US Senate candidates Harris and Sanchez on the issues

California Attorney General Kamala Harris at a U.S. Senate debate at KPBS in San Diego, May 10, 2016.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris at a U.S. Senate debate at KPBS in San Diego, May 10, 2016.
Milan Kovacevic/KPBS

In November, voters will get a chance to elect a new U.S. senator for California. That hasn't happened in 24 years.

Competing for retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer's seat are two Democrats — California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange County.

Both participated in a debate hosted by KPBS before the June primary as part of California Counts.

The two candidates weighed in on climate change, jobs, college affordability and immigration. Here are their answers in text and in videos.

Do you support current environmental laws and what action would you take to either strengthen or demolish them?


Kamala Harris:"I have been very proud as attorney general of California to be the only one on this stage to have actively defended California's environmental laws against extraordinary attacks, in particular fueled by the oil industry. And, I'll say this, I'm very proud to have the endorsement in this race of the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and the Sierra Club, and I believe that part of the endorsement comes from a track record of having defended California's climate change laws and also looking at what we need to do to go forward. I say California is the canary in the coal mine on this issue, and California will be the solution for our nation and for this globe in particular on what we have done around water, in terms of recycling, conservation, what we need to do around capturing storm water, and desalination. All of that work actually is being done right here in San Diego. San Diego is one of the models for the state and the country. We have to have more leadership that's about showing also this is about not only public health, it's about jobs, build up the infrastructure to supply us with water. We're going to have jobs. But also it's a national security issue. Right now wars are being fought over oil. In a short matter of time, they will be fought over water. Let's take this seriously. California can be the leader."

Loretta Sanchez: "Well, I will say that I have 20 years in the Congress defending the environmental rights of our citizenry. I have a 100 percent voting record on the environment. We need to fight greenhouse gas emissions. The fight of the future will be over water. We need to incentivize new technology, we need to invest, we need to enforce the Clean Air Act and we need to put California's emission standards across our nation. But we can't do it alone. We need to do it with the rest of the world. That's why (the) Paris (climate conference) was so important. It was a beginning accord, and we need to ensure that we put the money and we put the help for other countries, because cutting our gas emissions is not enough anymore. This is about our entire planet."

What would you do to create higher paying jobs in California and your take on the $15-an-hour minimum wage law?


Kamala Harris:"I absolutely support the $15-an-hour minimum wage law. Federal minimum wage right now is $7.25 an hour. That's less than $15,000 a year. Two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. So, if she's a mom trying to keep a roof over the head and food on the table, she's probably holding down two jobs. That means she's not spending a whole lot of time with those children that she actually wants to spend more time with. But because she has to feed them, she's got to work two jobs. We've got to change the system. In terms of what we also have to do, we have to understand the ladder of economic opportunity is broken in this country. But it can be fixed. One of the proposals that we have to take seriously is closing corporate tax loopholes. We need to look at what we're doing around creating tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas. What we have to do is support small businesses. I fully support the idea of tax credits for RND, for research and development, and what we need to do around tax credits for folks in the film industry. And we also need to do a number of other things that are about investing in renewable energies, in jobs of the 21st century. California can be a leader for the country on that. And also bring back the federal infrastructure dollars around what we need for transportation and water."

Loretta Sanchez:"I just want to state that I was the only one to endorse the fight for $15 initiative. Didn't put my finger in the wind to see where people were. I did it, and I fought for it. I made no excuses as I have voted for each and every minimum wage raise in Washington, D.C. So here is what I would do for our economy, pass comprehensive immigration reform. It's about our economy. Secondly, invest in education, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the arts also. But without putting on that student loan debt on our kids. And so free community college. And infrastructure, transportation, conveyance of water to all Californians, and energy, alternative energy, we make good jobs in that. We invest in our economy. We invest in productivity. And more importantly, if we do it right, we protect our environment."

What do you think should be done, if anything, to address immigration in this country?


Loretta Sanchez: "Certainly, we absolutely need comprehensive immigration reform. It's the moral imperative of our time. It's about a good economy, it's about family values, keeping families together, and it's about homeland security. And we need all of those pieces. We've worked a lot on the security issue. We went from 4,000 Border Patrol (agents) more or less to almost 24,000 Border Patrol (agents) in the time that we've been trying to ensure our border's OK. But, you know what? It's time to do right by the families. We need to give them papers to be here, and we need to keep our families together. And for the future, we need to make programs. We need to redo our Visa programs. I am the co-chair of the task force on immigration for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. I have worked on these. I have looked for the votes. It is time to pass comprehensive immigration reform."

Kamala Harris: "Well, first of all, if you're not Native American, we're all immigrants, so let's start there. And I would say that immigration reform and the need for comprehensive immigration reform is the front-and-center, civil-rights issue of our day, and certainly California has an outsized stake in the outcome of this issue. We have more immigrants than any other state in the country, documented and undocumented. And the fact that there are folks on this stage and in other places scapegoating our immigrants is really not in the best interest of our country. So here's what I say we have to do: We have to pass comprehensive immigration reform. I know the work that I've done with immigrants in the state of California on this issue, be it getting legal assistance for unaccompanied minors or directing local law enforcement, that they should make decisions in the best interest of security for their community and that does not require them to comply with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainers. And look at this in terms of the impact to our economy. When we pass comprehensive immigration reform in this country, California will benefit within three years by $5 billion and 600,000 jobs. It's just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do and we will all benefit from it. Let's stop doing us and them. Let's bring all of these folks out of the shadows and into the sunlight and be true to the values that we have as a country."

What would you do to make obtaining a university degree more affordable for those who want to go to college?


Loretta Sanchez: "Well, as you know, I went to school on a Pell grant, I went on a student loan, I went with the help of the Rotary Club of Anaheim, and I worked. So here's what I would do to make it more affordable for you. One, I carry the bill in the House to double the size of the Pell grant. I have voted to subsidize and lower the interest costs on loans, and I'm working with somebody at HUD (Housing and Urban Development) to try to figure out a refinance program, so people just like your parents refinance their homes to a lower interest rate, so people can do that. Community college, guys, should be free. That's what President Obama wants to do, and that's what I want to do. And, we also put four-year programs in some community colleges, so that it would cost less for people to get diplomas. That's happening at Santa Ana Community College in my district. By the way, we're also going to make a year free of tuition for our students."

Kamala Harris: "So, first of all, I want to thank you for that question because I think too many of our students have not been heard or seen, so thank you for raising that voice. I can tell you about the work I've done, first of all. I went after the for-profit college Corinthian that was engaged in predatory lending practices. So, many young people like you, who wanted to get an education but instead were given false promises and no opportunity for employment. So, first of all, we've got to hold the for-profit colleges accountable that are engaged in predatory practices. We need free community college. We need to increase Pell grants. We need to refinance student loan debt. You know that's the only loan debt that we don't refinance. We refinance homeowner debt. We refinance car loans. Let's refinance student loans. Let's understand that California kids are graduating, 70 percent of them $30,000 to $40,000 in debt. Let's realize that Pell grants right now are only $5,500 a year, but yet the average UC tuition is $30,000 to $40,000 a year. It's not fair."

Note: Three Republicans also participated in the May debate at KPBS, but none won enough votes to compete in November. In statewide races in California, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, go on to the general election.


Series: California Counts

California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what's important to the future of California.

Read more in this series and let us know your thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #CACounts.