Sunday evening, Oct. 5, the candidates for U.S. Congressional District 36 (which encompasses the Hill) debated before a television audience in Palm Desert.

Incumbent Democratic Rep. Dr. Raul Ruiz and state Republican Assemblyman Brian Nestande answered a series of questions from a panel of three desert reporters.

While the debate began with friendly overtures and a handshake between the two candidates, tensions built as the one-hour debate wound down.

The debate began with opening statements from each candidate. Going first, Nestande posed the traditional Reagan question probing voter feelings.

“Do you believe our country is moving in the right direction?” he asked rhetorically. Then answered, “I don’t. Bigger government is a smaller paycheck.”

Throughout the evening, Nestande continued to emphasize the economy and government spending.

Ruiz’s message was his profession as an emergency room physician rather than a career politician. “Washington is broken because of career politicians interested in political bickering and games rather than getting things done.”

The first question asked about their positions on immigration. Ruiz answered first, “It’s a privilege not a right for immigrants to live in this country.” He added, “Every sovereign nation has the right to protect its borders.”

Comprehensive immigration reform is Ruiz’s priority and he stressed that he opposes amnesty.

In his rebuttal, Nestande argued that comprehensive reform was a long-term process that could take years. In contrast, he supports immediate legislation to secure the borders.

Later in the evening, he stated, “There’s a big difference between Congressman Ruiz and myself on securing the borders. It’s not just kids and mother coming across the borders.”

He advocated using technology such as sensors as part of the solution rather than the government relying solely on more troops or police. “It’s not an engineering problem, but a political problem,” he added.

The panelists also inquired about tax positions. The first of these questions asked the candidates’ views on maintaining many of the tax deductions.

Ruiz’s answer was that of the traditional politician in calling government spending out of control and favoring fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets. Without identifying a specific solution, he charged Nestande with wanting to “… balance the budget on the backs of the seniors and the middle class.”

In his response, Nestande characterized Ruiz’s comments as “good talking points, but they match his record.” Eventually, he stated directly that he would not support eliminating the current mortgage deduction.

Another question addressed the candidates’ views on the Affordable Care Act. Answering first, Nestande spoke to his bill in the state Assembly, which would have required legislators to chose a medical plan for the California exchange. “We should have legislators live under the laws they pass,” he said.

Nestande also referred to the ACA problems during its inception last fall such as the cancelation of many individual policies.

While he opposes the law, he did not put its repeal on his priority list, he said.

The current high-profile educational issue — Common Core standards — was the subject of a question, too.

“I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for high-quality education,” Ruiz said. “Education is very important. It’s the center of American democracy. Education is a very important pillar of the American dream we all are trying to achieve.”

In his comments, Nestande responded, “The problem with Common Core is that California had to lower its standards.” He stressed his long-standing support for career and technical education programs in the school systems.

One of the final questions addressed their positions on legalizing marijuana use. Replying first, Ruiz stated, “I don’t support legalizing marijuana throughout the nation … In the emergency room, I got teenagers coming for accidents and pain, then asking for marijuana.”

“I’m against legalization of pot,” Nestande simply said.

In response to a question about the drought, Ruiz blamed global change as man-caused and urged recycling water better.

Nestande referred to his support of assembly Democrats’ bills for ground-water measures. He also urged construction more storage facilities — dams. “That’s what’s missing in the [drought] equation,” he said.

Other topics raised during the hour included renewal energy, gun ownership (both support), the debt ceiling, Ebola, earthquake preparation and gay marriage (both candidates said they support marriage equality).

The full debate may be seen at