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The Sentinel today kicks off its Elections 2012 coverage with a look at where David Valadao, John Hernandez and Blong Xiong, candidates for the 21st Congressional District, stand on key issues like deficits, taxes, the role of government, the economy, high-speed rail and agriculture.

It’s all part of our Election 2012 coverage in each Thursday and Saturday edition of The Sentinel as we count down to the June 5 election. We’ll look at other key races Kings County voters will weigh in upcoming issues and explore the positions held by those candidates:

* May 3: 32nd Assembly District

* May 5: Kings County Board of Supervisors, District 2

* May 10: Kings County Board of Supervisors, District 5

* May 12: Kings County Superior Court Judge

The top two candidates in the congressional race in June will meet again in November. Kings County voters make up about 24 percent of the district, which also includes parts of Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties.

Valadao, a Republican finishing his first term in the state Assembly, looks likely to advance, making the real battle here between Democrats Xiong, a Fresno city councilman, and Hernandez, CEO of the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

DEFICITS

How do you propose to deal with the mounting federal deficit? What specific cuts or new taxes do you support?

VALADAO: The government should never spend more money than it takes in. We cannot saddle future generations with insurmountable debt. Entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare need to be reformed and set on a path of sustainability. If elected, I would make our growing federal deficit a priority and join with other like-minded legislators to address this important issue.

XIONG: The question is: what spending is needed? What spending is not? What programs can be more efficient? Which ones need expanding or deleting? The answer starts by making your goal a more efficient, economically sound system that helps the Valley. Here is what the answer is not: when you make budget balancing decisions an excuse for finger-pointing. I will never forget that this is about real people, especially Valley people, and not about politics.

HERNANDEZ: I would like to take this opportunity to inform your readers that the 21st District is the poorest congressional district in the entire country. There is almost no middle class here, because so many of our residents are living under the poverty level. As your congressman, I will do away with the Bush tax cuts, and I will support taxing the 1 percent in order to alleviate the economic strain on the 99 percent. I will protect funding for our schools, for green energy, for our health care system, for our infrastructure and for the expansion of our transportation system. I will not make any cuts that would have a negative effect on working families or on residents in this district.

ROLE OF GOVERNMENT

What is the role of government in general and the federal government specifically? Do you advocate more or less government? What areas should the federal government be involved in and what areas are better left to the states?

VALADAO: The federal government’s role in our life should be as limited as possible. There are a few things, like national security, that should be handled at the federal level. Government should be as close as possible to the people, where voters can most easily hold their representatives accountable for their actions.

XIONG: The political answer is that government should be involved in everything I want and get out of everything I don’t want. The trouble is that simple approaches like that lead to political gridlock and nothing changes. I believe the answer isn’t more government or less, it’s about more efficient government. Please refer to my answer to the previous question.

HERNANDEZ: We rely on government to address the matters that the private economy overlooks. The federal government deals with federally funded programs. While I believe that our current government structure is effective, we need to hold our government accountable, and I will be a strong supporter of oversight. I believe that our federal government should have jurisdiction over federal issues and that our state government should have jurisdiction over state issues.

ECONOMY/JOBS

What steps would you take to stimulate the economy and create jobs?

VALADAO: The government does not create jobs. I will support efforts to encourage private sector job growth. I will work to remove burdensome regulations that hurt small businesses.

XIONG: I know firsthand what it means to have a job and work hard. You don’t start as a refugee camp survivor without knowing that survival is an everyday fight. This influences everything I do for my family and Valley families. And I believe it shows voters how hard I will work for investment in the Valley that brings good-paying jobs, builds our infrastructure and moves us away from low-paying service jobs. More water means more jobs. So does investment in our road and schools. Our economy and the future opportunities of our children depend on increasing Valley residents’ access to good schools and their ability to learn new skills, gain entry to higher education institutions and compete with other students in California, the U.S. and globally.

HERNANDEZ: I will support the high-speed rail project and I will fight to get federal funds to aid this project. I will work to get funding for improvements to education, for improvements to our infrastructure, and to promote green energy. Funding for these improvements will stimulate the economy and lead to more jobs. The more roads to build and improve, the more jobs. The more bridges and interstates to build and improve, the more jobs. The more wind turbines and solar panels to be built, the more jobs and the more businesses that will have lower utility costs, which will lead to more jobs and better health care coverage and benefits. I will work to get federal funding for projects and improvements that will bring more jobs to this struggling district.

HEALTH CARE

Do you support Obamacare or would you vote to eliminate it or change it? What steps would you take to make sure the American health care system is improved?

VALADAO: I oppose Obamacare. The best way to make health care more accessible is by encouraging competition in the marketplace in order to drive down costs. Creating another government bureaucracy to mandate health care on taxpayers will only increase costs.

XIONG: The issue isn’t a bill or a bill author. It is access to health care when you need it. It is the right to make your own health care decisions in consultation with your doctor rather than having an insurance company accountant decide what treatment you get. If the court strikes down all or part of the current health care reform, those are the areas I will concentrate on. This should not be a political issue. It should be regarded as a quality-of-life issue for real people. Valley people.

HERNANDEZ: I prefer to use the piece of legislation’s proper name, which is the Affordable Care Act. I support the Affordable Care Act, and if elected, I will work to make health care more affordable and accessible to everyone. We can improve that legislation. We need to make sure that everyone has coverage for preventative medicine and mental health needs. If elected, I will protect Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. These are federally funded health services that our seniors cannot live without. It is important to make sure that nobody falls through the cracks, and that includes our brave young men and women returning home from Afghanistan.

HIGH-SPEED RAIL

Do you support or oppose the California high-speed rail project? What steps would you take regarding high-speed rail and other transportation issues?

VALADAO: High-speed rail is an interesting idea for European cities that are hundreds of years old and very compact. Not in California, not now, and not through our homes and farms. I have serious concerns about the ballooning costs of the project, the Authority’s failure to deal with those in the Central Valley with respect, the outrageous ridership assumptions and a business plan based on fantasy financing. My strategy to dissolving the project is to cut off the money by either a vote of the Legislature or putting the question back to the voters.

XIONG: High-speed rail that starts construction in the Valley means Valley jobs. While the current plan has real flaws, I would rather see people continue working to fix them than condemning the project and ignoring the real fact that no one has proposed anything else with the same potential to help the Valley economy and put Valley residents to work.

HERNANDEZ: I am the only vocal supporter of the California high-speed rail project in this race. I am supporting this project because the construction of this railway will bring many working-class jobs to this district and the San Joaquin Valley. While this is primarily a state issue, this district will need a strong advocate in Washington, D.C. to fight for federal funding to aid this project. I will make it a priority to work with those involved on the local and state level. I will do everything in my power to make sure that this project proceeds so we can bring more jobs to the district. I will also make it a priority to improve our infrastructure and expand our transportation system. We need to make sure that our roads and bridges are safe and in good condition.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENTAL

What is your stance regarding America’s energy policy and environmental issues?

VALADAO: We should develop domestic energy right here in the United States. I favor an “All of the Above” approach: fossil fuels, renewable energy and nuclear. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been abused by radical environmentalists to stop development, including agriculture. ESA must be reformed in order to provide a better balance between responsible growth and protecting the environment.

XIONG: Our Valley has created many jobs as a result of its rich energy resources, supplying the state with oil and gas to meet our needs and developing new sources of renewable energy such as hydropower, wind and natural gas. I support the continued development of our own renewable energy resources and a practical, reasonable energy plan that moves us towards greater independence.

HERNANDEZ: The oil and gas industry plays a critical role in the 21st district, and I will support it. At the same time, it is clear that our environment is in trouble. I will be a strong advocate for promoting alternative energy, and I will work to increase the number of our wind turbines and solar panels on residential and commercial property. I will also work to protect our environment so our future generations can have clean air, clean water and cost-efficient green energy.

AGRICULTURE

What is your position on the key issues facing agriculture, including water, food safety and farm labor/immigration issues?

VALADAO: Our food source is not only an economic issue; it is also a national security issue. Ensuring that the Central Valley has a reliable water supply will protect our domestic food supply and the thousands of jobs that rely on our industry. Those of us in agriculture must continue to educate our urban friends and policy makers about the importance of our industry.

XIONG: Agriculture is based on two things. Water and farm labor. Without either, agriculture collapses and takes our Valley economy with it. I will never turn my back on either issue. I will fight for every drop of water — for homes and businesses. And I will work for immigration reform that recognizes that all the people who work in agriculture are human beings.

HERNANDEZ: I will support our farmers and oppose the regulation of water by the state. We need to give farmers access to water for their crops. A great example of the United States Department of Agriculture’s laws and regulations working was found here in Hanford. A case of mad cow disease was found in a dairy cow in a rendering facility. Because of the USDA’s laws and regulations that prohibit the high-risk parts of cows from being sold and handled, no one was at risk from the animal. Finally, I am in favor of immigration reform and in favor of a path to citizenship. I am a supporter of the Dream Act, and as a member of the Hispanic community, I will be an advocate on this issue. I also support the water bond on the ballot in November.

SUMMARY

Why are you running for this office, and why do you think you are the best candidate in this race?

VALADAO: I am running for Congress because it provides me the best opportunity to secure a reliable water supply for the Central Valley and encourage private sector job growth. I have lived in the 21st District my entire life. I feel I am best equipped to represent the Central Valley in Congress.

XIONG: Being an immigrant, especially a refugee camp survivor, gives me the perspective to love America and the Valley — but also the belief that we must earn the privilege of being here through our public service. No candidate in this race has the long-term public service record I do — especially for the Valley’s working families. When it comes to speaking up for the Valley in Congress, no one will outwork me.

HERNANDEZ: I am running for the U.S. House of Representatives because the voters in the 21st District need a leader who will stand up and fight for the middle class. As your congressman, I promise to bring long-term, sustainable jobs to the district and to hold my ground when it comes to protecting the environment, working families, unions, seniors, veterans and women’s rights. There are some big differences between myself and my opponents. I am the only candidate who has been a lifelong registered Democrat. I’m the only candidate who has been a vocal supporter of high-speed rail. I also happen to be the only Democrat in this race who has the ability and constituency support to win in November.

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