54th Assembly district candidates discuss issues at forum

wrigley-forum.jpgBY NICK DIAMANTIDES
Staff Writer

Two Democrats and two Republicans squared off at a forum organized by the Wrigley Neighborhood Association Monday night. The contestants – Democrats Bonnie Lowenthal and Tonia Reyes Uranga and Republicans Gabriella Holt and Michael Jackson – are vying for first place in the June 3 primary election for the 54th District State Assembly seat, now occupied by Betty Karnette, who cannot run again due to term limits.
A fifth candidate, Libertarian John Kling, a Long Beach automotive engineer, was not invited to the forum. Moderator Alan Tolkoff explained that because King is not being opposed by anyone in his party, he will automatically advance to the November general election. “This forum is about the primary election only,” Tolkoff noted.
About 80 people attended the event, which took place at the community center of Veterans Park, and audience members included a long list of elected officials and community activists. Lowenthal and Reyes Uranga are both current members of the Long Beach City Council.
The four candidates responded to written questions from the audience read aloud by Tolkoff. Ironically, the candidates mostly agreed with each other on the best way to handle given situations. The main issues that surfaced during the forum seemed to be which one of the candidates could be trusted the most and which one would be the most effective in accomplishing his or her goals in the Assembly.
In his opening comments, Jackson, an aerospace engineer, noted that he had run for the office previously and in 2006, he garnered 39 percent of the vote even though he was outspent 10 to one. I’ve been able to appeal across the board to Republicans, Democrats [and independents] because they’re looking for leadership and for solutions instead of partisanship up in Sacramento,” he said.
Holt, who lives in Palos Verdes, is a registered nurse and spent eight years as a member of the Palos Verdes Board of Education. She currently serves on the Los Angeles County Probation Commission. She noted that a few years ago she received her doctorate in health and administrative law and that expertise would enable her to be an effective legislator.
“I have a history of working hard, getting things done and being honest with the voters,” Reyes Uranga said. “It gives me the skills and experience to battle these Republican budget cuts that are really hurting education, healthcare, and environmental protection.”
Lowenthal noted that her leadership skills were honed by her seven years on the Long Beach Board of Education and seven years on the city council. “I am running for this office because I want to extend the service that I have demonstrated to the City of Long Beach in Sacramento,” she said, adding that the state is in a crisis with an almost $16 billion deficit. “We have to examine how we fund out programs statewide,” she said.
All four candidates said they would support legislation mandating no net increase in pollution generated by the operations of the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles even as the ports increase the volume of shipping containers they handle. The candidates also said they would support legislation banning railroad shipping facilities within a quarter of a mile of a school.
Later, the candidates were asked what they would do to curb the tons of litter and other pollution that enters the Los Angeles River from other cities and ends up in the ocean and beaches at Long Beach. All four said they would work closely with officials of all upstream cities and groups, and support state efforts to determine the best way to improve the condition of the river.
The candidates also agreed that they would push for ways to make state government operations more efficient so that vital services could be sustained while not spending more money than revenues provide. They also agreed that they would support a redistricting system that would provide more fair representation to the citizens of California.
At the end of the forum, the candidates were allowed to ask one question to one other candidate. At that point, Lowenthal asked Reyes Uranga to name her number-one endorsement. Reyes Uranga said she had grassroots support from the neighborhoods in the cities within the 54th Assembly District. Later, Lowenthal noted that she had the support of many elected officials, environmental groups, other activist groups and the Califonia Democratic Party.
Then Jackson noted that Holt had listed her occupation as a registered nurse and teacher, but she had not practiced nursing for many years and had only received her teaching credential in December 2007. He asked her why she was not honest when describing her occupation as it will appear on the ballot. She replied that she had practiced nursing for many years and had recently become recertified as an RN, and she had received her credential after working as a volunteer student mentor for five years.
At that point Jackson and Holt exchanged barbs over which one of them could be trusted by the voters.
When Reyes Uranga’s turn to ask a question came, she asked Lownthal to explain why she had voted for an excessive pension plan approved by the Board of Education during her tenure. Lowenthal said she didn’t remember that vote which took place more than seven years ago, but she noted that the Long Beach Unified School District is considered to be one of the best in the nation.
Holt then asked Jackson how many times he had run for public office and how many times he had won. Jackson, who has run several times, has never won an election, but he noted that in spite of being outspent and running as a Republican in a Democratic district, he had done very well.
In their closing comments, the candidates reiterated some of their previous statements, each insisting that she or he would provide the most effective leadership for the 54th Assembly District.

One thought on “54th Assembly district candidates discuss issues at forum

  1. To bad Mr. Kling did not get the opportunity to speak. Given the candidates that the Dems and Reps are fielding John Kling is a breath of fresh air. His views might have given potential voters the opportunity to pick a candidate that will support the people rather than special interests. John Kling knows what needs to be done in this district and definately has my vote!

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