Last Saturday night, pregaming for KEYT-TV’s congressional debate began at 6:30 p.m.
Three miles across town, thousands of Katy Perry fans streamed into the Santa Barbara Bowl for her big concert. At the TV station, meanwhile, a few political aficionados tucked into the special order, four-foot-long subs from Sam’s To Go, deliciously leaking grease through white butcher paper, which News Director Jim Lemon sliced up on the conference room table.
Determined not to miss the #27 (Avocado, Turkey Bacon & Cheese), a journalistic veteran of such affairs arrived promptly at 6:29 for an 8 p.m. kickoff.
For the next hour, cast and crew wandered in for chow (alas, the picnic tub of drinks held nothing harder than Diet Coke), candid political chat (who’s a bigger sleaze running for governor — Antonio Villaraigosa for his affair with a TV reporter, or Gavin Newsom for shtupping his best friend’s wife? Discuss), and selection of first-round questions (Cap Letters claimed Planned Parenthood).
The draw. At 7:30 p.m., Representative Salud Carbajal, along with Republican rivals Justin Fareed and Michael Woody, stood on KEYT’s outdoor deck, with its spectacular city view, and drew speaking-order lots from a Dos Pueblos football helmet. The sports department owns a full collection for prep football segments, and Lemon vetoed a Santa Barbara High model lest it infer support for ex-Dons star Justin.
Smash the patriarchy. Avuncular anchor and master moderator C.J. Ward flew solo Saturday. With neither co-anchor Beth Farnsworth nor star reporter Tracy Lehr, however, this left an all-male reporter panel questioning an all-male candidate lineup. Yikes! #notmetoo.
The Wood Man. Republican businessman Woody, the potential spoiler of a Salud-versus-Justin rematch, is a friendly fellow and voracious talker. The first candidate to arrive, he wandered into the press room to shake hands before repeatedly complaining about the Indy publishing a photo from his long-ago Fresno City Council days, when he sported an ’80s-boy-band blond mullet.
Woody, whose striking physical appearance melds Jackson Browne, Werner Erhard, and Bruce Jenner at the 1960 Olympics, displayed a facile debate style, delivering clear and complete sentences in the velvety tones of a lounge singer at an all-you-can-eat buffet night at a Holiday Inn in Des Moines. His ideas combine textbook Republicanism (cut taxes and regulation) and Trumpism (sanctuary-state repeal and climate-science denial) with libertarianism on social issues.
Justin tries out the nice. Fareed, who risks becoming Santa Barbara’s Harold Stassen with one more election loss, stopped by early to renew acquaintance with reporters, extending an olive branch over past media feuds and expressing regret that the Indy was banned from 2016 election-night parties.
He also talked a little football, describing his first UCLA practice carry, when two big-beef defenders, who turned out to be the spawn of the famed Brian Bosworth, flattened him. Hmmm: Maybe his current elusive refusal to provide straight answers to direct questions traces to that trauma, so he ducks, feints, cuts, cuts back, and runs for the sidelines, mistaking reporters for pursuing linebackers.
The future lies ahead. Salud’s most entertaining moment came right after the debate, when we asked if he’d vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker should the Dems win the House. Carbajal owes her, but as the GOP’s #1 bogeywoman, Pelosi’s given Democrats permission to say what they must while campaigning. So he balked four times at the question: “I’m going to reserve my judgment; then I will vote for the person who will help me best meet the needs of my constituents.” Oy.
Mindful of both his base and conservative North County and San Luis Obispo voters, Salud offered straight Democratic talking points on political tribal issues, all while preaching bipartisanship. Lest he be caught for an unguarded second, he held a rictus grin while looking straight at the camera, whether the shot was on him or not. Throughout, he banged a little heavy on the keys, orating as if delivering a national convention speech rather than talking to the 12 of his neighbors without Katy Perry tickets.