By Deb Murphy

Inyo County voters got a taste of the five candidates running for the House of Representatives Tuesday evening in Independence’s Legion Hall.

Hosted by the Independence Civic Club, the forum was much more civilized than the national arena despite the presence of a former Minuteman and a Sierra Club member.
Incumbent Paul Cook was represented by written statements and responses to three prepared questions read by moderator Rose Masters. Democrat John Pinkerton was represented by Al Morrissette. Republican Tim Donnelly and Democrats Rita Ramirez and Roger La Plante were on hand in person.

The opening statements went a long way in defining the candidates. Pinkerton, a San Bernardino resident since 1992, is a school counselor and president of the Victor Valley College Board of Trustees. Morrissette described him as a Kennedy-type Democrat, moderate to conservative by today’s standards.

Donnelly feels the greatest threat to the future is our government. He intends to kick government off our land. Ramirez, a Twenty-nine Palms resident, is a former educator whose family came to this country in 1900. La Plante, retired from the Army, is a veterans’ advocate for the VFW and Sierra Club member who wants to “get back to citizen leadership.

Cook, already a well-known entity in Inyo, provided no opening statement.

In response to the first question, do the candidates support more Wilderness designations and what can be done to offset the fact only 1.7-percent of the County is in private ownership, La Plante zeroed in on the City of Los Angeles piece of the Inyo pie, noting that the City “needs to back off and let Inyo have more say so.” In terms of federally held land, he felt the lands have to be taken care of but there needs to be a better balance.

Cook said the lands had to be managed to benefit Inyo citizens and Wilderness Study Areas, mired in red tape, should be released.

Donnelly would use “any means necessary to restore lands to private ownership” for things like mining and manufacturing. He also felt Los Angeles was an immoral bully.

Ramirez was not in favor of new Wilderness designations. She went on to say the community should decide what it wanted through community plans, keeping what made the area unique and building on tourism and recreation.

Morrissette, speaking for Pinkerton, said the answer was small business development.

On immigration, Donnelly, founder of the largest Minute Man group in the nation, wanted to close the border and fix the immigration system. La Plante also wanted to fix the system, but with compassion. Pinkerton’s statement was that the benefits outweigh the costs. Cook’s position was controlling borders meant controlling terrorism. For Ramirez, “when you look at immigrants you see future Americans.”

The final question covered political compromise, despite the political ramifications. Ramirez, La Plante and Pinkerton came out on the side of finding common ground to accomplish goals. Donnelly said political correctness was a bad thing. He explained the reason he entered the race against Cook was the incumbent’s vote to approve money for Syrian refugees. “Now jihad is next door.”

Cook called politicians who just voted no “do-nothing grandstanders.” But the one thing he wouldn’t compromise on was funding for veterans and the military. Anticipating Donnelly’s response to the question, he stated that the funding bill for Syrian refugees also included funding to fight ISIS.

Following a short intermission, the candidates responded to audience submitted questions.

All four confirmed that the U.S. Constitution, not the Supreme Court, was the law of the land.

Donnelly and Ramirez would not support a military draft. La Plante said the military “saved his life,” and that “a lot of kids would benefit from military or civil service.”

On the question of restoring the Mining Rights Act and dredging in rivers, La Plante, Ramirez and Pinkerton weren’t in favor; Donnelly had no answer.

On the Internal Revenue Service, Donnelly wanted to abolish the service, calling it a “standing army.” La Plante thought that was highly irresponsible. Speaking for Pinkerton, Morrissette said tax laws should be revised and revamped. Ramirez reminded the audience that if you want social programs, you have to pay for them.

They all felt liberty was more important than security.

On fossil fuels vs. renewable energy. Ramirez, La Plante and Pinkerton went with renewable energy. Donnelly said climate change was a hoax and a euphemism for more government control. He also said he put his faith in God since He said He wouldn’t destroy the world with a flood.

The final question: What accomplishment would make your first term in office a success?

La Plante: preserving the social safety net.

Donnelly: seeing the battle between freedom and tyranny shift in favor of freedom.

Ramirez: education, increase in COLA for Social Security recipients, subsidized senior housing, reformed immigration policies and equal pay for women.

Pinkerton: education and jobs.

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