25th Congressional District Debate
Howard "Buck" McKeon, Republican Incumbent
Fred "Tim" Willoughby, Democratic Challenger
(Election Nov. 2, 2004)

Interview by Tim Whyte
Signal General Manager

Sunday, October 31, 2004
(Television interview conducted October 26, 2004)

Buck McKeon Tim Willoughby     "Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and produced by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
    This week's newsmakers are U.S. Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (left), the Republican incumbent in the 25th Congressional District, and his Democratic challenger, Fred "Tim" Willoughby (right). The debate, held Tuesday, was moderated by Signal General Manager Tim Whyte. Questions are paraphrased and some answers may be abbreviated for length.

Signal: Rep. McKeon won the pregame coin toss; please give us some opening remarks.

McKeon: I want to thank you and The Signal for making this forum possible. I also want to thank Tim Willoughby, my opponent, for making a trip down here, and I want to thank you the listening audience, for taking to the time to listen to us today.
    My wife and I — Patricia — moved into the Santa Clarita Valley a little over 40 years ago with a new baby. We moved into a new home in Bouquet Canyon, and the valley has been very good to us. My mom and dad moved in a short time later, and they started Howard and Phil's Western Wear. Eventually my four brothers and I joined them in that business, and we grew that business to a little over 50 stores by the time I ran for Congress.
    Our oldest daughter that I mentioned earlier, Tamara, was joined by five brothers and sisters and they blessed us with 26 grandchildren. As our children grew, I became more involved in the community. I was always active in our church; I also served on the board of directors of the Canyon Country Chamber of Commerce. I served for nine years as an elected member of the William S. Hart High School board of trustees. I served as a member of the board, and chaired the board, of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, and I helped form and served as chairman of the board of Valencia National Bank.
    When our city was formed,, I was elected to be the first mayor and served on the City Council, and that was a wonderful opportunity. In 1992, the new congressional 25th district was created out of the San Fernando Valley, the Santa Clarita Valley and the Antelope Valley, and I had the fortune of winning that election and (was) given the opportunity to represent this district ever since.
    I've worked hard and I've been able to do a lot of good things, I think, for the district. Early on, we were able to get legislation passed that eliminated Elsmere Canyon as a site for one of the largest landfills of the country. I've been able to bring home millions of dollars for the district, and starting with the victims of the '94 earthquake, funding for infrastructure, of the cross-valley connector, perchlorate cleanup, College of the Canyons, CalArts and many others. We've done many good things, but there's much remaining to be done, and that's why I'm asking for your vote again to represent you in Washington. Thank you.

Willoughby: Thank you again for hosting this debate between Congressman McKeon and myself. And thank you, Congressman McKeon, for being willing to debate. Incumbents don't have much to gain from them, and so I appreciate the fact that you're willing to do this.
    I got into the race for some rather interesting reasons. This is not a career move for me; I didn't intend to be a politician. In fact, what got me going was, like Congressman McKeon, I had a couple of grandchildren and I started looking at America and saying, "What would it be like for my grandchildren when they get to be my age?" And that made me want to get involved in trying to chart the course for our country.
    To me, there are some very long-term issues that are not being addressed in our nation, that if we don't address them now, it won't be good for our own grandchildren. And those are things like health care, our environment, what's happening in our economy — many of those things (are) sort of short-term issues, but there are some profound changes taking place in our world at this time, and I don't feel that we are kind of ahead of the game on it.
    I spend most of my time as a professional, as a teacher and as a principal. And from that experience I've learned a number of things about leadership. Leadership is about having a vision of the future, knowing where you want to go. And leadership is about following through on that vision. And leadership is about getting people together and inspiring them and making things happen.

Photos by Reneh Agha
    I'm new to the Santa Clarita Valley and the Santa Clarita community. Obviously this is your home turf. Congressman McKeon has done an admirable job through his years in the valley. I come from a faraway place. This is a strange district. Congressman McKeon's district has been redrawn to add where I live, which is just south of Mammoth Lakes, Calif. — the eastern Sierra, home of some of the most beautiful scenery in our state. And so it is an interesting district, and one of the most exciting things about this experience for me is that I've spent the last 18 months traveling throughout the district. It is a very large district, as large as some states. It has diverse needs, and I'm here because I would want to represent all of the district.

Signal: Describe your position on Iraq, what our exit strategy ought to be.

Willoughby: Well, unfortunately, we are in Iraq. Congressman McKeon voted for us to go into Iraq. And that is one reason why I entered the race. I would not have voted to enter Iraq. It seemed obvious to me at the time that what would happen is in fact what has happened, which is that the Iraqi population is not happy with our being there.
    So the solutions to Iraq are, unfortunately, limited. I think that we have to prove to the Iraqis that American democracy is what we're trying to bring to them. I don't think we do that by trying to impose on them people like Ahmed Chalabi. If we could provide some more support for indigenous leadership in Iraq, I think we'll have a chance for success.

McKeon: It's a tough situation. When we were attacked on 9-11 — I remember the feeling of what it was like, and I remember that one afternoon, when we gathered on the Capitol steps and our leadership talked to us a little bit, and all these cameras (were) out there, and then they turned and walked away and somebody behind me started to sing, "God Bless America," and, you know, I was overcome with emotion. I wasn't really able to sing. And it really was interesting how we all pulled together and we became Americans again instead of Democrats and Republicans.
    Sadly, that has left the capital again, and we're back to Republicans and Democrats over things. I wish we could fight over internal affairs and pull together when we leave the borders. I had an opportunity to lead a delegation to Iraq last year and I saw our troops in action. I saw the wonderful things they're doing. I saw a school that was open, I saw a lot of progress that the troops were making, and I think that if we can train the Iraqis to defend themselves, then we'll be able to pull back and turn it over to them. We'll be able to create freedom over in that part of the world.

Signal: What do you think are the most pressing domestic issues?

McKeon: Well, I chair the subcommittee on higher education. For me, education is a very important issue, and I've had an opportunity to be on the committee the whole time that I've been in Congress.
    We have the responsibility of reauthorizing the higher education act every five years, and I introduced a bill that I think is — one of the crises is keeping the cost of education down. And it's been going up the last 20 years, four times the rate of inflation, the rate of people's ability to pay, and in some way we need to come together — states, parents, students, federal government, lenders, the schools — everybody has got to come together to resolve this problem. Last year, the cost of education, higher education, went up 15 percent. This year, hopefully, because of the bill I've introduced, some of the things I've talked about, it was 10 percent, which is still too high. That's a major issue we need to address.

Willoughby: I think one of the reasons why college tuitions are going up is simply that our governments, at all levels, are being starved for taxes. With all the tax cuts that are taking place, we don't have the kind of money that it takes to have first-class colleges and universities.
    But I think one of the more important issues ... right now (is) health care. Health care eats up our pocketbooks. Health care limits our employers in terms of their wanting to hire new employees. We have millions of people uninsured, and we've reached a crisis stage. We absolutely have to deal with the health care crisis now.
    Second to that is this huge, tremendous deficit that we're running. The deficit that we're running is so large that it threatens our ability to deal with the coming Social Security situation. It's going to starve our other infrastructure programs that we would like to do, like helping education. It's something we have to come to grips with immediately.

Signal: Rep. McKeon, what do you think should be done about health care?

McKeon: One of the things that we did this last Congress was pass the Medicare prescription drug program. That was over a $400 billion program to help our seniors. When Medicare was first passed, prescription drugs (were) a very small part of treatment. Now it's become a large part, and prescription drugs need to be included in the formula.
    Seniors, last June, were able to get a discount card, which would amount to about a 25-percent savings on their prescription drugs. In 2006 the full program will roll in, which is very necessary for our seniors. One of the other great things that happened ... was health savings accounts, which let people set aside money for their own health services, which eventually is the thing we have to do. We have to get rid of the third-party influence. That's one of the big things that's driving the cost of health care up.

Signal: Mr. Willoughby, what do you think can be done to ensure the future of Social Security?

Willoughby: Well, as I just mentioned, one of the single-most threatening elements to Social Security right now is the half-a-trillion-dollar deficit that we're running each year. Currently, we're using Social Security excess money coming in to cover more of that deficit. As you and I get to be the age that where we're drawing Social Security, the situation is going to reverse. We may need to pull money out of the general fund to cover Social Security. Well, we won't be able to do that if we are paying down a deficit. So we absolutely have to bring down that deficit.

McKeon: In the '50s when, early on, Social Security was new, there were about 15 people paying in for every 1 drawing benefits. Now we're down to about 2-1/2 people paying in for every 1 drawing benefits. It used to be a cash cow, and at election time, representatives would add benefits. They would increase the money that was going out, because they had more money coming in than going out.
    They can't do that anymore. In fact, a few years ago they tried to fix it. They cut the benefits, they extended the period before people could receive Social Security, and they keep raising the taxes on Social Security. We really need to address it, hopefully, early next Congress. We can do a meaningful reform to Social Security.
    I have a bill in that fixes a correction that retired teachers and federal workers (who) participate in other retirement plans don't participate in Social Security, and when they retire their Social Security is hit even though they pay into Social Security. And I'm hopeful that when we reform Social Security, we can also address that problem.

Signal: So far, the public has been paying for the cleanup activity at the former Whittaker-Bermite munitions site in Santa Clarita, where they used to blow things up. Perchlorate, a rocket fuel component, has seeped into the groundwater. Rep. McKeon has obtained federal funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the contamination; the Castaic Lake Water Agency is paying, as well; and several lawsuits seek to force the polluters to pay for the cleanup. A philosophical question: What is the relative responsibility of the public, the polluters, the current landowner, and the water utilities?

McKeon: Well, like I said, I moved here 40 years ago. I remember when they were blowing things up and periodically people would get blown up out there, and it has been a problem as we became a city. That's like the center of the boundaries of the city — it's like the hole in the donut — and we need to get that cleaned up. It has affected our water; we have four wells that have been contaminated with the perchlorate in the water. I think that the federal government bears a burden on helping to clean that up, and that's why I brought between $10 million and $11 million so far for studying the cleanup, and I have a bill in now to authorize another $10 million — did I say billion?


Signal: If you did, it got right past me —

McKeon: Well, I think it's another $10 million to finish up the final studying plan, and $25 million for the cleanup. Hopefully we can get that passed early in the next session.

Willoughby: I haven't had to live with the ammonium bicarbonate, and I'm glad that I haven't. It's a serious threat to the water system in this valley — something that could spread. And every drop of water is needed in this valley.
    I know Congressman McKeon has been working on this for some time, and I applaud him for bringing some money to the solution. But again, I go back to part of my reason for running: I think it's about leadership. It takes more than just a little bit of money to solve this problem, because as you said, there are so many agencies involved.
    This has been going on for a long time. Congressman McKeon has had a chance to solve it and it hasn't been solved. I think the EPA should be the lead agency on this. I think they should — if we're going to pass a bill, let's get a bill to pass a timeline on the EPA so that everyone knows when this process can be completed.
    One of the things that is involved in this is the Department of Defense. And now, of course, the Department of Defense is now trying to say that they're not responsible for cleanup in any military site for these kinds of materials. So I think it's important to have someone who really believes that this can be solved, and provide the leadership with all the agencies to get it done.

McKeon: If I might just follow up just a second on that — to me, $10 million is still a lot of money. I've been in Washington for quite a while, but $10 million is a lot of money, and it's a big problem. But the study has shown that the spread has been contained now within the four wells, and we're starting to make good progress on this. I just wanted to follow up just a little on that.

Signal: The cross valley connector has been touted as a much-needed link between the east and west sides of the Santa Clarita Valley. Critics say it'll just benefit the corporate interests of our largest local developer, and impact the environment. What's your position?

Willoughby: Well, again, I know Congressman McKeon has brought some money to that project, but I, again, from the little that I do know about it, I do know that most of who will benefit from it are new land development, and the new land development should be involved in helping to pay for that road.
    I think if we're going to try to bring in some federal tax dollars — and again, I have to represent the whole 25th Congressional District, not just Santa Clarita — but it seems to me that if we're going to bring in a lot of federal money to the area, we need to bring it in to benefit all the people who live in this area. And I think that the 5-14 interchange, and all the traffic problems of everyone who has to commute in and out of the valley from Los Angeles and to transfer through the state, that that probably should receive more priority.

McKeon: You know, we moved out here in 1964, and I remember when we bought our home, they said that the cross-valley connector was going to go through the next year. That was to connect (state Route 126) to Soledad Canyon and the other side of the valley. We're now getting it built. We're finally building the bridge across Soledad Canyon that will carry the traffic from (state Route) 14 across Via Princessa and eventually connect up in the Santa Clarita River and connect up to the 14.
    It's very important to have that connection for our valley. Remember the accident that we had last year that tied up Soledad Canyon for hours and you couldn't get from one side of the valley to the other? When I moved out here, we had a triangle: We had San Fernando Road, Soledad, and Sierra Highway. We still have the same triangle. We don't have another way to get across east-west or north-south, and we need this. It's very important to the area.
    While I've been able to bring several millions of dollars, it's a small portion. The developers' fees have paid millions into this project, and it's not just to help the developers; it's very important to the people that are trying to get to work that live in Sand Canyon, trying to get the Industrial Center. It's important to get across town.

Signal: Let's talk about Cemex, the giant sand and gravel mine that's planned for the east side of the valley. What should happen next?

McKeon: Back in 1990, the (Bureau of Land Management) signed a contract with Southdown (Corp.) to mine aggregate out of the Soledad Canyon area between Canyon Country and Agua Dulce. It would be the largest aggregate mine in the history of the country. They have found that there's about 56 million tons of aggregate there; they have to dig 72 million tons to get the 56 out. They'll take a whole mountain down.
    Southdown was very arrogant about it. Their attitude was, "We're going to do it, no matter what." They contacted congressmen around the country. (The congressmen would) come to me and say, "What is this?" and I'd say, "Don't do anything to help them on it."
    The battle was getting it approved through — they had to get approved through the county. The county voted 5-0 against it. They finally worked out a deal. It went into the courts; they finally settled it. We're still fighting to hold that back.
    The city leadership has spent a lot of money trying to fight that. I got the city leadership, Cemex and BLM together in my office, and now they are working together to work out an agreement. If they do, they'll get it to me and we'll put it in legislation and hopefully cut the size of that mine.

Willoughby: Let me first say that what Congressman McKeon said — the one little thing that is most important for people to hear — and that is, (this) would be the largest mine of that sort in the country. What's even more significant is what the real problem — I mean, it's one thing to have trucks rolling through your neighborhood, but it's even more of a problem when they're doing blasting. The blasting that would be done up there would put particulate matter into the air that would be very harmful to people.
    I know about this, because my father died of the disease that you get from that kind of blasting: silicosis. So, we cannot have that in this valley. You cannot have that in any urban center in our country.
    But yes. I do think that there is a little different approach there. Congressman McKeon put in a bill — which I believe didn't have any co-sponsors — asking for the Secretary of the Interior to do something about this. Well, our Secretary of the Interior is pro-mining. I don't think anything is going to happen there. I do know, there is precedent for buying back mineral leases. And I think that we could push — that there would be a larger base of people who would want to work with this, because of situations in other parts of the country, to buy back leases like this.

Signal: Before he was first elected in 1992, Rep. McKeon said he planned to stay in office a maximum of eight or ten years, and he was in favor of term limits. Mr. Willoughby, what's your position on congressional term limits?

Willoughby: Well, I don't believe in term limits, because I think that if you have a good representative and they're doing good work, they should stay there.
    I'm not running to make a career out of this, so I wouldn't want to make any predictions at how long I'd stay in if I was elected.

Signal: Mr. McKeon?

McKeon: I'm glad you gave me a chance to refute that. I've heard that I said that; I did not say that.

Signal: It ran in The Signal.

McKeon: That clarifies it, thank you. I never said that. I said that — when people asked me, "How long do you want to stay there?" I'd say, "I would probably stay 10 to 12 years." But I've found that now that I'm senior member on committees, and in the next Congress, the following Congress, (I will) have an opportunity to be chairman of the full Education Committee, I could do much more for the district and be more effective.
    I think we have term limits. They're two years. Every two years we face the voters. Every two years, they have a chance to turn over the whole Congress. And people say, "Well, it's hard to beat an incumbent." In 1994, the speaker of the House was beat. Very powerful committee chairmen were beat. So it can happen.

Signal: Closing remarks?

Willoughby: As Congressman McKeon pointed out, incumbents do lose, sometimes. Two percent of the time, in fact. And I hope that I'll be that 2 percent, if you would vote for me. I'm running for Congress with the pledge that I'm not now taking money from any PAC, nor will I to stay elected. I look to the future. I look to long-term solutions, and I believe in leadership to solve problems.

McKeon: Thank you (again). I appreciate the opportunity to spend a few minutes showing the differences in our views. You can see that there are some differences, and some things that we're not too far different on. But I think, what it comes down to is, I have the experience; I know what the issues are; I know how to make things happen in Washington. I've had important bills passed. I've been a good representative for the area, and I'm healthy and enjoying it and continue to be challenged by it. And I would appreciate your vote and the opportunity to continue serving you in Washington. Thank you.

    See this interview in its entirety today at 9 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

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