December 20, 2011 8:58 AM
Natasha Lindstrom, Staff Writer

VICTORVILLE • There were more friendly nods of approval exchanged than competitive sparks flying Monday night as candidates for the High Desert’s new 8th Congressional District faced off at a public debate.

While U.S. Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, stayed silent on whether he’ll run for an 18th term, four Republican candidates have emerged as serious contenders in the June primary: Ryan McEachron, Victorville mayor; Angela Valles, Victorville councilwoman; Bill Jensen, former Hesperia mayor; and Gregg Imus, cofounder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps of California.

Roughly 100 community members showed for Monday’s debate sponsored by Victor Valley College’s Associated Student Body and the nonpartisan Americans for America in the college’s Student Activities Center.

On most overarching issues, the candidates took similar stances, often stating they supported what the previous responder said or they would continue off another responder’s line of thinking.

All four candidates made it clear they adamantly oppose tax hikes, entitlements for illegal immigrants and the Obama administration’s health care reform.

They all said they would seek to shrink bureaucracy, reduce regulation over small businesses, open up more domestic oil drilling and discourage government subsidies for renewable energy projects.

An audience question that seemed to split the candidates: How do you achieve bipartisanship amid a congressional gridlock?

Both Imus, former chief of staff to Tea Party-backed Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, and Jensen, founder of the High Desert Tea Party, said they’d never cross party lines over a principle they believed in.

“I’ve heard people say, ‘I can reach across the aisles and work with the other side …’ The Democrats never compromise, the Republicans always compromise. I say, ‘Republicans, stand firm. Hold your ground, stand up for what you believe in and don’t compromise with the Democrats,’ ” said Imus, a former general contractor who noted he stands out for having never run for public office before. “I say once you stand on a principled issue, tow the line. No matter what, you don’t give in and you don’t cave to the other side.”

Rather than focusing on compromise, the goal should be to “reset the agenda” at the federal level to give the more moderate and conservative Democrats a louder voice, Jensen said.

“I will not compromise on principle,” said Jensen, citing his opposition to partial-birth abortion as an example. “I’m just like a dog with a bone. I will not let go.”

Valles and McEachron said they’d be more willing to compromise — as long as it doesn’t involve tax increases.

“I think if we just work with the attitude, ‘My way or the highway,’ we’re going to have what we have now where nobody’s working together and the government shuts down …” said Valles, who cited her experience in both private and public sectors, including as an Adelanto correctional officer and finance director over Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority. “It doesn’t serve us very well.”

McEachron, CEO of ISU Insurance Services in Victorville, held up a no-tax pledge he’d signed and promised to never vote for a tax increase.

“But that doesn’t mean that you don’t work to get things done in Washington,” said McEachron. He touted his local role in advancing the La Mesa/ Nisqualli interchange. “Voting ‘no’ on everything that comes before you doesn’t get anything done … It’s ineffective leadership, it’s not the way things are done and if you hope to be successful in Washington, D.C., you better work well with others.”

Among the candidates seemed to agree on: Ax the state and federal departments of education, put more resources into ensuring Iran won’t pose a nuclear threat and abolish the Federal Reserve — though Jensen pointed out a dysfunctional Congress taking over control of printing money could cause even more problems.

At the end of the forum, VVC students announced they planned to hold a second debate in March — by which point there should be a more complete picture of the race for the 8th District.

If Lewis opts out, San Bernardino County 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt and Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, have said they’d seriously consider running for the seat.

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