May 17, 2012

California Assembly Candidates Struggle for Differentiation at Candidate Forum

Two Democratic candidates for the California Assembly's 18th District seat and a representative for the third appeared Wednesday night at a candidate forum at the Bal Theatre. Alameda Vice Mayor Rob Bonta, Peralta Community College Trustee Abel Guillen and Mark Goodwin, Joel Young's campaign manager, gave opening and closing statements and answered audience questions posed by moderator and San Leandro City Manager Chris Zapata. Young had a previous commitment and did not attend.

The audience, estimated at 50 to 60 people, included Mayor Stephen Cassidy, Councilmember Jim Prola, Councilmember Ursula Reed, San Leandro School Board Trustees Hermy Almonte, Mike Katz-Lacabe [Note: that's me] and Diana Prola, and Jennifer Ong, a candidate for the California Assembly in the neighboring 20th District.

In their opening statements, Bonta and Guillen spoke about their parents and backgrounds while Goodwin spoke about Young's support for a “buy American” policy at AC Transit and the recent decision to purchase buses from Hayward-based Gillig.

After opening statements, the first question to the California Assembly candidates was about what they could do to keep San Leandro Hospital open. Bonta, who previously served on the Board of the Alameda Health Care District, answered that a parcel tax, like that passed in Alameda, could save the hospital. He also said that he would work with Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan, “who has exclusively endorsed me in this race,” and look at possible hybrid models. Guillen used the question as an opportunity to express his support for single payer health care, which he sees as the way to fix the health care system. Young's campaign manager said that “the state is broken” and that Young supports changes to allow localities to pass tax measures with a simple majority rather than the current two-thirds.

When asked about the first legislation that they would put forth when elected, Bonta lamented the abolishment of redevelopment agencies and wanted to see tax increment financing brought back for former military bases, which would be good for Alameda and Oakland, but would do nothing for San Leandro. Bonta also said he wanted to create an emergency prevention fund for when communities face spikes in violent crime. Guillen said he would seek a constitutional amendment to lower the threshold to pass tax measures down to 55% and claimed it would have an immediate impact on children and communities. Goodwin gave an answer that ranged from government contract procurement policies to assessing the impact of government decisions on local employment.

On seismic safety, Guillen said that he had worked for the last ten years on modernizing school and said he would work with federal agencies to make sure that all schools has seismic safety kits that would help the schools become community centers during a disaster. Goodwin agreed with Guillen and that seismic safety of schools and hospitals was important. He went on advocate for transparency on bonds used as a source of funding, noting that some firms try to defer interest payments far into the future, which is more expensive for taxpayers. Bonta “I've been talking about public safety in this race from the very beginning.” He claimed that he has “the endorsement of every public safety organization that has gotten involved in this race,” referring to police and fire organizations. However, these groups have nothing to do with seismic safety. He said that he would propose a statewide school facilities bond to re-build school infrastructure and ensure all buildings were seismically safe. Finally, he said it's important for localities to have an emergency preparedness plan.

On what distinguishes their platform from the Democrat's standard advocacy for education, environment, and jobs, Goodwin said that Young was a big supporter of early childhood education and mentioned Young's support for a tax on sugar-containing beverage that is being considered by the City of Richmond. Bonta reiterated his support for public schools, public safety, jobs, the emergency prevention fund, tax increment financing for former military sites, and a statewide school facilities bond. Guillen said that he was the only one with six years of experience and proudly noted how he convinced his fellow trustees to divest Peralta Community College District's money from big bank like Wells Fargo and Bank of America and move it to local banks and credit unions.

The tone of the forum was respectful and civil, with candidates having nothing negative to say about their opponents. In many ways, it mirrored a previous forum held in April in Oakland with the same format.

The election is June 5, 2012, and the top two vote-getters will advance to the November election. Historically, winners of Democratic primaries in California have gone on to easy wins in November, but this year is likely to see two Democrats competing against each other in November.

The complete Assembly candidate portion of the forum can be viewed below:

The previous forum can be seen after the break.

Posted by Mike Katz-Lacabe at May 17, 2012 9:22 AM | TrackBack
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