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The Hot Seat: Will Jimmy Panetta Replace Congressman Sam Farr?

Jimmy PanettaA look at the race to replace Sam Farr in Congress in 2016

Voters have come to accept sharply partisan politics in the U.S. Congress, with talking heads more interested in battle than compromise, and occasionally even threatening a government shutdown.

But reasonable discussions do sometimes prevail. That’s what’s refreshing about the race to replace retiring Congressman Sam Farr, (D-Carmel), of District 20 of the U.S. House of Representatives, which has yet to show those laughable extremes often seen in Washington.

Two candidates from Monterey County, both of them Navy veterans, have emerged in the quest to represent the Monterey Bay. And although they come from different parties, their political views are more remarkable for what they share than what they don’t.

Jimmy Panetta, a Democratic deputy district attorney for Monterey County, talks about the need to compromise and aggressively seek common ground, even if it means traveling across the aisle. His opponent Casey Lucius, a Pacific Grove city councilmember, positions herself as an avowedly temperate Republican. Lucius embraces certain conservative tenets like fiscal responsibility in an era of enormous deficits, and a more muscular approach to foreign policy.

At the same time, she balks at the mention of construction projects at the border, and she believes in the need for work visas for undocumented workers. Lucius is pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, acknowledges climate-change science, and wants to bring more affordable housing to the tri-county area. “I think I’ve thrown the Republican Party for a loop,” Lucius says. “My husband and I are vegetarians, animal advocates and environmentalists. When I say I’m a Republican, it throws people off.”

Panetta, out of Carmel Valley, touts interpersonal skills and the experience of growing up in a political household, as opposed to any strict adherence to party dogma. He learned from watching his father Leon Panetta serve the region as a congressman from 1977 to 1993 and later as director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense under President Barack Obama.

“Policy is important. But this game is about people,” Panetta says.

When it comes to foreign affairs, Panetta diverges from the Democratic Party, at least as it relates to Democratic President Barack Obama’s current approach to ISIS and unrest in the Middle East.

“The U.S. Government and U.S. military can be doing more to confront the terror this country faces every day,” Panetta says. “More determination needs to be shown to tackle this issue.”

Panetta says the government should work more closely with allies in the region and increase special operation tactics. He stops short, however, of wanting to put boots on the ground, saying there should be a “lighter footprint to tackle and solve that problem.”

In what amounts to one of the few points of departure between the two candidates, Lucius called for a “multilateral strategy with a coalition” made up of U.S. allies. “But it has to be on the ground, because air strikes are not cutting it,” she says.

Immigration reform is another national issue with significant implications for local economic policy. Although they differ on the scope of reforms, both Panetta and Lucius say the current visa program is in need of an overhaul.

“This area relies on immigrant labor, and there has to be a road map for undocumented workers,” Panetta says, adding that the United States is a nation of immigrants, and, as such, must realize that it needs to tackle comprehensive immigration reform.

Lucius called a comprehensive approach a cop-out, saying it will only sow division and delay progress in areas ripe for compromise, like agriculture.

“You end up doing nothing due to a lack of agreement,” she says. “The agriculture industry needs about 3.2 million workers. Nationwide, we distribute 140,000 visas.”

Both Panetta and Lucius served in the U.S. Navy, and the two use their service to burnish their foreign policy credentials.

Lucius served as a Navy intelligence officer for seven years, during some of which she was stationed outside of Iraq helping to ensure cargo ships were abiding by global sanctions on the embattled country.

Panetta also served as an intelligence officer for a special operations task force after being deployed to Afghanistan in 2007, earning a Bronze Star for his work tracking top Al-Qaeda targets.

Lucius says the number one local issue for Monterey Bay’s representative will be the area’s water supply. The congressional candidate says she would try to remove bureaucratic burdens that get in the way of permitting for water infrastructure projects.

“If I were elected congresswoman, I would pursue funding for water projects, so such projects would not be totally dependent on ratepayers,” Lucius says. “Santa Cruz County needs to address its aging water infrastructure, and I know this is true in Monterey and San Benito counties as well.”

Panetta wants the country to put more federal money into research and development of water projects. That way, he says, the Central Coast can ensure desalinization plants function akin to those in Israel, where they’ve addressed a severe dearth of water, and less like Australia, where they’ve mothballed many of their desal plants.

Panetta says the main area requiring federal representation, though, is the system of new flight paths that have airplanes flying over the Central Coast into San Francisco International Airport. The noise pollution is rankling many Monterey Bay residents.

“This is a demonstration of why people rely on federal reps to intercede on their behalf,” Panetta says, adding that outgoing Congressman Sam Farr was able to serve as a conduit between outraged citizens and the Federal Aviation Administration in attempting to address community concerns.

So far, Panetta and Lucius are the only two candidates to announce. However, potential candidates have until March 11, 2016, according to the Santa Cruz County Elections Department.

Should other candidates enter the fray as either a Democrat or Republican, a primary election would be held on June 7. The general election is slated for Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Lucius says the biggest difference between the two candidates is not policy related, but is deeply ingrained in their personal histories.

“My personal experience growing up in Ohio, we moved around a lot, lived in apartments, survived paycheck to paycheck,” Lucius says. “Because of this, I appreciate affordable housing, what the American Dream means to the people I want to represent. That is the biggest difference between Jimmy and I.”

Panetta does not shy away from his upbringing as the son of a successful politician, saying his firsthand experience of Washington, D.C. will help him seamlessly transition into the role of U.S. representative for the Central Coast, a task he believes he already understands well.

“You serve as the bridge from our home to the federal government and back,” he says. “I saw this growing up, and I see it as a prosecutor. Every day, I serve as the bridge from the community to the courts and ultimately justice. It is a similar type of job that a representative in Congress must do.”


CHOSEN SON Jimmy Panetta, whose father Leon Panetta represented Santa Cruz 20 years ago, is now running for the same spot in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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