Democratic California 1st Congressional District candidate Max Steiner is right about at least one thing: This is no normal election we’re facing on Nov. 8. Reproductive freedom, the social safety net and democracy itself are all on the ballot.
Should MAGA Republicans take control of the House and Senate, they’ve promised to offer a bill banning all abortions nationwide, even in cases of rape and incest, even if the mother’s life is in danger. They’ve threatened to cut Social Security and Medicare. They continue to spread the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from former president Donald Trump, despite offering no real evidence for the claim.
There is no more prominent proponent of the Big Lie in the north state than Steiner’s Republican opponent, sitting 5-term 1st Congressional District Representative Doug LaMalfa. LaMalfa signed on early to Trump’s rigged election conspiracy theories. He promoted a phony “election integrity” bill in the House in early December and later in the month appeared on CNN with Chris Cuomo, where he expressed his doubts about the election and whether American astronauts truly landed on the moon.
On Jan. 6, 2021, after Trump supporters ransacked the Capitol in an attempt to prevent the counting of electoral college votes, LaMalfa was among the 147 House and Senate Republicans who refused to certify the election results, again without any evidence to support their claims.
That caused the Redding Chapter of the League of Women Voters, in an unusual move, to publicly reprimand LaMalfa.“Representative LaMalfa continues to espouse unfounded conspiracy theories to the detriment of our democracy,” stated Redding LWV president Pam Crowe. “He has violated his oath of office. This is not a partisan issue. It is a voters’ rights issue, which means it is a LWV issue.”
That hasn’t stopped LaMalfa from continuing to spread the Big Lie, nearly two years after the 2020 election. One imagines him taking the oath of office on some musty dog-eared family Bible:
“I, Doug LaMalfa, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
Did LaMalfa stand up to America’s domestic enemies, as the oath requires? Or did he become a domestic enemy himself, an enemy within who plotted to overturn the results of legitimate democratic election?
That’s the question and the main reason why this election is different. What “this time it’s different” means for Steiner was revealed during a contentious Zoom forum with LaMalfa hosted by the League of Women Voters Butte County Friday evening. The Iraq War combat veteran abandoned his pledge to remain civil and attacked LaMalfa’s insurrectionist record from the opening bell.
The forum, moderated by LWV Butte County’s Carol Burr, began calmly enough. LaMalfa went first, eyes downcast apparently reading prepared remarks.
“Americans are frustrated these days with how things are going,” LaMalfa said. “A little over two years ago things didn’t look like this. We had a very strong economy, the prices of things were much lower than what we’re seeing today.
We had energy security, we were making more energy than ever. We were actually an exporter of energy and we had more potential to do that. We had plenty of food on the shelves as the United States always had and now we see skyrocketing food prices and empty shelves in our stores sometimes which is unimaginable in the United States.”
Hmmmm. Let’s see. What started a little over two years ago, on President Trump’s watch? Oh yeah, the COVID-19 pandemic. LaMalfa would rather blame Democrats instead of the coronavirus for the ongoing inflation and supply chain shortages.
LaMalfa then fell into familiar territory, blaming environmental regulations and the U.S. Forest Service for the Carr Fire, Camp Fire, Dixie Fire and all the other megafires that have occurred in the north state on his watch.
Steiner, after introducing himself as a moderate/centrist fifth-generation north state resident, army reservist, combat veteran and U.S. diplomat, opened fire.
“I am running for Congress because the north state deserves strong, effective and honest representation in Washington,” Steiner said. “Locally we need to embrace sustainable forest management, re-examine harmful regulations and build dams to mitigate climate change. I can build bridges with moderates on both sides of the aisle to get this done. My opponent has done nothing for the north state in his ten years in office.”
Steiner then took LaMalfa to task for election denial.
“Nationally we need to reinforce the fundamentals of our democracy,” Steiner said. “We need to ensure that the chaos of 2020 does not and cannot happen again. My opponent spread the Big Lie after the 2020 election, falsely claiming that Trump won the election then voting against certification after the Jan. 6 attack on the capitol.”
Steiner continued to hammer down on LaMalfa, even as LWV moderator Carol Burr was signaling concern with his rhetoric.
“This election is not a choice between a Democrat and a Republican,” Steiner said. “This election is a choice between reality and fantasy. I recognize that climate change is real, that election results are legitimate and that reproductive privacy saves women’s lives. My opponent denies all of these truths.”
“I would like to remind you both that we have rules of civility,” Burr reminded as Steiner finished.
Burr then presented a series of questions gathered from the public and journalists on water supply, inflation, election integrity, reproductive rights, climate change, gun violence, immigration, Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare.
As a self-styled centrist Democrat, Steiner fully supports big infrastructure water projects like the proposed Sites Reservoir and the Shasta Dam Raise. So does LaMalfa. But Steiner couches his support in climate change terminology, whereas his opponent is a long-time climate change denier. Steiner noted that President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act—which LaMalfa voted against—included $30 million for the Sites project.
“With climate change we’re going to have more rain events and fewer snow events,” Steiner explained. “That means we’re facing—it seems ironic—a greater risk of flooding and a greater risk of drought at the same time. That means you need more water storage. Those are the two big dams, there’s a lot of smaller reservoirs for capacity we could add. The fundamental federal response to drought in the north state, to climate change in the north state is increasing capacity and that means building more dams.”
LaMalfa, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to be aware northern California is in the midst of record-breaking three-year drought, pointing to rainfall late last year that produced a record snowpack that subsequently melted in warm weather as evidence the government is allowing too much water to flow through the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta to the ocean, a long-held myth by north state Republicans.
On the topic of inflation, LaMalfa acknowledged that he had supported the first $3 trillion in COVID relief funds but complained about the $31 trillion national debt. He failed to note that Trump’s 2017 tax cut for the rich before the pandemic combined with pandemic aid boosted the debt from $23 trillion to $31 trillion during Trump’s tenure, the third largest increase in U.S. history, after Republican Presidents George W. Bush and Abraham Lincoln, both of whom funded wars with their deficit spending.
Steiner offered a more nuanced take on inflation.
“I would like to point out that inflation is a worldwide problem, that it’s not confined to the United States, so to blame it solely on the current inhabitant of the White House is nonsensical,” Steiner said. “What we have right now are two things. Broadly, we had a supply chain disruption that is only now working its way through the economy. That happened during COVID and we’re still feeling the aftereffects. We also have corporations using their monopoly power to extract profits. … When you see those high prices at the pump you are paying for record profits for Shell.”
Some Democrats in California and nationally have called for a windfall profit tax on oil companies that would refund consumers some of the exorbitant prices they’ve been paying at the pump.
The next topic was election integrity, a slow hanging fast ball Steiner clobbered over the fence.
“Our elections are totally free and fair,” he said. “All parties need to respect the results of an election no matter what they are. Listen, in free elections half who are running are going to lose. That’s just a fact. We can’t survive as a democracy if people refuse to admit they lost. It’s OK to be a poor sport on the tennis courts, but it’s crazy to be a poor sport in a democracy.”
Steiner offered LaMalfa a chance to come clean on the Big Lie.
“I would love for my opponent to confirm right now that he agrees 2020 was a legitimate election and he was wrong to vote against certifying the election,” Steiner said. “But I’m not sure if I’ll hear that in the next two minutes, and that makes me very worried.”
Instead of acknowledging he was wrong and Biden is the president, LaMalfa engaged in a round of what-about-ism, pointing to controversies surrounding the 2004 presidential election (Sen. John Kerry conceded to President George W. Bush the day after the election) and the 2016 presidential election (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conceded to President-elect Donald Trump the day after the election) to the 2020 election, which former President Donald Trump didn’t concede to Biden until the day after the failed Jan. 6 insurrection.
In fact, Trump, LaMalfa and the rest of the MAGA Republicans continue to claim Trump was cheated out of victory in 2020.
LaMalfa, who has vehemently opposed all abortions during his two-decade political career, even in pregnancies that result from rape or incest or that threaten the life of the mother, initially misstated his own stance on reproductive rights, apparently merging reproductive rights with transgender healthcare.
“That’s an individual’s choice of people in their own lives,” LaMalfa said. “The government shouldn’t be mandating … that’s what they’re trying to do in California right now. They’re trying to make abortion … parents need to have a say in what is happening with the child, not have their children whisked for healthcare they don’t need.”
LaMalfa insisted the public would come around to his point of view on abortion after they’ve become enlightened like him. He did not elaborate on what that meant.
Once again, Steiner pounced.
“My opponent has said this is a state’s rights issue, and that’s good, but at the same time my opponent has been co-sponsoring a law that would define birth as starting with a fertilized egg,” Steiner said. “That means if you took the Plan B day-after pill, you would be committing murder. That’s crazy. We as Americans understand this is an individual privacy issue. Any restrictions on abortion will jeopardize women’s lives and it’s un-American.”
“I’m a Catholic,” Steiner continued. “I’m probably a lot closer personally to Doug LaMalfa than many of the people listening. But I’m not willing to impose my religious beliefs on to other people. … This is a fundamental issue for many voters this election, and I want to make this very clear: I will fight for Roe v Wade in Washington and if you send me to Washington, I will fight to protect the rights that the Republican Supreme Court has taken away from you.”
On the issue of climate change, Steiner burnished his centrist credentials.
“Energy security is national security,” he said. “We have seen in the last six months just how important oil is to the international economy. The decision to shut down Keystone XL was a mistake by Biden. We need to produce oil for the world. The world is full of bad states like Russia, Iike Iran, like Venezuela that if we cut our oil production, they’ll be the only suppliers for our allies, in Europe and the Western Pacific.
“You have to think about a lot of things, not just the climate. You have to think of the survival of Western democracy. You have to think of the survival of Ukraine as a nation state. I want to make it very clear, we can have a long-term objective [to address climate change] but we can’t shoot ourselves in the short term just to show how serious we are. Fundamentally the biggest thing we can do to control greenhouse gas emissions worldwide is to reduce greenhouse emissions in China.”
LaMalfa, who made it clear he thinks climate change is a hoax, also pointed the finger at China.
“The United States produces things cleaner and more responsibly than anywhere else in the world,” said the politician who has literally voted against just about every environmental bill that’s ever crossed his desk. “So why in the world are we supporting so much from China and other Pacific Rim areas that are not doing things like we are?”
The answer is capitalism. Capital is mobile, it can chase cheap wages and less stringent financial and environmental regulations around the world, which is exactly what U.S. corporations have done for the past four decades. Meanwhile the less mobile Joe and Jane Sixpack USA are out of their good-paying manufacturing jobs.
As former State Department diplomat, Steiner has a keen interest in foreign policy and would address China’s greenhouse gas emissions diplomatically in an effort that might see some manufacturing return to the United States.
“They’ve overtaken us as a strategic producer, they are a strategic threat both militarily and now environmentally,” Steiner said. “The goods we’re buying from China are being subsidized by an enormous carbon footprint. Producers can relocate to the United States and produce green products without being undercut by dirty products from China. I would support a very strong trade policy that punishes global carbon emissions and I would support subsidies and incentives to gradually lower our carbon footprint in the long term.”
On the subject of gun violence, LaMalfa thinks we’re headed in the wrong direction.
“It’s gun violence that’s violent, guns are an inanimate object,” he said. “We basically want to take the tools away from people to defend themselves and at the same time they’re defunding the police and letting more people out of prison. They’re having no bail situations where people can walk freely after they’ve been arrested for a crime. We’ve gotten rid of enhancements for guns. Between defunding the police and making it harder to get a gun, it’s going in the wrong direction.”
In LaMalfa’s world there’s a bad guy with a gun behind every lamppost. In reality, the enhancements for using a gun while committing a crime in California can add 10, 20 or 30 years to a convicted criminal’s sentence. Defund the police never really happened, it was mainly a slogan popularized during the George Floyd protests. To top it off, the Trumpublican U.S. Supreme Court basically made universal concealed carry the law of the land this summer when it struck down New York’s licensing requirement to carry a concealed weapon.
Gun rights are going in the wrong direction? Now everybody can carry a concealed weapon. LaMalfa should be elated!
Steiner the centrist Army combat veteran also supports the 2nd Amendment, and like a majority of gunowners backs more robust background checks and red flag laws for prospective gun buyers. Responding to LaMalfa’s charge that the NRA and the California Rifle and Pistol Association had given Steiner respectively an F and a D, the Democrat bemusedly noted that both organizations have long been politicized and graded him down even though he’d agreed with the NRA on 21 of its 24 questions and he holds a membership in CRPA.
Steiner disagreed with LaMalfa that public schools need to be hardened to protect them from would-be mass shooters. He pointed to the massacre in Uvalde in May, where 17 students and two teachers were killed by an AR15-wielding teenager while police at the scene waited behind locked classroom doors for more than an hour before engaging and killing the gunman.
As a diplomat, Steiner has had frontline experience with the immigration system, working in counties like Honduras during the Obama administration, when changes in the asylum law permitted more refugees to enter the United States. Steiner thinks some of those changes need to be reexamined.
“There are a lot of people who are eligible for asylum and there are a lot of people coming to the United States because they are primarily economic refugees,” Steiner said. “They are good people. They love their families. They want to do what’s best for them and their kids. But they’re undermining our labor system and our asylum system. Our asylum system was designed for something like the Jews in 1930s, or the Armenians in 1910. We have a broken system.”
He then noted that LaMalfa, a rice farmer whose family farm conglomerate has received $5.5 million in USDA farm subsidies during the past 12 years, is a co-sponosor of the controversial Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
“My opponent is the co-sponsor of the Farm Workforce modernization act which would give amnesty to people who are in the United States and work on a farm for eight years,” Steiner said. “This all came to be because my opponent owns a farm. He’s designing a class of people to work for him in indentured servitude in exchange for being allowed to stay in the United States. I find that to be un-American. Our immigration problem needs to be solved with robust enforcement, with a strong border and by punishing Americans who employ illegal immigrants.”
LaMalfa didn’t refute Steiner’s statement about the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and more or less agreed with him about the present state of immigration.
“The porous border we have doesn’t help anybody,” LaMalfa said. “It hurts the people in this country, it hurts our great economy, the overwhelming impact it has on schools, healthcare, jails the whole works. Asylum laws need to be redefined to what the original intent was.”
“We need to continue and resume the process of what President Trump had in building the border barrier and we need to quit sending a signal to the people down there whether it’s Central America or what have you, that come on up, you’ll get in,” LaMalfa said.
The forum was rolling smoothly along in a perfunctory manner until Burr asked the candidates to name one top priority they would focus on should they be elected. LaMalfa fielded the question first and his answer quickly exploded into a spaghetti monster of entangled policy details.
The shorter version: Locally, we have to address water. Forestry too. And the rural economy. California isn’t growing all the food it should be growing. Energy as well. Electric cars are too expensive. You can’t really just pick one.
“So ag, water, forestry, energy,” LaMalfa concluded.
Once again Max pounced.
“This is one of the big problems my opponent has in DC,” Steiner said. “It’s picking a priority and executing on that. It’s how my opponent has gone to DC for ten years and has done two bills, renaming a post office and giving 300 acres to an Indian tribe for a casino. He doesn’t have a way to do this intellectual triage. … We need to demand more intellectual robustness from our politicians.”
After questioning his opponent’s intelligence, Steiner said his top priority would be to jump-start the timber industry.
“The most important thing we need to focus on in the north state today is our forests,” Steiner said. We need to go to DC and restart our lumber industry. We need to work cutting regulations that were made with the best intentions in the 1970s and 1980s, things like NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), and we need to look at that.
“Is designating wide swaths of northern forests appropriate, putting them off limits to logging because of the northern spotted owl? Is that appropriate when we’re losing massive quantities of woodland to giant fires? Obviously, the answer to that is no. We need to restart the timber industry, we need to swing the pendulum back to more cutting from no cutting, we need sustainable forest management. I’m going to go to DC and I’m going to execute on that one objective.”
Burr once again reminded the two men about the agreed-upon civility rules for the forum, no doubt responding to Steiner’s call for “more intellectual robustness from our politicians.”
When the subject turned to Medicare and Social Security, Steiner sounded the alarm, warning that the GOP has already pledged to use the debt ceiling to extract cuts from the two popular social safety net programs.
“This is what makes America work,” Steiner said. “We need to have these programs because we voted on these programs. When Republicans claim that they’re going to stand against raising the debt ceiling, they’re not standing for cutting programs, they’re just saying, we refuse to pay the bill. They’re like a person who goes into a nice restaurant, orders the most expensive thing on the menu and then dashes out before they pay and they want accolades for being fiscally conservative. I think it’s crazy.
“My message to every voter who is concerned about their Medicare, who is concerned about Social Security, is the Democrats made those programs, Democrats keep up those programs and Democrats will defend those programs if we return to power in November,” Steiner concluded.
LaMalfa falsely claimed that cutting Social Security and Medicare is not GOP policy.
“Republicans would like to see Social Security sustained, and Medicare, but it’s very difficult when you have disingenuous arguments about it,” he said. “So one candidate somewhere where a Republican might have said something about balancing the budget, that doesn’t represent the whole party, it doesn’t represent our leadership. So that’s a misguided way of describing how we feel about it.”
After LaMalfa completed his answer, Steiner cited a recent story in the Washington Post in which House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pledged the GOP will use raising the debt limit has leverage for spending cuts which will include cuts to Medicare and Social Security if Republicans win control of the House in the general election. They also plan to pass a bill outlawing all abortion in the United States. A ban on contraception is also in the works.
The LWV forum format, with its rules of civility agreed upon in advance by opponents, doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to vigorous debate or disagreement. For 45 minutes, Steiner chafed against this imposed civility, occasionally landing a blow but then retreating after Burr’s warning. For his closing statement, he threw caution to the wind. His remarks are worth quoting at length:
“In a normal election I would end an event like this by reviewing what I want to do, by respectfully disagreeing with my opponent,” Steiner said. “But this is not a normal election. My opponent does not deserve respectful disagreement on the key issue of this race: Integrity.
“I did not spend two years of my life fighting for democracy in Iraq only to find our democracy here destroyed from within. All democracies are fragile, and politicians like LaMalfa who embrace election conspiracy theories are playing with a fire they do not understand, because they’ve never fought for something bigger than themselves.
“My opponent lied to us, about everything from the results of the 2020 election to celebrating infrastructure projects he himself voted against. His whole career involves taking credit for things he did not do while avoiding blame for the things he did.
“Democracy depends on two things. Mutual acknowledgement of fundamental facts and a mutual respect for the democratic process. We cannot survive politicians who are unwilling to admit the truth and are unwilling to yield power after losing an election. To move forward, we need to agree on where we are. To move in the direction voters want, we need to agree on election results.
“Far right radicals like my opponent do not understand this and they have hijacked the Republican Party of Reagan and of Eisenhower and Lincoln. It’s time for the silent majority to stand up. It’s time for the political center to reject partisanship, it’s time for the north state to get a representative for everyone and not just himself.”
About one-third from the end, as Steiner was reaching his crescendo, Burr began warning him to stop. He pressed on, knowing this was the best shot at LaMalfa he’d ever have, even if it was just over a Zoom stream.
The irony for Burr must have been palpable. Less than two years ago, the Redding chapter of the League of Women Voters publicly accused LaMalfa of violating his oath of office for participating directly in former President Donald Trump’s stolen election scheme.
It’s not a partisan issue, it’s a voters rights issue, the Redding league rightfully proclaimed.
But as moderator, Burr had no choice but to enforce the forum’s rules. Exasperated after her failure to reign Steiner in, she urged LaMalfa to “be bold” with his closing statement.
Off-the-cuff boldness is not something LaMalfa does well, one reason he’s appeared in few debates during his two decades in public office. Pettiness is more his style.
“What we see here is someone who can’t follow the rules or tell the truth about this forum here the date we were going to agree upon was in his email for a week, while he ran commercials claiming Doug LaMalfa is ducking me.”
In fact, LaMalfa has ducked debating Steiner throughout the primary and general election seasons until now.
Steiner, who gets his healthcare from the Veteran’s Administration (full disclosure, so does this writer) had held up the VA as an example of government healthcare that works. In his closing remarks, LaMalfa used anecdotal experiences he’s had helping veterans get VA care to imply the VA is somehow suspect.
First off, helping veterans in his district is part of LaMalfa’s job.
Secondly, Republicans have long attempted to privatize VA services and LaMalfa has a record of voting against services for veterans, as he did recently when he voted against the PACT Act, which expanded VA care to veterans exposed to burn pits in Iraq and other toxins. After enormous backlash from veterans, LaMalfa and other Republicans flip-flopped and voted for it.
“We walk and chew gum at the same time on many of these issues,” LaMalfa said.
“My opponent doesn’t want to talk about anything but negativity and he can’t even be civil long enough … but what do you expect from somebody’s who’s moved up from LA a year and a half ago at Pelosi’s behest I suppose to run against me in this district?” LaMalfa garbled.
“But if you can’t stick to the truth, if you can’t talk about the reasons, if you really want to do something in Congress other than make up things I tried to do … the people of this district actually know about what I do, they understand. So I’d appreciate your vote and thanks for your time.”
Quite the finish. When in doubt, blame it on Nancy Pelosi!
I have no doubt that there are some voters who viewed the LaMalfa v. Steiner forum and were offended by the Democratic candidate’s flouting of civility. I am not one of them. Like Steiner says, this is not a normal election.
We’ve reached the point in philosopher Karl Popper’s tolerance paradox where the tolerant must refuse to bargain with a movement that does not share our reality, namely that former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election fair and square.
Make no mistake, if the MAGA Republicans like LaMalfa take over the House and Senate, they will attempt top ban abortion nationwide, cut Social Security and Medicare to the bone and seize control of the country’s election system at the local, state and national levels. They’ve promised to do as much. We should take them seriously.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa is an election denier and an insurrectionist. He has violated his oath of office. He should be removed from office. Vote accordingly.