Elections

Congressional candidates making final push before state’s June 7 primary

The nine candidates for the 24th District congressional seat Katcho Achadjian, left, Salud Carbajal, Justin Fareed, Steve Isakson, Matt Kokkonen, Benjamin Lucas, William Ostrander, Helene Schneider and John Uebersax during their debate at Cuesta College in April.
The nine candidates for the 24th District congressional seat Katcho Achadjian, left, Salud Carbajal, Justin Fareed, Steve Isakson, Matt Kokkonen, Benjamin Lucas, William Ostrander, Helene Schneider and John Uebersax during their debate at Cuesta College in April. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Correction: This article has been updated to correct an error. The original article incorrectly stated candidate William Ostrander’s endorsements. Ostrander is endorsed by various high-ranking members of campaign finance reform-focused groups such as Represent.us, Every Voice and the Election Reformers Coalition. The groups themselves are nonpartisan.

As mail-in ballots for the June 7 primary begin arriving in San Luis Obispo County mailboxes, nine hopefuls for the 24th Congressional District seat are making their final cases for why voters should send them to a runoff in the general election in November.

The candidates running for the seat being vacated by retiring nine-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara are: Republicans Katcho Achadjian, Justin Fareed and Matt Kokkonen; Democrats Salud Carbajal, Benjamin Lucas, William Ostrander and Helene Schneider; and independents Steve Isakson and John Uebersax.

In California’s open primary, the two candidates with the most votes, regardless of political party, will advance to the Nov. 8 general election.

San Luis Obispo County Republican Party Chairman Al Fonzi said Tuesday that the party has not endorsed a candidate in the 24th congressional race. Though it has not officially endorsed a candidate, the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party shares the endorsements of the state Democratic Party, which is backing Carbajal.

The assemblyman

Three-term state Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, 64, bills himself as a moderate conservative Republican who champions small business and is known for his ability to reach across the political aisle.

Early polls, a bevy of endorsements from Republican Party officials and a sizable number of campaign contributions have placed Achadjian among the top candidates.

Still, he’s far from the top fundraiser, bringing in about $667,000 and spending $226,000, substantially less than Carbajal and Fareed.

He has, however, gathered endorsements from all of the Republican members of the California Assembly and Senate, according to his campaign website, making him the clear favorite of the party establishment. He also enjoys the support of the state’s top law enforcement and business associations and local conservative groups, such as the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the California Police Chiefs Association, the San Luis Obispo County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, the San Luis Obispo Cattlemen’s Political Action Committee, the California Small Business Association, and the Santa Barbara County Republican Party.

He’s also received endorsements and financial support from just about every local Republican holding elected office.

Despite the clear support from his own party, Achadjian sayid he understands the rather evenly split demographics of the district — which encompasses San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and a slice of Ventura counties — and is eager to continue what he calls his record of bipartisanship he crafted on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors and in the state Assembly.

“That mentality goes with me to Washington, D.C.,” Achadjian said at a recent Tribune editorial board meeting.

The supervisor

Unlike his Democratic rivals, three-term Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal, 51, has the coveted support of Capps, as well as that of the California Democratic Party. That support has helped attract well over $1.7 million to Carbajal’s campaign, and he’s used that money, spending nearly $700,000.

Just as Achadjian has attracted endorsements from the Republican leadership, Carbajal is endorsed by leading Democratic figures such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi, state Attorney General Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Alex Padilla, as well as most Democrats holding elected office in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

He enjoys support from several private sector labor unions, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club.

During a recent interview and throughout recent candidate debates, Carbajal, who supports Hillary Clinton for president, has consistently advocated for ideas and programs central to the Democratic Party platform: Providing a reasonable path to citizenship, addressing the causes of climate change, opposing the “assault” on women’s rights and the Affordable Care Act, and supporting the withdrawl of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Carbajal said that even though he is a progressive, he also has a history of working well with his Republican colleagues during his time on the board of supervisors.

“I tend to seek out people who want to work with me,” Carbajal said.

The up-and-comer

Republican candidate Justin Fareed — at 27, he campaigns as the “next generation” candidate — nearly qualified to run against Capps in 2014, losing the Republican nomination to Santa Barbara Tea Party activist Chris Mitchum.

Fareed describes himself as a rancher and businessman — his family owns a ranch in Kern County and he is vice president of his parent’s athletic medical equipment company — and has re-emerged in this race with a renewed energy and a slicker campaign. His recent blitz of high-production television commercials highlight Fareed’s big platforms: easing regulations on small businesses, cutting government spending, “securing the border,” and repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Saying he is “not a career politician,” Fareed recalled he witnessed congresssional dysfunction firsthand during his stint as a legislative aide to U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky.

“What I realized is there’s a lot of empty rhetoric out there,” Fareed said.

He and Achadjian have both been identified by the Republican National Congressional Committee’s Young Gun Program as a “Contender,” or among the candidates in a close congressional race who have “completed stringent program metrics and are on the path to developing a mature and competitive campaign operation,” according to the organization.

Unlike Achadjian, Fareed has gathered the endorsement of U.S. Sen. John McCain, as well as a few Central Coast Republican officials, including Carbajal’s political rival on the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors, Peter Adam; Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino; and Councilwoman Etta Waterfield.

The second-highest fundraiser in the race, Fareed has raised $1,034,216 in campaign contributions and spent about $306,000.

The perennial candidate

San Luis Obispo financial consultant Matt Kokkonen, 70, has run unsuccessfully for San Luis Obispo County Treasurer, state Assembly and Congress. He’s quick to point out that he was elected seven times to the local Republican Central Committee.

Kokkonen calls himself the only “right to life” candidate because he opposes abortion under all circumstances. Achadjian has said he would make exceptions in the case of rape or incest while Fareed has said the Supreme Court ruled on the issue. He takes similarly uncompromising approaches to cutting government spending, immigration and national security, as well as his condemnation of the Affordable Care Act and Common Core education, which he calls “a social experiment.”

Kokkonen is the only Republican who unequivocally declared his support for Donald Trump; Fareed has said he’ll support whoever is nominated and Achadjian originally supported Ted Cruz before saying he would support Trump for the good of the party, after Cruz dropped out.

As a Finnish-born immigrant to the U.S. — his campaign slogan is “The Legal Immigrant,” although Carbajal and Achadjian also immigrated to the U.S. legally — Kokkonen calls for ending “the subsidized illegal invasion” of immigrants.

Kokkonen does not have any endorsements listed on his campaign website and is financing his campaign with a $210,500 loan from himself, plus $2,445 from four contributors.

The engineer

Atascadero engineer Steve Isakson, a no party preference candidate, is running on a platform of bipartisanship to promote fiscal responsibility and achieve energy independence. Isakson said the new demographics of the district, which was redrawn in 2011, gives independent voters more say in their district representative. About one quarter of the district’s voters are registered as decline-to-state or no party preference.

Primarily, Isakson, 63, said he’s in the race to ease partisan gridlock in Congress, and to achieve goals both parties can agree on such as balancing the budget, trimming the national debt and cutting deficit spending.

He’s been vocal about the need for a backup plan for local jobs and revenue should the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant not be relicensed. The plants licenses expire in 2024 and 2025.

Isakson financed his campaign with $45,020.

He has no endorsements listed on his website.

The ‘Reagan Democrat’

A Montecito design consultant and self-described “Reagan Democrat” who has never held office, Benjamin Lucas has distinguished himself by running on a comparatively mixed platform.

Lucas, 53, champions progressive causes such as addressing climate change, supporting abortion rights, and raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

However, he supports renewing leases for oil drilling off the California coast, saying that energy alternatives are not ready for prime time, as well as increasing criminal penalties for people crossing U.S. borders illegally.

Lucas is also the only liberal candidate to take Capps to task, criticizing her office for the May 2015 onshore oil spill from a Plains All American Pipeline on Refugio Beach, which he argues occurred on her watch.

Though he didn’t raise enough money to require filing a campaign disclosure form last quarter, Lucas said he has since produced a TV commercial and bought print ads for about $40,000 that will show up in the next report. He has no endorsements on his website.

The outsider

It would be easy to peg Democrat William Ostrander, a San Luis Obispo hay farmer and director of the San Luis Obispo-based campaign finance reform nonprofit Citizens Congress, as a one-issue candidate. But that would be a mistake, as his opponents have come to realize during recent debates.

SLO County residents may know Ostrander, 56, for his local activism. During his campaign, Ostrander has run an effective social media campaign that has attracted followers and shares, allowing him to spread his message without the intense fundraising embraced by others.

Since entering the race, he’s raised $45,234, including nearly $13,000 of his own money. As of April 1, he spent all but $1,113.

While campaign finance is his biggest issue, he’s a proponent of agricultural reform, namely regenerative farming, a technique he said improves groundwater saturation in drought-stricken California. He’s outspoken on the need to ween off fossil fuels and nuclear power.

He’s criticized his Republican opponents on immigration for “draconian” rhetoric about “securing the borders,” when, he claims, fewer people are coming into the U.S. illegally from countries like Mexico. “It really bothers me, this talk, because it’s just not based in any reality,” he said.

Ostrander is endorsed by various high-ranking members of campaign finance reform-focused groups such as Represent.us, Every Voice and the Election Reformers Coalition, as well as his Citizens Congress. He’s also received a nod from Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Hedrick Smith.

The mayor

The current two-term mayor of Santa Barbara, Democrat Helene Schneider previously worked as an administrator for Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.

Schneider, 45, campaigns on her experience as a mayor addressing issues that directly affect voters, adding the first ounce of humor to the race by airing an offbeat TV ad showing her wading into the ocean in a suit and cruising in a convertible. In it she lists her local efforts in restarting the Santa Barbara desalination plant, stopping the sale of public parking lots and calling for an end to tax breaks for cleaning up oil spills.

She said she would continue to be a vocal advocate of issues that have been central to Capps’ political career: expanding access to affordable health care, supporting LGBTQ rights, boosting the minimum wage, combating gun violence, and protecting Medicare and Social Security.

Equal pay for women and ensuring a woman’s right to choose are “non-negotiable,” she said.

Schneider has picked up endorsements from a dozen labor unions and women’s political groups such as the National Women’s Political Caucus, the National Organization for Women, Women’s Political Committee, and the League of Conservation Voters, as well as elected officials such as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, and a long list of current and former city council members across the district and beyond.

Since the beginning of the election cycle, she’s raised about $577,000 and spent about $335,000.

The philosopher

John Uebersax, 62, a biostatistician from Morro Bay with no party preference, formerly worked at the RAND Corporation.

He has no endorsements listed on his website, and said late last month that he’d spent about $3,600 on his campaign.

Uebersax calls for an end to U.S. involvement in wars and occupations — “the moral albatross around our necks,” he said — and promotes international peace. But his platform extends to other areas such as advocating for preventative health care, environmental conservation, tax reform, and, as a founder of Californians for Higher Education Reform, reigning in skyrocketing college tuition and student debt.

Candidates at a Glance

Katcho Achadjian

  • City of residence: San Luis Obispo
  • Political party: Republican
  • Age: 64
  • Education: Cuesta College, Cal Poly (Business Administration)
  • Family: wife Araxie Achadjian, son Hratch Achadjian, daughter Nyri Achadjian
  • Occupation: California state assemblyman, owner of Arroyo Grande Shell, Petro Grande Mobil, Katch-Go Petroleum
  • Previous employment: Small business owner (above businesses)
  • Previous public offices: SLO County supervisor (4th district) for 3 terms
  • Why you are running: “As a small businessman and long-time active community member, I know the challenges that this district faces because I face them myself. I’m the voice of the people and want to advocate in Congress for the people. The Central Coast is an incomparable home to many and it’s my ongoing goal to make sure it’s treated as such in Congress.”
  • Which presidential candidate do you support: Ted Cruz

Salud Carbajal

  • City of residence: Santa Barbara
  • Political party: Democratic
  • Age: 51
  • Education: UC Santa Barbara., B.A. in Latin American and Iberian Studies. Fielding University, M.A. in Organizational Management
  • Family: Wife Gina Carbajal, daughter Natasha Carbajal-Garduno, son Michael Carbajal
  • Occupation: Santa Barbara County Supervisor, 1st District
  • Previous employment: Chief of staff, Santa Barbara County Supervisor Naomi Schwartz. Family service advocate and group home counselor at The Devereux, which serves adults and the elderly with developmental or emotional disorders. Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, assisting with the drug and alcohol division’s master plan.
  • Why you are running: “I’m running to serve the Central Coast community that has given me the opportunity to succeed. I have a proven record of bringing people together to solve problems and get results, by preserving our open spaces, creating jobs, and expanding educational opportunities. I will fight to provide opportunity and security for middle-class families and protect our environment and our special way of life on the Central Coast.”
  • Which presidential candidate do you support: Hillary Clinton.

Justin Fareed

  • City of residence: Goleta
  • Political party: Republican
  • Age: 27
  • Education: UCLA, B.A. in Political Science
  • Family: Parents Don & Linda Fareed, sister Tasha Fareed
  • Occupation: Vice president of ProBand Sports Industries, Inc., cattle rancher
  • Previous employment: UCLA coaching staff; legislative aide to chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee Ed Whitfield
  • Previous public offices: none
  • Why you are running: “Political insiders focus more on their next election than the policies that affect this and the next generation. I’m running to bring next generation leadership and 21st century policies to Washington in order to reform the institution and get Congress working again for the people of the Central Coast.”
  • Which presidential candidate do you support: the Republican nominee.

Steve Isakson

  • City of residence: Atascadero
  • Political party: No party preference
  • Age: 65
  • Education: PhD in electrical and computer engineering from UC Santa Barbara; MS in computer science and BS in physics, Cal Poly
  • Family: Wife Judith Isakson and their 36 cats
  • Current occupation: Chief engineer, Rantec Power Systems
  • Previous employment: Self employed at Isakson Engineering in Atascadero.
  • Previous public offices: None
  • Why you are running: “I am concerned about what is not happening in the dysfunctional Congress. There are severe problems looming in the next few years, such as a $25 trillion debt, the interest on the debt exceeding the the military budget, and the inevitable closure of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. I want to break the gridlock that prevents these problems from being addressed.”
  • Which presidential candidate do you support: Bernie Sanders

Matt Kokkonen:

  • City of residence: San Luis Obispo
  • Political party: Republican
  • Age: 70
  • Education: BA in Philosophy, Westmont College
  • Family: Wife Jean, two adult children
  • Occupation: Financial planner, Matt Kokkonen insurance and financial services
  • Previous employment: none
  • Previous public offices: Treasurer and board member of Squire Canyon Community Services District; member of SLO County Republican Central Committee
  • Why you are running: I am running for your grandchildren’s future by allowing only legal immigration; balancing our budget; eliminating our immoral $19 trillion debt; keeping America safe from Islamic radicals; creating jobs by eliminating regulations and lowering taxes; strengthening 2nd amendment; stopping funds to sanctuary cities; eliminating Common Core; giving water to valley farmers instead of Delta Smelt; upholding religious liberty; strengthening families.”
  • Which presidential candidate do you support: Donald Trump

Benjamin Lucas:

  • City of residence: Montecito
  • Political party: Democrat
  • Age: 53
  • Education: Keystone College, Engineering; Penn State University, Marketing; Shippensburg University, Political Science
  • Family: sons Noah and Aaron, daughter Daphne
  • Occupation: Design consultant
  • Previous employment: Nuclear operator, Three Mile Island; Melrose Corp., Los Angeles; master carpenter; land and home developer
  • Previous public offices: none
  • Why you are running: “I truly believe I’m in a position where opportunity and preparation meet. My mother instilled the principal of social service early in my childhood. She was politically active and would take me to meet the senators and representatives in their offices, lighting a lifelong fire to be in government, but not be a politician.”
  • Which presidential candidate do you support: Bernie Sanders

William Ostrander

  • City of residence: San Luis Obispo
  • Political party: Democrat
  • Birth date: 56
  • Education: no formal degree
  • Family: three sons
  • Occupation: Ostrander Grass Hay, director of Citizens Congress
  • Previous employment: self
  • Previous public offices: none
  • Why you are running: “Because I believe the money, cronyism, and disenfranchisement of so many of us is creating a two-tiered America. The calculated inequalities of our legislative outcomes has created a gulf in wealth, education, medical care, our justice system, and even our longevity. We can no longer merely complain. We must stand up and create the government we want.”
  • Which presidential candidate do you support: Bernie Sanders

Helene Schneider

  • City of residence: Santa Barbara
  • Political party: Democrat
  • Age: 45
  • Education: Skidmore College, BA
  • Family: Extended family in California and across the country
  • Occupation: Mayor of Santa Barbara; human resources management consultant
  • Previous employment: Human resources director, Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo Counties
  • Previous public offices: Santa Barbara City Councilwoman, 2004-2009; Commissioner of the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara
  • Why you are running: “I’m running for Congress to make our country work again for the people — not the politicians and special interests. It’s time we sent an outsider to Washington who can bring people together to get things done. I will protect our open spaces and natural resources, fight for clean water, and ensure that women can make reproductive health care decisions without government intrusion.
  • Which presidential candidate do you support: Hillary Clinton

John Uebersax

  • City of residence: Morro Bay
  • Political party: No party preference
  • Birth date: 62
  • Education: University of Texas at Austin, PhD in Psychology; University of Southern California, B.A.
  • Family: Single, no children
  • Occupation: Director, Californians for Higher Education Reform; Medical researcher; biostatistician; social scientist; writer
  • Previous employment: Adjunct professor, Cal Poly; associate professor of public health, Wake Forest University; policy analyst, RAND Corporation
  • Previous public offices: none
  • Why you are running: “To enable citizens in our district to vote against U.S. wars and military imperialism, which are the most important problems our country faces today and greatest threats to our security and well-being; and, if elected, to work to end war and develop a foreign policy based on peace, cooperation and friendship.
  • Which presidential candidate do you support: Gary Johnson (Libertarian)
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