All four state Senate candidates to attend forum

County voters will have their first chance to see all four candidates for a vacant state Senate seat together during a public forum Aug. 6 in Arroyo Grande.

Republican Sam Blakes­lee, Democrat John Laird, Libertarian Mark Hinkle and Independent Jim Fitzgerald will attend the event, scheduled from 7 to 8 p.m. at the South County Regional Center, 800 West Branch St.

The four are running in a special election Aug. 17 to fill the 15th District state Senate seat vacated in May when Abel Maldonado resigned to accept Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s appointment to the lieutenant governorship.

The League of Women Voters held a forum Monday, but Blakeslee did not attend because, he said, he is busy on Mondays with the Republican working group in Sacramento that is trying to deal with the state’s $19 billon budget deficit.

As a former Assembly minority leader and one-time member of the so-called Big Five — the governor along with the Senate and Assembly leaders of the two major parties — Blakeslee has been a key player in budget actions over the past several years.

Despite Blakeslee’s absence Monday, Laird almost skipped his first chance to debate face-to-face locally Aug. 6 because he was chary about the heavy involvement of COLAB in the event.

The Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business is openly partisan toward Blakeslee and last week took out an advertisement in the Santa Maria Sun excoriating Laird, saying he “scares me to death.” In addition, COLAB was involved with a Santa Maria fundraiser for Blakeslee on Sunday.

However, COLAB’s executive director, Andy Caldwell, said it was the Santa Barbara County COLAB, not the San Luis Obispo County group, that took out the advertisement and sponsored the fundraiser at the home of former Assembly candidate Etta Waterfield.

Laird praised the selection of Arturo Santiago of KCOY-TV and Ben Heighes of KUHL-AM 1440 as moderators of the upcoming event.

The San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen’s Association and the Home Builders Association of the Central Coast will co-sponsor the forum.

In an invitation to the event, COLAB wrote that topics will include the new Arizona immigration law; state budget and pension reform; and Proposition 23. That is a measure on the fall ballot that would suspend air pollution control laws requiring major polluters to report and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming until unemployment drops below a specified level for a full year.