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15th District state Senate candidates face off

nlucero@thetribunenews.com

The two leading candidates for the 15th District state Senate seat agreed during a Friday night debate in Arroyo Grande that global warming is real, but disagreed on what to do about it.

Republican Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee and former Assemblyman John Laird, a Democrat, disagreed on whether voters should approve Proposition 23 on the November ballot.

The proposition would suspend a California law, AB 32, that mandates lower greenhouse-gas emissions, until the state’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent or less for four consecutive quarters.

Laird said the rate rarely goes that low and the proposition would in effect kill AB 32 and put a crimp in the state’s efforts to create so-called “green” jobs.

Blakeslee, however, said AB 32 is too stringent to implement during the state’s stuttering economy and has already led to jobs — albeit with accompanying pollution — being outsourced to China.

Blakeslee, however, strongly disagreed with the suggestion by a third candidate, Libertarian Mark Hinkle, that global warming is not real.

“I’m wondering what the whole global warming thing is all about,” Hinkle said.

After Laird said the world’s scientists consider global warming a real threat, Blakeslee, himself a scientist by training, added that “global warming is real and there is a significant human component.”

The fourth candidate, Independent Jim Fitzgerald of Nipomo, agreed with Blakeslee that this is the wrong time for AB 32.

“Green jobs require government support and government tax credits,” and this is not the time to seek those out, he said.

The exchange was in response to one of nine questions asked by moderators during a brief but lively debate at the South County Regional Center.

About 200 citizens were on hand for the first get-together in San Luis Obispo County that included all four candidates for the 15th District state senate seat. The engaged audience applauded frequently.

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

Moderators Arturo Santiago of KCOY-TV and Ben Heighes of KUHL AM 1440 asked questions framed by them and the debate sponsors: the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business; the San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen’s Association; and the Home Builders Association of the Central Coast.

The topics ranged from legalizing marijuana to this week’s court decision on Proposition 8 to dealing with the state’s looming $19 billion budget shortfall.

Among the highlights:

Asked by Heighes whether they consider U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision to overturn Proposition 8 — which outlawed gay marriage — “judicial activism (against) a vote of the people” Blakeslee said “we are a nation of laws” and he expects U.S. courts “at the highest level” to ultimately weigh in.

Laird said the courts always have protected the civil rights of Americans, which he said are innate.

Hinkle said the government should get out of marriage altogether, adding that when George and Martha Washington got married they didn’t get a license; they simply found a preacher.

The candidates agreed that the federal government needs to be more effective in solving the problem of illegal immigration. “The federal government is missing in action,” Laird said.

But he said the Arizona law attacking illegal immigrations that is now in the courts encourages racial profiling and takes away time from police officers that they should be spending elsewhere.

Blakeslee said authorities should go after employers who hire people who are in the country illegally and crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities.”

Laird stood alone in supporting a measure that would allow the budget to pass with a simple majority vote, rather than the current two-thirds. He said the current system has led to minority rule.

Blakeslee disagreed, saying taxpayers need the added protection. He hammered away all evening on his message that California is one of the least business-friendly states in the nation, and Californians pay too many taxes. He also hit at public employee unions. The average public sector salary is $90,000, compared to $55,000 in the private sector, he said.

Fitzgerald and Laird reiterated their call for an oil extraction tax. Blakeslee and Hinkle oppose that position, and Hinkle said the fee would be passed along to consumers.

Blakeslee opposed legalizing marijuana, while Laird took no position. Laird added that estimates of how much tax money the state would bring in through legalization are exaggerated. Hinkle said all recreational drugs should be legal.

Another debate is scheduled Aug. 13 in Paso Robles. Laird, Fitzgerald and Hinkle have said they will be there, and Blakeslee is trying to work out his schedule so he can appear as well.

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