North Coast congressional candidates face off at Sebastopol debate

A small crowd turned out Wednesday night to hear congressional candidates, Democratic Assemblyman Jared Huffman and Republican Dan Roberts, debate at the Sebastopol Community Center.

The audience of about two dozen community members submitted questions on topics that ranged from local river stewardship to foreign policy at the 90-minute debate hosted by the League of Women Voters Sonoma County and Sonoma County Water Coalition.

Huffman, who is termed out of the Assembly, and Roberts, a political newcomer, were the top two vote-getters in the June primary.

They are competing for an open seat created by the retirement of Petaluma Democratic Rep. Lynn Woolsey and are seeking to represent the new 2nd Congressional District stretching from Marin County to the Oregon border, excluding Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati and Sonoma Valley.

In his opening remarks, Roberts acknowledged that Democrats heavily outweigh Republicans in the district, and he asked voters to take a "fresh look" when they go to the polls.

"You don't have to vote simply by party," he said. "I'm a reformer more than I'm a Republican."

Roberts touted his business experience and stressed the need to improve the economy and to reign in what he called overregulation and overtaxation.

Huffman acknowledged the respectful tone both candidates have carried through the campaign, but noted their meaningful differences on issues like Social Security privatization, global warming and reproductive choices for women.

"I strongly believe the federal government should fund access to women's health services, and I am a completely committed supporter of reproductive choice," Huffman said.

Huffman said his top priority if elected would be to get the economy moving.

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