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Photos courtesy of Steve Knight for Congress and Katie Hill for Congress.

Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) and Democratic challenger Katie Hill met face-to-face in a civil, policy-driven debate at the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce on Monday.

For decades, the 25th congressional district has been considered a Republican stronghold. This year, it is the battlefield for a closely monitored midterm race that could foreshadow the fate of the House.

The candidates have faced off publicly before at Knight’s town hall last year, a few weeks after Hill announced her House candidacy. There, she questioned Knight’s vote to overhaul the Affordable Care Act; more than a year later, Hill has outraised (and outspent) the incumbent, leveraging her own political ground.

The debate was divided up into four 15-minute segments that addressed the American education system, the economy, health care and the local community. While the two clashed over tax and health care policies, they remained composed and receptive to each other’s ideas — Hill would reference Knight’s answer before segueing to her platform, and vice versa.

American education system

Early on, Hill brought nuanced arguments into her answers, consistently defying the current GOP-implemented policies such as the tax plan. She would first personalize the issue at hand before suggesting specific solutions, whether it be on school safety or federal education investment. Hill criticized Knight for taking money from the gun lobby and said that the failure to pass common sense gun reform in Congress is a failure of leadership.

Knight’s solutions highlighted his law enforcement background and political experience: For improved school safety, he suggested better training and communication with the law enforcement community and school deputies. While he does not yet directly criticize his opponent, Knight alludes to his experience with federal, state and local budgets, and how he has been an advocate for increased school spending.

On school safety and preventing school shootings:

Hill supports the Second Amendment, and believes in common sense gun regulations (universal background checks, no gun access for domestic abusers or those on the no-fly list) to prevent gun violence, not only in schools

Knight supports working together with local law enforcement to implement more training for school deputies and teachers, in the case of an emergency.

On federal subsidies, student financial aid, and veterans’ benefits at for-profit colleges:

Hill believes there should be mechanisms in place to evaluate whether a school is performing well, providing appropriate value to its students to receive funding.

“At the end of the day [it’s about] ensuring that people who have served our country, who are trying to work in the middle class, have the opportunity to thrive and get the best aid possible.”

Knight supports reforming the Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) program to make it easier for parents and children to apply for federal aid.

We need to bring in a low-interest loan and cap that loan [to] allow kids to apply that loan for a college of their choice. What’s happening today is much different; some people apply and they qualify, some people don’t.”

On special needs funding for schools:

Hill supports federal funding for special needs education, not in the form of unfunded mandates.

Knight believes that federal funding should be given to local schools as directly as possible so that it is “flexible for the school districts to do what they have to do,” as different districts have different needs.

The economy

In the Antelope Valley, there is a sizable population of federal workers and a thriving aerospace industry. Knight pointed to specific policies and projects he has advocated for, such as funds for a new tower at the Plant 42 Air Traffic Control Tower, and school programs that seek to employ local residents. Knight openly disagreed with President Donald Trump’s plan to cancel the 2.1 percent pay increase for federal workers and name-dropped several bills he had worked on to improve small business opportunities, such as the Small Business Investment Opportunity Act.

Hill addressed the wage stagnation that middle-class workers face, despite the growing economy. Education is a key factor in improving job accessibility for local residents, especially with aerospace, she said. Hill is endorsed by the United Aerospace Workers union. She also denounced the federal workers’ pay stagnation, criticizing the GOP tax plan’s corporate tax breaks as harmful to the middle class. Hill pivoted to health care, a key platform point, when discussing how to diversify small business opportunities.

On President Trump’s pay freeze on federal workers’ wages:

Hill opposes the pay freeze and denounced the Republican tax plan.

Knight opposes the pay freeze.

On promoting and diversifying the local economy:

Hill believes that small business owners need access to capital and affordable health care for their work force to thrive in the economy.

“You can’t say ‘I’ve just passed legislation to help small businesses on x, y, z.’ [Solutions] have to address all the economic indicators around prosperity and that’s something I’ll do in Congress.”

Knight supports increased access to capital and cited several pieces of legislation he has worked on to resolve that issue, such as the Women’s Business Centers Improvement Act, Small Business Investment Opportunity Act and Accelerated Payments for Small Businesses Act. 

“For all the business owners out here, cash is everything. And if you don’t have it, or it’s locked up, you can’t keep putting it in your businesses.”

Health care

Health care is the biggest issue on her platform, Hill said, before launching into a deeply personal story about her husband’s preexisting conditions and how the couple took on $200,000 worth of medical bills. She called out Knight, who voted to overhaul the Affordable Care Act last year, and expressed concern over prescription drug prices, noting how her opponent has also taken donations from pharmaceutical companies. (Fact check: Knight has received around $63,000 from drug and health companies over the past five years, according to the Center of Responsible Politics.)

As an advocate for veterans, Knight was vocal about legislation he has sponsored or supported to improve veteran accessibility to medical care. When asked about the ACA, he said he supported the affordable and accessible system currently in place, and that there is a bipartisan effort to better health care. Knight also refuted Hill’s claim that he irresponsibly voted for the tax plan, stating that the tax cut is boosting the economy. (Fact check: The tax cut might have boosted the economy in the short-term, but there’s little evidence it will affect it long-term, per The Washington Post.)

On retaining the ACA:

Knight says he supports “the system in place that is accessible and affordable. Last year, he voted along party lines to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Hill believes the ACA should remain in place and that Congress should take steps to stabilize the current health insurance market.

On veterans’ affairs and access to medical care:

Knight, a U.S. Army veteran, has extensively worked on veteran affairs and partnered with Rep. Kevin McCarthy to launch a convenience care initiative for veterans in their respective districts.

Hill has worked with veteran affairs during her time with PATH, a homelessness organization. She believes there should be investment into veterans, with an emphasis on mental health and substance abuse.

On whether federal government should offer incentives to public, private, or non-profit mental health providers to expand in underserved territories:

Knight believes that there should be improved educational pipelines from local colleges to help train students in the medical field. Areas like the Antelope Valley need more qualified clinicians to work in Veteran Affairs, and Knight sees establishing a strong educational foundation as a long-term solution.

I am in full support of making sure we get more clinicians, but the way I would do it is dealing with our education systems and trying ot get them in their senior phase or getting already-qualified clinicians to work for the V.A. Right now, we’re woefully short.”

Hill is in favor of federal investment into mental health providers. She also believes the issue could be targeted at a local level, by supporting education programs to incentivize people to get into those fields of work. These programs and incentives, like student loans, have been gutted by the Trump administration, Hill said.

We have to invest in our workforce for members to enter these fields. It can be federal grants [or] loans that can be forgiven…Those incentives are completely gone and it makes it even harder for someone to dedicate their career if they don’t have the ability to pay off their student loans.”

Local community

While the last set of questions catered towards community issues, Knight and Hill discussed both local and national topics, from homelessness to the government shutdown. Knight was able to propose solutions from his congressional track record to address funding for affordable housing, and again, the GOP’s past and future tax plans. Hill, the former executive director of People Assisting the Homeless, spent over nine years working on homelessness in California and leveraged her background to empathize with local concerns. She emphasized the $1.5 trillion national deficit, referring to the tax cut’s current problems and hasty legislative passage.

On reducing the homeless population nationally and in the district:

Hill has worked on the issue of homelessness for almost a decade, and thinks there is a lack of federal investment. Hill said more funds need to be directed to Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and the Housing Trust Fund to increase affordable housing stock.

Knight says he has worked on directing more funds to CDBG at the federal level. He also supports various city-level projects that bring affordable housing to the valley.

On restoring tax deductions for teachers and first responders:

Hill sees the need to restore tax deductions to teachers and first responders as a reflection of the GOP tax plan’s inherent problems.

“It shows you what’s broken about our system, and it shows you that the Repub in Congress were so desperate to make something happen that they didn’t catch things like making sure that our teachers have the resources that they need to provide for our students.”

Knight acknowledges certain issues with the tax plan, but he says that the GOP is working to resolve them with the upcoming tax revisions.

We know there are issues with the tax plan and this is one of the issues that I think we will be able to fix…Remember, when we’re doing a tax plan and you’re trying to make sure your economy is in a positive direction.”

On government shutdowns:

Knight does not believe anything is worth a government shutdown.

I don’t see anything that will stop me from continuing the process of making sure that people are paid … I’m there to make sure that we get something done. Getting something done [means] that the government is funded, that we have a budget. and make sure that we move forward every year.”

Hill sees government shutdowns as a huge issue that demonstrates Congress’ inability to work across the aisle.


“I believe that when people are sent to Congress, we should never play with our federal employees’ wages, which is exactly what happens with a government shuts down. The fact that we’ve seen the inability of Congress to pass an effective budget is exactly what’s wrong with our system.”



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Knight, Hill debate education, economy, health care and community
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Knight, Hill debate education, economy, health care and community
Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) and Democratic challenger Katie Hill met face-to-face in a civil, policy-driven debate at the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce on Monday.
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The Santa Clarita Valley Proclaimer
Terry Nguyen

Terry Nguyen is a reporter writing about policy and people in the Los Angeles area. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Lily and Brit+Co.

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