Friday, Oct. 27, 2006 | What was billed as a “friendly town meeting” at times seemed more like a dogfight as U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray and Francine Busby accused each other of being the subject of ongoing criminal investigations and sparred over the environment, immigration reform and the Iraq war.

Recent polls show the race is close and neither Bilbray nor Busby pulled any punches in what will likely be their last television appearance together before Election Day. The candidates for California’s 50th Congressional District squared off Thursday afternoon during a taping of an episode of “San Diego People” scheduled to air Sunday at 10 a.m. on KUSI.

Busby continued to try to link Bilbray to an alleged criminal investigation by the District Attorney’s Office, and this time, Bilbray fought back with similar allegations against his opponent.

Busby accused Bilbray of committing perjuring by signing a number of different documents simultaneously claiming residency in three different places – Carlsbad, Imperial Beach and Virginia.

“Perjury is a felony,” Busby said. “It is punishable with time in prison and we don’t need another member of Congress to be imprisoned.”

Bilbray, who referred to his opponent twice as Maxine before being corrected by moderator and KUSI anchor Paul Bloom, then asked Busby if she was currently under investigation by a federal grand jury. Bilbray held up a copy of an e-mail from District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis to a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter in which Dumanis says it is common practice to investigate any credible complaints to her office. She notes that both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party had referred claims to her office.

Bilbray claimed the message indicated that Busby is currently under investigation for soliciting illegal immigrants to work on her campaign.

A copy of the e-mail provided by Bilbray after the taping makes no references to the substance of the allegations or the status of any investigations.

Busby called the allegations “ridiculous throwaway nonsense,” before again accusing Bilbray of facing felony criminal charges.

“We know that a criminal grand jury that has been called, witnesses have been called from your neighborhood in Carlsbad,” she said.

“You can’t show me one bit of proof of that Mrs. Busby,” Bilbray said. “This is the kind of integrity you want? To start throwing things around at campaign time at the last minute.”

Bloom eventually interrupted the exchange and reminded the candidates that “the audience at home isn’t quite sure what either of you is talking about.”

Busby said Bilbray had claimed primary residence under penalty of perjury in Virginia, Imperial Beach and Carlsbad before running for the congressional seat in the 50th District. Bilbray said he lives in Carlsbad.

Bilbray said Busby was caught on tape soliciting people who were identified as illegal immigrants to work on her campaign.

“She is the national poster child for voter fraud in this country,” Bilbray said.

Busby said she was invited to speak as part of a five-person panel to a group of people earlier this year and had no evidence of their immigration status when she urged them to aid her campaign.

Discussing the environment, the candidates clashed over the characterization of Bilbray’s vote to lift a federal ban on offshore oil drilling.

Busby called Bilbray’s vote “truly amazing” and said it endangered California’s coast.

Bilbray asked Busby repeatedly if she had read the bill. She responded that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the governors of Oregon and Washington have made a pact to protect the West Coast from the legislation.

Bilbray defended the bill, saying it bans oil rigs within 50 miles of the coast and allows each state to permanently prohibit drilling within the next 50 miles.

“How could you go against a bill that gives us the ability to stop off shore oil permanently?” he asked.

“Because you and I both know that the state now has to pass a resolution every five years to continue to protect our coast from oil companies, and that oil companies are the biggest lobbyists in Washington, and they are going to be paying and pressuring our legislators to do what they have been trying for 25 years to do,” Busby responded.

Asked about her stance on illegal immigration, Busby said the current enforcement-only approach has been a spectacular failure.

“For the past 15 years, we have spent $20 billion and built walls and fences and employer sanctions haven’t been enforced,” she said. “As far as I can tell, Mr. Bilbray is offering more of the same.”

Busby said she supports a comprehensive immigration bill that will increase border security and sanctions on employers but that will also have a guest-worker program.

Bilbray said he supports legislation that would create tamperproof social security cards and mandate that employers require them as proof of citizenship from all employees.

“I believe that they key to controlling illegal immigration is what I have always said for the last five, six seven, years, and that’s stopping the sources of illegal immigration, which is illegal employment,” he said.

Bilbray accused his opponent of supporting amnesty. Busby said simply labeling comprehensive immigration reform as amnesty was a disservice to the American public and irresponsible of the congressman.

Turning his attention to the war in Iraq, Bilbray said neither Republicans nor Democrats have an easy answer.

“That’s actually preferable because there is no easy answer to this,” he said. “I’m sure that even Mrs. Busby will not give a date that she would propose that we have to get out of there because she knows that would be irresponsible.”

Busby didn’t offer a date but said American troops need to stop refereeing an Iraqi power struggle. She called for Congress to take the war seriously, come up with a plan to bring troops home, transition Iraq to an independent country and make Iraqis responsible for their own security.

When Bilbray asked how Busby would do that she said she would start by having the discussion in Congress.

“It’s been three years, we’ve been there longer than we had been in World War II and they haven’t had one discussion about it,” she said.

Bilbray said he serves on the Armed Services Committee and had several discussions about the Iraq war. He said he’s waiting for a report from a bipartisan commission headed by former Secretary of State James Baker that’s due out after Thanksgiving.

“I think we should all hold our political shots until we allow a bipartisan approach to this and do what’s right for America and not just for the Democrats or Republicans,” he said.

Busby said the Baker Commission should have been convened before the war.

“We should have had a plan,” she said. “We should have been talking together. We should have backed up our troops with the other resources that we have and this Congress has failed.”

During their closing comments, Bilbray painted himself as a consensus builder with a proven ability to get things done. He also touted his endorsements from Sheriff Bill Kolender, Mayor Jerry Sanders and Dumanis.

Busby said she’s running for Congress because she believes the country is going in the wrong direction. She described herself as a reformer who would restore checks and balances and accountability. Busby also mentioned her endorsements from the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters.

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