Renewable energy, water supplies, health care, campaign financing and lifestyle affordability were recurring themes for 35th State Assembly District candidates who met Wednesday night in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Santa Maria Valley to prepare citizens for the Nov. 6 General Election.
About 75 people attended the forum for Republican incumbent Jordan Cunningham and Democratic challenger Bill Ostrander in the Board Hearing Room of the Joseph Centeno Betteravia Government Administration Building in Santa Maria.
After introducing themselves and giving a brief outline of their platforms, the candidates were asked two questions posed by League of Women Voters moderator Ann Walsh.
The first question asked what is the top challenge facing 35th District constituents that the Assembly needs to address and what are the candidates' solutions.
Cunningham said the main issue is affordability, noting the Central Coast “is the best place to raise a family, but it is not cheap.”
He said state government keeps doing things that make it harder to live here, noting he voted against a clean energy bill because it was not economically feasible.
He also said he voted against a gasoline tax increase because it wouldn’t be spent on infrastructure as intended, would cost the average family an additional $780 per year and would raise the price on food and other commodities.
“Stop passing laws that raise the price of everything,” he said, adding that more homes must be built to address housing affordability.
Ostrander asserted that the majority of Cunningham’s contributors are oil companies, chemical corporations, cigarette manufacturers and utility companies.
“Which leads me to the moral issue of our time is money in politics,” he said. “We must get money out of politics because it’s tainting the entire system.”
The second question said in light of the ongoing drought and increasing fire danger, what changes would the candidates propose to mitigate the issues.
Although he didn’t directly address solutions to the drought, Ostrander blamed the increase in fire intensity on U.S. Forest Service suppression policies, climate change and more homes being built in the wildland urban interface.
“Climate change has extended the fire season 30 days on each end,” he said, noting California’s forests have 127 million dead trees from the drought. “Rising temperatures increase wind speed.”
His solutions were to train more crews, conduct more controlled burns, remove moe dead trees and vegetation by using goats and timber harvesting permits, enforcing the defensible space requirements and revising building codes to require fire-resistant materials.
Cunningham agreed with clearing out dead trees and practicing better forest management, but he said there must be a dedicated funding source such as using the greenhouse gas cap and trade system.
He also said the state must support firefighters with more equipment, better pay and better retirement benefits.
As for the drought, Cunningham advocated desalinating sea and brackish water to increase supplies.
“If we can be masters of our own destiny in water supplies on the Central Coast, the sky’s the limit for us economically,” he said.
Following a short break, the candidates responded to written questions submitted by audience members, then provided a brief summary of their positions to end the forum.
Among the written questions were:
Do you support single-payer health care?
Ostrander said he does because “it’s the ethical thing to do.” He said recent health care legislation that failed would have saved small businesses 22 percent in costs.
Cunningham said he does not because of the cost, claiming the legislation Ostrander referred to would have cost $400 billion a year when the state’s entire budget is only about $140 billion.
What would you do to address the (farm labor shortage)?
Cunningham indicated nothing can be done by the state and the problem must be solved at the federal level by expanding the guest worker visa program.
Ostrander blamed the federal government: “It’s important to understand in the U.S. we have a cheap food policy,” so everyone wants cheap food. He supported paying farmworkers more money.
Do you support fracking? Why or why not?
Ostrander said he doesn’t support fracking, saying in the Arroyo Grande oil fields 19 gallons of water is used to produce one gallon of dirty oil, and he again pushed for developing renewal energy.
Cunningham said fracking isn’t done on the Central Coast, and the campaign against it is an attempted “back-door shutdown" of the oil industry, but he pointed out the industry employs a lot of people and is a major economic force in the area.
Cunningham is a former prosecutor and Templeton Unified School District trustee who was elected to office in November 2016 after former Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian termed out.
Ostrander is a hay farmer who served as a legislative consultant at the local, state and federal levels and decided to enter the race to demonstrate the way he believes all campaigns should be run — without taking campaign contributions from large corporate donors.