Editorial: Sam Blakeslee is the best choice for state Senate

As a state assemblyman, Republican Sam Blakeslee has earned our respect and support in the past, and we continue to believe he would be the best bet when it comes to representing the interests of San Luis Obispo County in the state Senate.

For that reason, he earns our endorsement, though this was a difficult choice.

We also found Democrat John Laird to be a strong candidate, particularly on environmental issues. He was a bit vague on his plan for balancing the budget, though we do support his call for an extraction tax on oil. And we like his proposal to increase the vehicle license fee by $10 in exchange for allowing Californians free entrance into state parks.

We are concerned, though, about whether Laird would stand up to labor unions and support some of the pension and salary reforms for public employees that are going to be critical to the state’s economic recovery. Without those reforms, generations of Californians are going to be saddled with crushing pension obligations.

In the final analysis, Blakeslee’s proven record of service to his constituents here tipped the scale for us.

He’s been responsive and hardworking, and he’s been willing to tackle the real-world problems of local residents. The Los Osos sewer project is a perfect example. When that project foundered, Blakeslee rescued it by sponsoring legislation that brought it under control of the county.

We also applaud Blakes-lee’s efforts to force a more comprehensive study of a new earthquake fault discovered off Diablo Canyon — though we wish he had taken that a step further and urged a delay of a relicensing decision until that study is complete. And while the opposition has tried to paint Blakeslee as a “Drill, baby, drill” proponent, his support for offshore drilling has been limited to the Tranquillon Ridge project off Santa Barbara — a position shared by some environmental groups.

We are, however, concerned about the hard tack to the right that Blakeslee has taken of late.

That was perhaps most clearly evident from the memo he wrote when he was minority leader of the Assembly, in which he slammed the governor for signing a number of bills, including one that recognized gay marriages performed out-of-state, another that restricted handgun ammunition sales and bills that prevented health insurers from continuing two particularly egregious practices — rescinding coverage of already established customers and charging women more than men.

Also, we believe Blakeslee’s staunch no-new-taxes policy — one that he’s since softened — has contributed to California’s partisan gridlock. We’ve long maintained that some combination of tax and/or fee increases and cuts is the most equitable and humane way to resolve the budget crisis, and it’s been frustrating to see most Republicans reject that approach out of hand.

For the record, Blakeslee now says he’s taken a pledge to take no more pledges. He also says he won’t rule out tax increases — with the caveat that he would have to see structural reforms as well.

That’s encouraging, but we hope he’s not just playing to his moderate constituency. We’ll be keeping track to make sure he follows through.

To repeat, this was not an easy choice, but we believe that Blakeslee has served his constituency well over the past six years, and we urge voters to send him to the state Senate.

We strongly urge Blakeslee to return to his moderate roots if he is successful in winning the seat.

About the race

Race: 15th District state Senate

Candidates: Republican Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo, Democratic former Assemblyman John Laird of Santa Cruz; Libertarian Mark Hinkle of Morgan Hill; and Independent Jim Fitzgerald of Nipomo

Election day: June 22

Our endorsement: Sam Blakeslee