By Ben van der Meer
SOUTHERN NEVADA COUNTY, Calif. - Every scathing remark and harsh charge that's gone back and forth in the congressional race between Republican Tom McClintock and Democrat Charlie Brown got one more airing Tuesday night.
Speaking at a forum sponsored by the South Nevada County Chamber of Commerce south of Grass Valley, McClintock was painted as a do-nothing career politician and Brown as a tax-loving big-government advocate.
And there was also some talk about issues, mixed in with the shots, though sometimes each answer was equal parts both.
After opening statements, each candidate had two minutes to answer questions submitted by the chamber's board of directors, and later the 100 or so residents in attendance.
Both Brown and McClintock eventually had the opportunity to each give two-minute rebuttals to each other's responses.
The first came when Brown felt obliged to respond to McClintock's assertion that Brown supports an $18 billion tax on oil companies that would be passed onto consumers.
"The tax increase he's talking about it really about taking oil company profits and using them for alternative energy," Brown said. "Tom calls it a tax increase, I call it using money wisely."
But McClintock said businesses find ways to pass added costs - such as taxes - onto consumers, employees and investors. He called for large-scale expansion of offshore oil drilling in addition to promotion of alternative energy - but the latter without government interference.
McClintock also roundly criticized the recently passed Wall Street bailout package, saying the better route was to put liquidity into the market.
Brown countered that he supported the plan because something needed to be done, then made reference to recent Federal Election Commission reports that showed McClintock's campaign in debt.
"You can't even run your own campaign on a balanced budget, so I don't trust you to run our nation's budget," Brown said.
After Brown said restoring the economy was based on giving small businesses a tax break, McClintock countered that it was odd he would say that, since small business and anti-tax groups have largely endorsed McClintock.
"They decided to endorse me because they don't believe you," McClintock said, adding that Brown had refused to sign a no-tax pledge, as McClintock had. "Government does not create jobs. People create jobs through their own private enterprise."
Brown said he hadn't signed the pledge because it was supported by a group that worked with Jack Abramoff, the convicted former federal lobbyist. He also said McClintock was following the playbook of U.S. Rep. John Doolittle (R-Roseville), the retiring congressman whose seat McClintock and Brown seek.
Pointing to his long and well-known record in the state legislature as being anti-tax, McClintock said in rebuttal, "Throwing petty little jabs isn't going to change that."
In answer to a question about subsidies and promoting social welfare, Brown said he thought of Social Security and Medicare - key issues to an audience of mostly retirees - as social contracts that should be enforced.
McClintock agreed, but disagreed with proposals such as raising the retirement age, and asserted that Social Security would work better if payees were given the option to invest in the stock market instead.
Over a 30-year period, he said, the market would outperform any government program. "With every one of our social programs, you see the bureaucracy that's created keeps us from even getting basic care," he said.
Brown took aim at McClintock's record as a state legislator, making reference to a recent Sacramento Bee story that reported McClintock had a perfect record of getting no legislation passed in the last two years.
"This is about actual results, and not talking about what you want to do unless you propose something else you can get passed," Brown said.
The two men also disagreed again over the proposed Auburn Dam, a long-discussed hydroelectric project. McClintock said the project was clean, cheap energy, while Brown dismissed it as too expensive and too long in coming.
Another long-standing charge came when in answer to a question about Iraq, McClintock questioned why Brown went to the home of an anti-war protestor in 2005 where a dummy of a soldier was hung in effigy.
Brown countered by pointing out how McClintock's primary opponent, former U.S. Rep. Doug Ose (R-Sacramento), had criticized McClintock as having one of the worst records on voting for legislation to benefit veterans.
McClintock said Ose had ultimately endorsed him, and that the bills Brown described would've done more harm than good.
This was the fifth and last scheduled debate or forum the two men participated in.