The last of a series of local forums on local, state and federal elections also proved to be the most combative, with the two candidates for California’s 28th congressional district clashing over the coronavirus, the president and other topics.
Rep. Adam Schiff, who has represented the 28th Congressional District that includes Burbank, Glendale and part of Pasadena, is running against Eric Early, a Republican attorney who previously made an unsuccessful bid for California attorney general.
The event hosting the two candidates, held Monday by the League of Women Voters of Glendale/Burbank, had been marketed as a Q&A-focused forum. But a flurry of attacks from Early against his Democratic opponent pushed it into the territory of an aggressive debate, while Schiff reserved most of his jabs for Trump and other Republicans.
The event was held virtually, as previous forums by the League of Women Voters of Glendale/Burbank have been, though Early had invited voters to watch it at the American Legion office in Burbank, whose space he had rented.
A news release announcing Early’s event said guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be followed. But within a day, the city received a complaint that the group wasn’t following health protocols implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19, according to Sgt. Derek Green of the Burbank Police Department. The city is still investigating the complaint.
“Supporters and voters who showed up in person were [temperature]-checked, signed COVID-19 releases, were given and wore masks and practiced social distancing, following all CDC guidelines,” Roger Neal, Early’s press secretary, said in a statement.
The pandemic was a major point of debate for the candidates. On a question about a federal deficit exacerbated by the global COVID-19 pandemic, Schiff took aim at tax cuts for wealthy families and what he called Republican senators’ stinginess for small businesses.
“Many people have built their whole life into building wonderful businesses only to see them close their doors,” he said, adding that he wants the government to provide unemployment compensation.
Early agreed that the deficit is a major problem for the country, but pivoted quickly, accusing Schiff of focusing on “an impeachment sham” rather than a response to the pandemic.
“It’s easy for him to blame everything on the president, but he fails to [remember] that… he, Mr. Schiff, is the one who’s been in office for two decades,” Early added.
Early also supports reopening businesses and schools with social distancing, pointing to the relatively low rate of children who die from the coronavirus, and argued California officials had infringed on constitutional rights by ordering closures.
“In the name of saving us, they’re killing us,” he said.
Schiff said the United States was well-prepared for the pandemic, but that Trump had failed to respond appropriately to the virus, resulting in economic crashes and hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Both candidates also said they would support funding for child care, with Schiff saying opening schools would not be safe. He also expressed support for another economic stimulus package that would provide, among other things, funding for landlords and renters.
“The [moratoria] on evictions … are important; they were a vital emergency step, but they’re not enough on their own,” Schiff explained. “The rent is still going to come due in a big balloon payment when the pandemic is over.”
Early and Schiff both condemned police brutality, with Early saying George Floyd — a Black Minneapolis man whose death in police custody spurred ongoing nationwide protests — was “murdered” and Schiff expressing support for a federal police reform bill named after Floyd.
Additionally, Schiff pledged support for legislation that Democrats say would protect Black voters at polls, claiming Trump has tried to reduce the number of people who can vote.
Early called Schiff’s response “pathetic,” claiming the congressman tried to discredit those who voted for Trump in 2016 “with a Russia hoax, where he lied to all of America, enabled by these crazies in the mainstream media. It was totally outrageous.”
Much of Early’s offense focused on Schiff’s role in investigating potential Russian interference in the 2016 election. Schiff, the chairman of the U.S. House of Representative’s Intelligence Committee, has repeatedly claimed that there is evidence Trump’s campaign worked with Russian officials to influence that election.
After a few rounds of questions, Schiff, who has represented Burbank, Glendale and the nearby area since 2001, began responding to Early’s jabs.
“We watched a spectacle of a presidential debate a week ago — that was a national embarrassment,” Schiff said. “And I think the country roundly rejected the kind of personal attacks of Mr. Trump. I don’t know why you would to emulate those here. I think you would learn from that experience.”
A recording of the forum is available on Burbank’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/c/TheBurbankChannel/videos.