The aptly chosen Reagan Room at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort was lively last Wednesday, as four Republicans running for office this November fielded questions from several GOP organizations and the public.
Robin Walter, Mike Stoker, Abel Maldonado, and Elizabeth Emken introduced themselves and their campaigns before sitting down with moderator Andy Caldwell for one-on-one interviews. Following the candidates’ individual sessions, the four politicians held an open question-and-answer session with the audience.
The bulk of the evening was devoted to the candidates’ conversations with Caldwell, host of The Andy Caldwell Show on AM 1290 and director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, during which they were questioned on their positions on key issues, plans for the future, and how the differ from their opponents.
Walter, who is challenging incumbent State Assemblymember Das Williams for the 35th District, got a loud round of applause for his campaign slogan of “No Mas Das” and focused his opening arguments on the contrast between the nation’s two major political parties. “All the space between the two parties has been created by the Democratic Party moving away from those God-given, time-tested values and principles [held by the Republican Party],” Walter said.
Walter also got a hand from the audience when he quickly answered Caldwell’s question, “Do you support eliminating the defined pension benefits plan for government employees?” with a simple “Yes.” Walters’s other well-received responses included his position that businesses should be America’s chief economic force, rather than government, and that regulation priorities should favor business over environmental concerns, like in the case of fracking.
Next up was Mike Stoker, a longtime Santa Barbara politician running against Hannah-Beth Jackson for the 19th State Senate District seat, which Jackson lost narrowly to incumbent Tony Strickland in 2008. Oil drilling was a key topic for Stoker, one he blasted Jackson’s positions on, speaking loudly and emphatically on his opponent’s allegedly hypocritical standpoint, citing her involvement in lobbying for the PXP Oil Company project alongside her usual opposition to the oil industry.
Stoker’s platform also focused on reshaping budget concerns and government priorities at the state level, shifting resources back toward local governments and away from state commissions and employees. Stoker said state commissions, specifically the Coastal Commission, were “out of control” in their power over local governments. He even got a whoop from an audience member when he suggested laying off 22 percent of state employees to match the cuts to county, city, and school employees, and then putting the saved money back into schools and local governments.
Congressional candidate Abel Maldonado was the evening’s most controversial speaker, drawing both applause and sounds of discontent from the audience at different points in his speech and interview. He dismissed concern over his legal trouble with the IRS, saying that his opponent’s, incumbent Representative Lois Capps, campaign ads were ad hominem attacks against his family rather than legitimate political criticisms.
However, Maldonado’s hardest battle will be fought over his controversial decision in 2009, when he cast the deciding vote in the California State Senate to raise taxes by $13 billion. This vote remains a thorn in Maldonado’s political side, something he recognized in 2009 and reiterated Wednesday night.
“I said that day on the House floor, this might be the end of my political career, but it was not going to be the end of the State of California,” Maldonado said, asking the audience whether they would rather have seen the consequences of California’s dire budget deficit affect universities and public employees like Highway Patrol officers.
When initially asked by Caldwell whether he “had a threshold” on raising taxes, Maldonado said simply, “I’m not going to Washington to raise taxes” and that the government would not solve all its problems with higher taxes. The room was silent after the question on taxes, with the exception of an isolated boo from one dissenter in the back, prompting a request by Caldwell that the audience remain respectful. Applause returned, however, as the discussion shifted to health care, during which Maldonado spoke out against high costs and government control over healthcare decisions.
Elizabeth Emken, the underdog challenger to two-decade U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, also spoke to the crowd. Emken, a mother of three with a severly autistic son, said health care was one of her top priorities. Emken consistently mentioned California’s decline over the past few years, saying Feinstein’s leadership had lost its luster. While she has little to no political experience, Emken said her double degree in economics and political science and experience in management and financial analysis at IBM, as well as her ability to relate to the general population, make her a viable alternative to the incumbent senator.
“[The Republican Party has] run a series of millionaires, billionaires, CEOs, and movie stars for 20 years. It hasn’t worked,” Emken said. “We have to run people who can connect with the people of California, who frankly understand what they’re going through. Dianne Feinstein doesn’t have a clue what you’re going through.” However, Emken’s campaign remains far behind Feinstein’s, both in spending and in the polls. She trails by over $2 million in campaign spending and around 18 points in recent polls.
Wednesday’s forum was put on by Santa Barbara Area Republicans, a joint organization of smaller clubs including Santa Barbara Republican Women, Federated; Research Issues and Take Action (RITA) Republican Women, Federated; Santa Barbara Republican Club; and Carpinteria Valley Republican Club.