Updated July 11, 2017
While the debate in Washington over health care continues, Orange County congressional candidates for the 48th District, which includes Laguna Beach, are ratcheting up their campaigns. And health care is at the forefront of platforms by several candidates.
Three new Democratic challengers – in addition to two already in the ring — declared their intentions to contest the incumbent, Dana Rohrabacher, of Costa Mesa, in 2018.
The new Democrats in the field are a diverse lot: scientist Hans Keirstead, of Laguna Beach; architect and nutritionist Laura Oatman, of Newport Beach; and pilot Tony Zarkades, of Huntington Beach.
Keirstead, who founded the UC Irvine Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center and pioneered the use of stem cells to treat spinal cord injuries, has a unique perspective in understanding complex issues such as health care. “I am a scientist and also a business owner,” said Keirstead, who established and sold several biotech firms and is currently chief executive officer of Aivita Biomedical, of Newport Beach.
Having first-hand experience with single payer health care systems while living in Canada and England, Keirstead described Obama-era health care legislation as a “broad stroke initiative full of flaws.”
Still, he said, “it was starting to work. More Americans were insured than ever before.” He thinks the Affordable Care Act could be “rebuilt.” “It’s a travesty that Trump is crippling the system for partisan reasons,” said Keirstead.
Oatman’s first-hand experience is of a different sort. Without health insurance during the 2008 recession, the architect took up a diet free of animal products. Her improved health prompted the mother of five grown children who is a LEED-certified architect to write the “Whole Earth Diet,” a best seller on Amazon, and found Whole Earth Wellness an online service that promotes a vegan lifestyle.
Zarkades, an airline pilot and former naval aviator, graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and is the father of two, ages 16 and 20. Citing data on the number of people already receiving benefits from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Zarkades believes “a single-payer health care system would be even better than Obamacare.”
He supports legislation to retain U.S. jobs, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and mandatory maternity leave and overtime pay for full-time workers.
He favors adhering to the Paris environmental agreement and a path to citizenship for all crime-free undocumented aliens. The former Marine said his experiences make him more empathetic to veterans than rival candidates.
Harley Rouda, another Laguna Beach resident who declared his candidacy in March, also comes down on the side of universal healthcare. He favors a single-payer system, but believes there will be a market for private insurers to provide additional coverage for those who can afford it.
HB Huddle, a local activist group, hosts a forum between Zarkades and Harley Rouda, on Saturday, July 15, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Huntington Harbor Yacht Club, 3821 Warner Ave., in Huntington Beach.
Another supporter of a single payer health care system is Laguna Beach real estate broker Boyd Roberts, who in February was the first to declare his intent to unseat Rohrabacher. He tilts at many windmills. He established the Impeach Trump Leadership PAC. His platform calls for fully funding Planned Parenthood, scrapping the Citizen’s United court decision and removing nuclear waste from the now-closed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
Super PAC Surfaces
The local political contest is among seven competitive California congressional districts targeted by Fight Back California, established by former congresswoman Ellen Tauscher and Berkeley political consultant Katie Merrill, The Hill reported recently.
The PAC aims to oppose seven Republicans facing midterm elections. They are Jeff Denham of Turlock, David Valadao of Hanford, Steve Knight of Lancaster, Darrell Issa of Vista, Ed Royce of Fullerton, Mimi Walters of Irvine and Rohrabacher, whose district spans sections of coastal Orange County.
A majority of voters in the seven districts supported Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in last November’s presidential election though they also elected Republicans as their congressional representatives.
Super PACs are allowed to raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to advocate for or against political candidates, but they are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates, and their spending must not be coordinated with that of the candidates they benefit, according to opensecrets.com, a site that tracks PACs.
Inez Kaminski of Fight Back California said in an email, “the PAC is not supporting specific candidates. We will be talking to voters and holding Rep. Rohrabacher accountable for voting against his district’s interests.”
As of March, Rouda had nearly matched Rohrabacher with a campaign war chest of $200,183 to the incumbent’s $204,526, according to the most recent FEC filing.
Former OC Republican Party chair Scott Baugh, who has yet to start campaigning, had $548,428.
Oatman, Zakades, Roberts, and Keirstead have not yet filed their second quarter disclosures.
The Federal Election Commission’s next deadline for filing campaign fund disclosures was June 30 and results made public July 15. The Fight Back PAC is registered with the FEC, but has yet to file a financial disclosure.