Blakeslee, Laird agree to debate

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 to decide who will represent the Central Coast’s 15th District in the state Senate.

A third candidate, independent Jim Fitzgerald of Nipomo, 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 6 percent of the vote. Libertarian Mark Hinkle had 3 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 no one took more than 50 percent, all four challengers — each of whom represents a different political affiliation — will run in the August election. The winner becomes state senator.

The 15th District seat became vacant in May, when Abel Maldonado resigned halfway through his term to accept his appointment as lieutenant governor by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The June 22 election to replace Maldonado was marked by negative advertising from the Blakeslee and Laird camps. In his challenge to Blakeslee, Laird said the campaigns should focus on substance.

Voters, he wrote to Blakeslee, “deserve more than ... campaign ads and twice-a-day attack mailers.”

He said the middle class is being priced out of higher education, teachers are losing their jobs, public safety programs are threatened, and the Central Coast tourism industry faces damage from the possible closure of state parks.

Through a series of debates, voters could learn how candidates intend to face those problems, Laird wrote in a news release.

Blakeslee agreed. Through Nygren, Blakeslee said voters need to hear about how the candidates will address “long-needed reform of fiscal policy in Sacramento” and “how California’s tax policy impacts both our state budget and our economic environment.”

Nygren added that voters “deserve to know the truth — the real records — of the candidates on the issue of environmental protection.”

Sticking to the issues was a theme brought forth separately by Fitzgerald, a retired Nipomo manager who belongs to no formal political party. Fitzgerald previously challenged Maldonado for the state Senate seat in 2008.

“The two major party candidates can continue with the attack ads, the nightly robo phone calls and the endless barrage of political mailers,” Fitzgerald wrote, “or we can sit down and talk about the important issues facing California (such as) jobs, balancing the budget and a spending freeze.”