State Senate election looming

Central Coast voters who thought they might get a brief respite from the long political year after last week’s primary were mistaken: Another election looms less than two weeks away, this one to fill the 15th District state Senate seat vacated by Abel Maldonado when he became lieutenant governor.

Four men are going for the position in the June 22 faceoff: Republican Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo, Democratic former Assemblyman John Laird of Santa Cruz; Libertarian Mark Hinkle of Morgan Hill; and Independent Jim Fitzgerald of Nipomo.

With the backing of the major parties, Laird and Blakeslee are in the forefront of the race. Their ads already are on television and mailers in mailboxes.

The advertisements — as political ads usually do — have each camp denigrating the opposing candidate. Blakeslee is trying to tie Laird to the state’s fiscal crisis, while Laird’s ads call Blakeslee “Oil Man Sam” and seek to link Blakeslee, a former Exxon employee, with pollution, an especially timely issue given the BP leak that is contaminating the Gulf of Mexico with oil.

If any of the four candidates wins 50 percent of the vote plus one vote, the election is over. If nobody receives 50 percent, there will be a runoff Aug. 17.

John Laird

Laird stresses his environmental credentials, which have earned him the support of the Sierra Club and other major environmental organizations.

He says he has always opposed offshore drilling and considers the Sierra Nevada Conservancy Act his “legacy bill,” not only because it provides environmental protections to the iconic mountains, but also because he worked closely on it with Republican Assembly members and considers it an example of what bipartisanship can accomplish.

He says the ability to work collaboratively is needed now more than ever because “people are talking past each other.”

Although Blakeslee’s ads call Laird “one of the engineers” of the state’s fiscal “train wreck” because he once chaired the Assembly budget committee, Laird says schools, public safety and health care have been cut to the bone. He has proposed an extraction tax on oil companies to raise money for the state.

Laird also fought the attempt last year to close Montaña de Oro and other state parks.

Sam Blakeslee

Blakeslee, who has the backing of the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, says he is open to “a wide range” of cost-saving and budget reforms. He wants to bring jobs and revenue back to California, overhaul the tax code and institute a rainy-day fund that would set aside windfall revenue.

As Assembly minority leader during parts of 2009, Blakeslee was one of the so-called “Gang of Five” that controlled the budget. He was instrumental in finding compromises that allowed the budget to be passed, which drew the ire of some in his own party.

However, Blakeslee, who is an incumbent, is disavowing his connection with legislative power, labeling himself an “independent business owner” on the June 22 ballot. He owns and operates a financial planning firm in San Luis Obispo with his wife, Kara.

On environmental issues, Blakeslee says he has promoted renewable energy and biofuels and “consistently fought to protect our coast,” sometimes crossing party lines to do so.

Blakeslee is known to San Luis Obispo County leaders for his work in brokering a deal that could lead to the Los Osos sewer eventually being built.

Both Laird and Blakes-lee strongly support and have worked to preserve the Williamson Act, which gives tax breaks to farmers and ranchers in return for their pledge not to develop the land for a specific number of years. The legislation is important to rural areas such as the Central Coast that rely on tourism.

Jim Fitzgerald

Although they don’t have the money or exposure of Blakeslee and Laird, Fitzgerald and Hinkle have taken positions on major issues.

Fitzgerald ran against Maldonado two years ago, warning at the time that Maldonado was going to seek higher office.

He says he would refuse to vote for a tax increase and instead seek ways to cut spending. He has specific proposals, including one that would cut the Legislature to a four-day work week.

Fitzgerald, like Laird, proposes an extraction fee on oil companies, which he said 22 states currently have in place. He witnessed the disastrous Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969 and opposes offshore drilling.

Fitzgerald adds that being an independent leaves him free to entertain ideas from all political parties.

Mark Hinkle

Libertarian Hinkle, a small-business owner, says he wants “absolutely no tax increases, only spending cuts and tax decreases.” He says California is “ranked dead last in business-friendly climate” and says the state must cut taxes to stimulate the economy.

Hinkle supports offshore drilling, but only if “the corporate welfare of limited liability is abolished. Individuals and corporations must be held accountable for the damages they cause, period.”

Hinkle says incumbents “show absolutely no remorse for the damage they’ve done,” and “the only way to get through to them is to throw them out of office.”

Like the other three candidates, Hinkle wants power returned to local governments by the state. “People want services provided by their local governments, yet a majority of the tax dollars are sent to Sacramento. This is nuts,” he said.