Crowd pleased by GOP hopefuls

Four candidates for Congress pleased a Republican crowd Thursday evening with vows to shrink government, oppose abortion and maintain the nation's defense.

About 125 people crowded into the Eichel Building in central Modesto to hear from the men vying in the June 8 GOP primary in the 19th Congressional District.

They applauded the close-to-home candidates — state Sen. Jeff Denham of Atwater and former Rep. Richard Pombo of Tracy.

And they welcomed the candidates from Fresno — former Mayor Jim Patterson and City Councilman Larry Westerlund.

The four aim to succeed retiring Rep. George Radano-vich, R-Mariposa, in a Republican-leaning district that includes all or part of Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Mariposa, Madera and Fresno counties.

All four candidates said they would seek market-based changes to the recently enacted health care reforms. They opposed a proposed treaty with Russia that would reduce nuclear weapons. They called for increased border security while allowing legal workers to come to the United States.

Denham recalled how he held out against a state budget he considered irresponsible. He rejected a budget with $12 billion in temporary tax increases as the state faced a $42 billion shortfall in February 2009.

"I took a pledge not to support tax increases," he said. "I have never wavered from that pledge."

Denham also promised to protect gun rights and accept no "earmarks" for the 19th District in the federal budget.

He noted his efforts to get rid of state agencies, including the Coastal Commission, which still exists, and the Integrated Waste Management Board, which is gone.

Patterson said opposition to abortion is essential to being a conservative.

"I am pro-life," he said. "I am pro-family. I am pro- traditional marriage."

Patterson criticized his party for failing in the 1990s to make good on a promise to abolish the Commerce, Education and Energy departments.

"If it's not enumerated in the Constitution, it has no authority to exist," he said.

Pombo said heavy spending by environmental critics sealed his 2006 defeat in a district that stretched from San Joaquin County to parts of the Bay Area.

"But I fought every step of the way," he said. "I never gave up. I never compromised my principles."

Pombo took aim at the campaign spending limits in the McCain-Feingold Act, which he said stifle Republicans while preserving money sources for Democrats.

Pombo said the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a human and environmental tragedy, but he supports responsible use of this and other energy sources, without subsidies.

Westerlund noted that Thursday was the National Day of Prayer and criticized people who consider it unconstitutional.

"Our Constitution is under attack," he said. "Our freedoms are under attack."

Westerlund said he supports a controversial Arizona law requiring local and state law enforcement officers to question people on their immigration status if they suspect they are in the country illegally.

"I thank God for Arizona that they would stand up," he said.

The forum was sponsored by the Republican Party of Stanislaus County, the Stanislaus Chapter of the California Republican Assembly and the Modesto Junior College Republicans.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at 578-2385 or