morales said. “Rather than waste the money on sending aid to other countries, how about we just expand the resources to our courts?”

Candidates also briefly addressed water in the Central Valley, agreeing that there needs to be “creative” solutions to ensuring farmers get the water they need.

Addressing root causes

Wood and Morales both moved the conversation to the root causes of certain issues when talking about homelessness and crime. The candidates said that poverty, addiction and mental health issues need to be addressed in order to reduce homelessness and retail thefts.

Wood spoke about how legal punishments do not matter to a parent who is stealing food to feed their family, and that support services are needed to solve the issue.

“When you’re referring to the (federal) budget and why we have this trillion dollar debt, a budget is all about priorities,” Wood said. “My priority in a budget will always be to fund programs that help people here; we need to help these folks get off the ground.”

Morales said that more affordable housing is the most important aspect to addressing homelessness, and that large corporations need to be held responsible for their taxes in order to pay for that.

Fong agreed that addressing the root causes of homelessness are needed, and said that providing housing without wraparound services does not work.

“It is inhumane to allow individuals to die on the street, but the problem in Sacramento is that they define success based on how much is spent,” Fong said. “We need to audit all of those programs and ensure that those programs are effective.”

Boudreaux said the core problem comes from California’s Proposition 47 and that there is a need to start holding criminals accountable.

The 20th Congressional District spans across Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties. Ballots for the regular election primary have already been mailed out to registered voters, and voters can also vote in person at their local precincts and polling places.

Start typing and press Enter to search