Video of the full debate will be available on YouTube later this week, according to Kevin Hanley, chief executive officer for the Auburn Chamber of Commerce.

With five weeks to go before Election Day, dead trees, water shortages, climate change and campaign financing were among the issues on tap Tuesday morning in a debate between two candidates vying to stand for Calaveras and Tuolumne counties in Congress.

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Roseville, and Dr. Bob Derlet, D-Sonora, took questions from the audience, which filled council chambers at Auburn Civic Center, via moderator Richard Hall, an Auburn attorney and a resident of District 4 since 1985.

The debate started at 7 a.m., and every seat in the hall was filled. Some people stood in the back and in aisles along outside edges of the seat rows. Seated behind a lengthy, curved podium on a short stage where the Auburn city council meets, McClintock and Derlet disagreed on just about every question raised, and each received scattered applause at times in spite of Hall’s admonitions for audience members to refrain from reacting.

The first question dealt with the tree mortality crisis up and down the Sierra Nevada.

“Our forests can support 20 to 80 trees per acre, but they’re now crowded with 260 trees per acre,” McClintock said. “Because of environmental laws passed decades ago we have an 80 percent decrease in timber harvests and a corresponding increase in forest fires. The laws in place have to be changed so we can manage our forests, and Bob is a defender of these laws.”

Derlet disagreed, saying environmental laws are not preventing scientific management of Sierra Nevada forests.

“The role of government is to provide funding to manage our forests,” Derlet said. “I think we need to provide property owners some relief for removing dead and dying trees. We must remove the dead trees so we can have forests for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.”

Each candidate’s response drew hand claps from pockets of people in different parts of the audience. Some members of the audience held up mobile phones to record video or take photos.

The 4th Congressional District includes the counties of Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa and Tuolumne, and portions of Fresno, Madera, Nevada and Placer counties. District 4 is home to more than 700,000 people.

Limited water supply

Asked what is the most important issue facing the 4th District today, McClintock and Derlet both talked about water.

“Water shortages are our fault because of the same environmental laws we’ve passed,” McClintock said. “We stopped building reservoirs to store the water we need. We had to release water from Folsom in February. Had we been able to build the Auburn Dam, we’d have been able to store that water.”

Derlet said reservoirs in the 4th District are holding less water than they’re designed for because many were built too large.

“It will take years and years to fill them,” Derlet said. “We don’t need more dams. Our dams here are at low capacity.”

Again, different people clapped for each candidate’s views, raising the eyebrows of the moderator momentarily.

Campaign financing

Hall introduced a question on campaign financing by pointing out that OpenSecrets.org showed that McClintock had raised more than $788,512 and Derlet had raised $30,714 in contributions as of June 30.

The moderator then asked both candidates what they think of Citizens United, the conservative nonprofit that successfully sued the Federal Election Commission in 2010 to allow political expenditures by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions and other associations.

McClintock said 87 percent of campaign contributions come from individuals. He also said he believes Citizens United stands in defense of everyone’s First Amendment rights. Some audience members hissed softly.

“I like this,” Derlet said. “I would like the congressman to have another debate.”

Derlet went on to say he is opposed to Citizens United.

“Voices of the American people are drowned out when corporate dollars, billionaires and hedge fund managers overwhelm individual Americans,” Derlet said. “We the people must be able to participate. Corporations are not people.”

More scattered applause came from a few in the audience.

Climate change

Asked if climate change is a hoax, McClintock said, “Whenever I hear the science on climate change is settled, I also hear a very vigorous debate among eminent scientists. The story of climate change goes back 4 billion years. We know the planet’s been warming on and off since the Ice Age.”

Derlet said humans cause global climate change and humans need to do something about it.

The debate lasted about 60 minutes. Both campaigns are open to future debates between now and Nov. 8, but no others had been scheduled as of Tuesday morning.

According to Ballotpedia, the median household income in District 4 is $61,303. People who live in the district have a 93 percent high school graduation rate and a 31.2 percent college graduation rate. Unemployment district-wide is 13.2 percent.

The majority of District 4 residents, 86 percent, are white, 4.3 percent are Asian, 1.7 percent are Native American, 1.1 percent are black and 12.6 percent are Hispanic.

The debate was hosted by the Auburn Chamber of Commerce and a group called the Meddlers. The debate started at 7 a.m,. because that is what time the Meddlers normally meet.

Bill Wharton, 70, of Auburn, a member of the Meddlers, said the group was started about 50 years ago. The Meddlers meet weekly and host speakers on a multitude of topics, Wharton said.

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