PICTURED: Rep. Julia Brownley (left) and Ronda Kennedy, candidates for California Congressional District 26. 

by Kimberly Rivers


On Oct. 14, the two candidates for California’s 26th Congressional District articulated their views and positions on various topics at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters and California State University, Channel Islands (CSUCI). 

The incumbent, Rep. Julia Brownley (D), has been representing the district since 2013. Her seat, which covers most of Ventura County, is being challenged by Republican Ronda-Baldwin Kennedy, a local attorney. 

Saying that the forum provides a platform for the “discourse we all need for our democracy to flourish,” Dr. Erika Beck, president of CSUCI, welcomed the candidates and thanked moderator David Maron. She offered that the information provided at forums provides “knowledge in service of the common good.”

Impact of COVID-19 a hot topic

As expected, the pandemic and economy dominated the discussion. 

Brownley said the pandemic is currently the “biggest challenge” and that she will continue advocating for pandemic relief bills. She noted that the current proposed bill is required in order to get the country back on track and to actually save the “life of our democracy.” 

She listed accomplishments with the Women Veteran’s Task Force and a committee on the climate crisis, which produced a recent report on the “existential threat of climate change.” She pointed to work she does specifically for the county in D.C., like funds for dredging harbors, supporting the port and naval base, as well as the brand-new veterans health care clinic to open next year in the county. 

Kennedy said she’d be part of a “new generation of Congress” if elected and would work at crossing the aisle to end  a culture in Washington that is “so divisive that nothing gets done.” She said the pandemic “has devastated” the local economy with businesses closing and families being divided. She said she supports a relief package, but one that directs money straight to local businesses and individuals instead of getting funneled through “mismanaged states” that will continue to “mismanage” the relief funds. 

“We need to safely open businesses and open schools,” said Kennedy. “The cure is worse than the disease.” She said that not only has the response to the pandemic resulted in “countless” businesses closing but also a “high range of suicides.” She said rapid testing has to be available for people and when they test negative, they need to “go back to work and back to school.” The “coronavirus is dangerous” but there is a “better way to handle it.” 

Brownley nodded to Asian countries that are mostly back to normal because of swift and coordinated national responses. She said a national plan is needed that involves testing, contact tracing, isolation and treatment and that getting a hold on the virus will allow reopening community by community. A take-at-home test is needed so people can “take a test and walk out the door knowing” they are negative.

Part of a national response would require getting all the supplies lined up for a wide and “equitable” distribution of a vaccine, said Brownley. 

Kennedy said the top issue related to future outbreaks is avoiding “shutting the economy down,” saying the “number one priority” is that the economy “stays open, that businesses aren’t closed.” She suggested that better “clean practices” and “normal hygiene” would prevent a lot of people from getting COVID-19. 

People are “tired of hearing about Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump,” said Kenndy. “It’s [like] a Bloods and Crips war with the American people caught in the middle . . . We need to come together.” 

Racial and social inequality

“As a Black woman in America with two Black sons, I understand the inequalities,” said Kennedy, pointing out that the district has never elected a Black woman. “That tells you something. I am the great great granddaughter of runaway slaves.” She agreed that there needs to be reform in the justice system. “I work in the justice system . . . We don’t need a band aid,” referring to reparations, but opportunities to build “generational wealth . . . Police reform is fine and dandy,” but it won’t “fix the root of the problem.” 

“Racism is institutionalised in our structure[s]” throughout our government,” Brownley said, noting that it needs to be “addressed in a complete and substantial way.” She pointed out that the House of Representatives has made some progress, calling the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act as a “positive step” at the federal level. That legislation would prohibit no-knock warrants, restrict use of deadly force and limited qualified immunity. She did note, however, that “sadly, the Senate is unwilling to” consider the act. 

Kennedy doesn’t think reparations are the best way to bring equity to the nation. “I prefer to see my children have equal opportunity, equal education . . . to own their own business.” She did point out that some large corporations today can trace their “wealth back to slavery.” She likes the idea of opportunity zones as a form of reparation, but does not think that welfare is effective and in fact said it creates situations that foster women becoming single mothers. “Single Black mothers . . . that happens for a reason.” Kennedy said the welfare system is designed to not allow for a “two-parent home.” She has a plan that would allow people to qualify for a home loan based on rental history rather than credit score. 

“Reparations [are] something that Congress needs to address,” Brownley countered. She would like to see “wealth-building opportunities” developed that include addressing “racial disparities in education” and housing. 

Kennedy did seek to distance herself a bit from the top Republican, President Donald Trump, saying she would be an independent congressperson representing Ventura County if elected. She suggested, as a way to cut the national debt, that Congress “needs to cut their salaries, cut their retirements,” and institute term limits and be on the Affordable Care Act. She said the founding fathers intended that members of Congress spend some time serving their community and then “go back to their jobs.” 

The League of Women Voters and CSUCI forum for candidates for California’s 26th Congressional District: