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Congressional candidates Ami Bera and Scott Jones spar over scandals in debate

Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove) (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove) (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

U.S. Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove) and Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, candidates in California’s 7th Congressional District race, squabbled over scandals that have plagued each of their campaigns during a debate Tuesday night.

Bera and Jones are locked in one of the tightest congressional races in the state in a divided Sacramento County district. The hour-long debate, held at KVIE television studios in Sacramento, featured clashes between the candidates over the death penalty, marijuana legalization and Donald Trump.

But the first question from the moderators focused on allegations that Jones sexually harassed one of his subordinates at the sheriff’s department more than a decade ago. In a court deposition, a female deputy working for Jones said he groped and kissed her without consent, the Sacramento Bee reported in July.

During the debate, Jones, a Republican, said he did not sexually harass the woman.

“She is lying,” he said. “The allegations are absolutely untrue, unequivocally false."

Bera, a Democrat, called the allegations “disturbing.”

The moderators also questioned Bera about his father’s money laundering crimes. In August, Bera’s father was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for illegally funneling money to his son’s congressional campaigns in 2010 and 2012. The congressman has denied knowing anything about the scheme.

"I was shocked when the U.S. attorney approached us,” Bera said at a news conference following the debate. “My father made a grave mistake."

Jones said he didn’t believe that Bera had no knowledge of the scheme. 

"I absolutely do think he knew about it," Jones said during the debate.

The candidates were also asked to weigh in on two of the ballot measures facing California voters in November: Propositions 62 and 64. Bera said he would likely support Proposition 62, which would end the death penalty in California, while Jones said he opposed it.

Both candidates said they would vote no on Proposition 64, which would legalize recreational marijuana in the state. Bera said during the debate he would support the initiative if voters passed it and later clarified in a post-debate press conference that he would personally vote against the measure.

Bera hit Jones over the sheriff's recent announcement that he would no longer vote for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump after months of saying he would.

Bera said Jones should have come out against Trump sooner, citing the presidential nominee’s previous controversial comments about women and a Gold Star military family.

Jones said he supported Trump for his policies, not his character, until he saw a video released earlier this month that prompted scores of Republicans to denounce the nominee. In the video, Trump bragged about kissing and groping women without their consent. 

"He was talking about things that we’ve arrested people for,” Jones said. "I had to depart from him at that time."

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