The 15th California State Senate District stretches over strategic portions of Santa Clara County, Monterey County, Santa Cruz County, San Benito County and Santa Barbara County. And for many, including the Democratic former Assemblymember running to represent the district, it’s also a perfect illustration of everything that’s wrong with California politics.
“This district shouldn’t be a district,” Laird said during a debate with Republican assemblyman Sam Blakeslee yesterday afternoon. “There should not be a senate district that has Saratoga and Santa Maria in it together. That shouldn’t have existed, and we need reform on that.”
The Aug. 5 debate, hosted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, was the first official face off between the two candidates. Both agreed that some serious changes need to take place to stop the gridlock in Sacramento.
“We understand that you want to raise taxes again in Sacramento,” Blakeslee said, “but could you please take a look at reform? Could you please look at a way of doing business differently? Could you please look at a way to be more like a business, by delivering a service on time the way that the customer wants it? That’s what I’m fighting for.”
The two candidates are fighting to replace Abel Maldonado, who was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the Lieutenant Governor’s spot last April. Rather than hold the vote during the regular November election, Schwarzenegger declared a special election August 17. The Laird camp protested what it saw as a Republican ploy.
The race is of vital importance to the Democratic Party. If Laird wins, the Democrats will be one vote away from securing a two-thirds super-majority in the state senate. That fact hasn’t gone unnoticed—President Barack Obama endorsed Laird in mail piece that started landing in mailboxes across the gerrymandered district Thursday.
“I’m working hard to fix our economy and create new jobs, but in Congress, the Republicans are trying to block almost everything I propose,” Obama is quoted as saying on the mailer. “The same is true in Sacramento. On August 17th, your vote for John Laird can make a difference in fixing California’s economy.”
Blakeslee is the clear front-runner. He came up only several hundreds votes shy of securing a 50 percent win over Laird and two other candidates in the primary election.
With the run-off election closing in in less than two weeks, Laird said he was glad to finally get to debate Blakeslee. The former Assembly Republican Leader bowed out of their last scheduled debate, a July 26 forum in San Luis Obispo, at the last minute, saying that budget work at the state capital was keeping him too busy to talk.
At yesterday’s forum, Laird denounced Blakeslee for avoiding public debates until the eleventh hour, and instead letting 30-second negative campaign commercials do the talking for him. He also defended himself against a barrage of negative mailers that he said “distort my record and demean voters.”
“I have noted this is our first joint appearance, and over 90,000 people have already voted in this election,” Laird said. “That’s a very interesting statistic, because turnout is running ahead of what it was in the primaries. Different people are voting, and they are voting in greater numbers, so it makes these forums that are at the last minute of even greater importance.”
The forum, which was sponsored by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and was not open to the public, was held at the offices of SVB Financial in Santa Clara. Debate topics ranged from affordable housing to transportation funding to Prop. 24, healthcare and education.
Both candidates spoke of the importance of reaching across the aisle to get things done.
“When I was the minority leader, I was very proud that I crossed party lines and I worked with [former Assembly Speaker] Karen Bass,” Blakeslee said. “On a 68 to 0 vote, [we] passed a budget solution on Jan. 25 of 2009. I broke with the governor. I broke with the senate Republicans. But I thought it was the right thing to do.”
Laird also promised to end the “dogma” of party squabbling in Sacramento several times during the discussion.
“I feel like I’m a real fit with who you are, which is a broad-based group that is trying to do the best for education and transpiration and water, and as well the business climate,” Laird said in his closing statements. “That’s what I want to do: work hard, be involved and get things done.”
Laird and Blakeslee will again square off today (Aug. 6) in Arroyo Grande. On Aug. 12 they will be back in the Bay Area to go one-on-one at Cabrillo College in Aptos in a forum sponsored by the Santa Cruz Weekly newspaper and the League of Women Voters.