By CJ Dablo
Seven out of the eight candidates seeking the open seat for state senate met for the first time in a candidate forum moderated by the League of Women Voters on Wednesday, Jan. 26 at California State University Long Beach.
In anticipation of the special election to fill the seat formerly held by the late California Sen. Jenny Oropeza, two Democrats, four Republicans and one Independent candidate tussled over complex issues.
The candidates for the 28th State Senate District at the forum included: Democrats Ted Lieu and Kevin Thomas McGurk; Republicans Jeffrey Fortini, Martha Flores-Gibson, James P. Thompson, and Bob Valentine; and Mark Lipman, a self-described “progressive, independent fiscal conservative.” (According to Lipman’s campaign literature, he is non-partisan.) Third-party candidate Michael Chamness was unable to attend Wednesday’s forum because of a work commitment.
Less than 40 people occupied the room at Cal State’s Walter Pyramid to watch the candidates tackle a range of issues from economic redevelopment to education, but the candidates consistently addressed the state’s $28-billion deficit. Most of the candidates emphasized the need to control state spending.
McGurk, a public defense attorney, recommended in his opening statement to suspend the death penalty, a move that he predicted would save $1 billion in five years.
“Right now you are paying $200 million a year for a death penalty you don’t use,” he said, noting that the last execution took place more than five years ago. “The state sentenced 28 people to death row just last year and spent $400 million building a new facility, so at least doing nothing will be done in style.”
Valentine criticized how educational dollars are spent. “The money needs to be local, it does not need to go to Sacramento and be recycled and back here locally,” he said. “We need to have local control over our educational funds.”
The emphasis on protecting funds for education was echoed by Fortini.
“We need to ensure that educational funding is properly allocated and eliminate the duplication of administrative functions,” Fortini said. “We can’t forget that our children are our future.”
Flores-Gibson emphasized the need to keep funds locally controlled. “I strongly believe in … decentralizing funds from Sacramento to your cities and counties where it counts, because they’re able to see what works and what doesn’t,” said Flores-Gibson, when she weighed in on whether redevelopment agencies should be supported. “You need to take the money out of Sacramento and [put it] into the local government and school system.”
Non-partisan candidate Lipman emphasized his lack of party affiliation and his ability to seek out good ideas from any source. “I do not need to reach across the aisle. I am the aisle,” Lipman said. He also described himself as a fiscal conservative and cited examples of wasteful government spending. Lipman criticized the Los Angeles City Council’s decision to approve sending $1 billion to the city’s redevelopment agency. He accused the redevelopment agency of committing $52 million of that money to use for a museum parking lot.
Lieu, in his closing statement, offered his endorsement of Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget that will extend taxes and cut fiscal spending.
“I thought his budget was honest. I thought he got the big picture right, which is you cannot do this budget by cuts alone. It’s got to be a balance of both cuts and revenue,” Lieu said, acknowledging that he may disagree on a few specific items. “I think he really is intent on solving this budget once and for all, and that is my intention as well. I look forward to working with him.”
Responses to most of the specific questions were limited to one minute, so candidates could not expound with in-depth details.
“The real tough questions weren’t asked,” Thompson said at the conclusion of the debate. He specifically criticized Brown’s proposal to extend taxes. “Raising taxes in a down economy is the opposite of what you should be doing. You need to cut taxes. When we cut taxes, especially the sales tax, you make California products immediately cheaper for everybody worldwide. We also give Californians more money to spend on California products, which creates more demand, which creates jobs, and that’s how the economy churns.”
Many of the candidates acknowledged that they were facing an uphill battle to get their names before the voters with about three weeks left in the campaign. Thompson said that he has opted to use his own money to fund his campaign and is using social-networking sites. Lipman has initiated a bike tour throughout the district to meet constituents.