Blakeslee may be a no-show at debate

The local League of Women Voters will sponsor a candidates’ forum at Cuesta College for state Senate candidates, even though one of the leading candidates — Republican Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee — may be a no-show.

Blakeslee’s closest opponent, Democrat John Laird, has said he will be there July 26, as have independent Jim Fitzgerald of Nipomo and Libertarian Mark Hinkle of Morgan Hill.

The date is a week later than the League had hoped for — a delay caused by Blakeslee.Laird challenged Blakeslee to a debate three weeks ago. Blakeslee agreed but never signed off on a date.

A space had been reserved at Cuesta for Monday. The date was important because Monday is the day absentee ballots go to voters and waiting longer meant the forum would be held after some voters have cast their ballots.

Laird, Hinkle and Fitzgerald agreed to attend. Blakeslee did not, and the League canceled its reserved spot.

However, League officials met Tuesday and decided to hold the forum July 26, with or without Blakeslee. It will begin at 7 p.m. in the student center.

“Our League board has voted unanimously to proceed with the forum, even if only with three candidates,” League Second Vice President Vera Wallen wrote. “We want the voters to hear the candidates.”

The League and its co-sponsors said they wanted candidates to share their views on children’s services in particular, “although, we will of course accept other questions.” “We are proposing the ‘traditional’ League forum, with a theme or focus geared toward children, youth and families, especially on issues of education and health and safety,” the League wrote. Wallen states that Blakeslee’s representatives said Blakeslee has agreed to a debate Aug. 6 sponsored by the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, a conservative group based in Santa Barbara County. But that is less than two weeks before the Aug. 17 election.Blakeslee and Laird also will debate in the northern portion of the Senate district on Aug. 5 in Santa Clara.

Locally, the League said it still hopes Blakeslee will participate, even if it is electronically.“Blakeslee’s staff has said the date is difficult for him,” Wallen wrote. “We have presented the opportunity to participate by conference call or other electronic means.” The election for the 15th District in the state Senate will choose a successor to Abel Maldonado, who resigned from the Senate in May, halfway through his term, in order to accept an appointment by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as California’s lieutenant governor.Blakeslee came in first in the four-man field in the June 22 special election. The district encompasses all or part of five counties: San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Monterey, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara. Other forum sponsors are the First 5 Commission, Children’s Services Network, the county Office of Education, the P-16 Council and The Tribune.

Charter Communications will record the debate for replay on Cable Channel 19.