Candidates for 53rd Congressional District talk national security at SDSU forum

Candidates for 53rd Congressional District talk national security at SDSU forum

Oct 27th, 2019The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — Democrats vying for the 53rd Congressional District, up for grabs with the announced retirement of Susan Davis, gathered Saturday night to discuss foreign and domestic policy during for a national security forum at San Diego State University.

The panelists later that night also offered mixed reviews upon learning that President Donald Trump planned to announce Sunday that US forces have killed a key ISIS leader.

The panel included presumed front runners Sara Jacobs, a former Hillary Clinton campaign adviser, and San Diego City Council President Georgette Gomez. Also Joaquín Vázquez, a policy advisor, and military veterans Jose Caballero and Janessa Goldbeck spoke at the event, which was hosted by the Truman National Security Project.

The 53rd district runs from central San Diego to areas north and south of Interstate 8 to El Cajon before dropping south, where it encompasses Spring Valley, Bonita and most of Chula Vista east of Interstate 805. The district has a large population of veterans and active duty military personnel.

Davis has held the seat since the district’s creation in 2003. She was first elected to Congress in 2000 in what was then the 49th District.

Candidates fielded questions on climate change, military strategy, foreign policy and housing.

Jacobs used her opening remarks to highlight her experience in foreign policy. Jacobs has worked for a contractor that advised the State Department and has worked with Unicef and the United Nations.

“The questions of war and peace are actually the most important questions that congress decides on,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important that we have someone who is ready on day one, who’s worked on these issues, who’s been in the room when these important policy decisions have been made.”

Gomez, who was elected to the San Diego City Council in 2016 and voted council president in December, opened by referencing her work in city government and promising to oppose President Donald Trump.

“I want to be a champion for our communities and for our neighborhoods,” Gomez said. “We must stand up to Trump’s agenda — a hateful agenda — and reckless foreign policy.”

During a question about potential committee assignments, Gomez pivoted from foreign affairs to talking about infrastructure and housing in the district.

Vázquez also leaned on his experience as a community organizer, calling his foreign policy position “community-centered.”

Goldbeck, who was a captain in the Marine Corps until this summer, described being deployed on a NATO exercise in Eastern Europe when Trump took office and made disparaging comments about NATO. She said it strained their interactions with their allies and made things more difficult.

Caballero, who spent six years in the Navy as an enlisted nuclear propulsion plant operator, said his military experience changed is views on war after he was shown a video of the effects on an attack in Afghanistan launched from his ship. He said he is wary of war.

“It was very disgusting — it was dehumanizing,” he said. “That was a pivotal moment that let me know very quickly that my values weren’t necessarily what I thought they were.”

News that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in an American raid broke while the panel was in session and did not come up. The Union-Tribune asked each candidate about their reaction to the development and the country’s current anti-terrorism strategy.

“We’re playing whack-a-mole right now,” Goldbeck said. “I commend the special operations troops ... in taking out this one bad guy, but there will be more.”

Jacobs said she also is skeptical that the strategy of taking out the leaders of terrorist organizations, which she called a “decapitation strategy,” will be effective in the long run.

“I don’t think ... a decapitation strategy is the right one,” Jacobs said. “We’ve seen that when we get one leader, a new one pops up. ISIS, in some estimations, popped up because we killed the leader before Baghdadi.”

Gomez also raised doubts about anti-terrorism operations.

Shawn VanDiver, co-founder of the San Diego chapter of the Truman National Security Project, organized the event and moderated the panel. He said the district is key to the national security of the United States.

“National security is important to (the 53rd Congressional District) because we are home to the largest concentration of military forces in the world, an international border, several innovative defense companies and a litany of military families who need their member of congress to understand the unique challenges they face,” he said in a statement.

VanDiver said every candidate running in the district who filed and raised money was invited to the forum, which was co-hosted by the SDSU School of Public Affairs.

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