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McKeon, Rogers Face Off In $45-a-Plate Debate

U.S. Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, and Dr. Lee Rogers, a podiatrist and Democrat who resides in Simi Valley, faced off in a forum/debate in front of 235 local residents at the Hyatt Regency Valencia Wednesday as the two candidates vie to represent the 25th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The hour-and-a-quarter-long debate/forum — the only face-to-face encounter scheduled between the incumbent and his challenger prior to the Nov. 6 general election — was sponsored by Bayless Engineering & Manufacturing, and co-hosted by the Valley Industry Association and the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“This is a hotly contested race and we’ve got two candidates who are working very hard to be successful here,” Kathy Norris, VIA CEO/president, said prior to the debate.

Those who attended the event were VIA or Chamber members or others who paid $45 each for lunch and the forum that followed.

The 25th Congressional District includes most of Simi Valley and the cities of Santa Clarita, Palmdale and Lancaster.

Rogers, 34, who lives in Simi Valley with his wife Susan and two daughters, is a doctor specializing in podiatry and limb salvage at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys. He is also a nationally published author on health policy and preventing amputations. This is his first run for public office. Rogers’ campaign website iswww.leerogers2012.com.

McKeon, 74, who has lived in the Santa Clarita Valley with his wife Patricia since 1964, was Santa Clarita’s first mayor in 1987. He was first elected as the 25th District’s representative in 1992, and is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. McKeon’s campaign website iswww.buckmckeon.com.

The Chamber’s Damian Jones of Pacific Strategy Group served as moderator/timekeeper, and panelists Gary Horton (Landscape Development), Timm Herdt (Ventura County Star) and Dennis Anderson (Antelope Valley Press) posed the questions.

The questions were carefully selected from a variety submitted by the community at large, Norris said, and were not shared in advance with the moderator, panelists or candidates. Each candidate had an opportunity to make brief opening and closing statements, and each panelist was given 20 minutes to question the candidates.

Topics included bipartisanship, or lack of it, in Congress; CEMEX; high-speed rail; Whittaker-Bermite and Santa Susana Mountains cleanup; the national debt ceiling; McKeon’s Countrywide loan; the soon-to-expire Bush tax cuts; reaching out to constituents; military and defense spending in the 25th District; the use of drones in warfare; McKeon’s role as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee; sequestration; and the Affordable Health Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare.

The debate’s tone was generally civil, but there were a few testy exchanges between the candidates. They disagreed on most topics, but one area of agreement was sequestration as a budget-cutting strategy: both thought it was a very bad idea.

“Terri Crain from the Chamber and I were contacted by Congressman McKeon to have lunch, and we had a very animated conversation about ways the Congressman might be able to help businesses in Santa Clarita,” Norris said, explaining how this forum came to be.

“Following that luncheon I think he and some of his staff met and made a decision that they would do a forum this fall with Dr. Rogers,” Norris said. “Buck has not done one of those in quite some time, and he very kindly offered us the opportunity to host it on the candidates’ behalf.”

“This is actually a collaborative luncheon of the VIA and the Chamber,” Norris said. “It’s not hosted by the candidates themselves. So this is a regularly scheduled luncheon for our organizations, and the fee covers the cost of the luncheon, the use of the Hyatt facility and the food.”

“I think we weighed it out nicely,” Rogers said immediately after the debate wrapped up. “I think the voters have a choice between experience and judgement. Congressman McKeon says that he’s got a lot of experience, and I say, ‘Experience at what?’ And I brought my judgement as a doctor into this, saying that I think my judgement would better serve the district.

“I think (the tone of the event) was contentious at times, but you know, if you pay $45 to have lunch here, you come to see something,” Rogers said. “You need to see that type of vigorous debate in our political system, and I think that there wasn’t any name-calling — maybe it got a little dirty and he got a little dirty — but no name-calling.”

“I think it went great,” McKeon said as the room cleared. “Somebody told me they thought it was better than the presidential debate, so that’s just one person’s view.

“I think I probably did OK,” McKeon said. “I think people can make a choice and I think it’s about as black and white as you can get. (Rogers is) somebody that has no record. The first time I ran for office I was in my 20s. I ran for Saugus school board. Knew nothin.’ And (Rogers) can talk about different things, but until you have actually had to vote…you’ve got to make decisions. He makes important ones as a doctor, but he’s not ready to make the important ones in Congress.”