Blakeslee and Laird agree to hold debates before August runoff election

Republican Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee has accepted a challenge from his Democratic opponent John Laird to hold debates between now and the Aug. 17 runoff election that will decide who will represent the Central Coast's 15th district in the state Senate.

A third candidate, Jim Fitzgerald of Nipomo, independent, also sought debates, but it is not clear from the Laird and Blakeslee campaigns whether he will be invited. Fitzgerald finished a distant third, with six percent of the vote. Libertarian Mark Hinkle had three percent.

Laird proposed debates in each of the five counties in the district ­ Santa Clara, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and Monterey.

Laird is suggesting that the League of Women Voters in each county moderate the debates, which would allow a focus on the effect of the state's actions on each locality.

Blakeslee consultant Jim Nygren said his campaign "will work with potential debate sponsors to find mutually agreeable dates, locations and ground-rules to ensure a fair and full vetting of the relevant issues."

Both campaigns said the debates should address the issues.

Blakeslee had the most votes in the June 22 special primary election, defeating second-place finisher Laird by more than 11,000 votes.

But Blakeslee took only 49 percent of the vote, and because nobody took more than 50 percent, all four challengers -­ each of whom represents a different political category -­ will run in the election in August. The winner of that becomes state senator.

- Bob Cuddy