A clear divergence of beliefs piled up between Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, a Republican from Costa Mesa, and political newcomer Robert Rush, a Newport Beach Democrat, as they answered queries during a forum for candidates stumping for votes in the newly remapped 74th state Assembly district.
Controversy engulfed the forum even before Joan Hoke, past president of the county’s League of Women Voters, began asking questions of the contenders last Friday, May 25, in Laguna Beach’s Council Chambers. Candidate Leslie Daigle, a Newport Beach City Council member, failed to attend the forum, planned weeks ago, without explanation, according to local organizer Jean Raun.
“It’s too bad it didn’t include all the candidates,” said Laguna’s Barbara Ring, among about 70 people in attendance, who also wished for more discussion of propositions on the June 5 ballot.
“I think she lost a tremendous opportunity,” added local Barbara Picheny.
A paper placard with her name and an empty seat between Rush and Mansoor stood in for Daigle on the dias.
Though Daigle’s absence presented a convenient target, her male rivals mostly bypassed the opportunity, with the exception of a question about negative campaigning. Mansoor, the unofficial incumbent since he was elected to the previous 68th District now partly absorbed by the new 74th, criticized a mailer sent on behalf of Daigle supporters, which he said inaccurately portrayed his position on pension reform.
The district includes the beach towns of Laguna, Newport and Huntington, western Irvine and Laguna Woods. Republicans outnumbered Democrats 42.5 percent to 29.5 last year, according to voter registration. Even so, district voting patterns fluctuate; Republican Meg Whitman and Democrat Barack Obama would have won the district in 2010 and 2008 respectively, according to Redistricting Partners, a Sacramento political consultant.
Compared to April’s earlier forum in Costa Mesa, Mansoor and Rush cordially rebutted each other without animus.
A question about restarting the San Onofre nuclear power plant generated the most heat within the audience, who raised their hands to show support for Rush’s position.
“I’m uncomfortable with it reopening,” Rush said, outlining the plant’s risk near a quake zone, a safety record he characterized as “poor” and unresolved nuclear waste disposal, issues that he says should be resolved before restarting. “We have to invest in proven technology that isn’t a lark,” he said.
Though Mansoor said he supports nuclear power, should the plant be faulty, he said he would not support its reopening either.
On many issues, Mansoor and Rush lined up as polar opposites. Mansoor believes term limits for state elected officials should be eliminated, opposes granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, supports pro-choice and Prop. 8’s ban on same-sex marriage. Rush was the flip side of each position.
But the two found common ground critiquing California’s business climate, the governor’s ballot tax proposal and assessing the state’s educational priorities, though they differed on how to solve the problems.
Mansoor said he intends to work to bring jobs back to the state by reducing regulation and bureaucracy, such as permitting. “We need substantial reforms or we’re just kicking the can down the road,” he said of the tax proposal, which both Mansoor and Rush oppose.
Rush pointed out that Chief Executive Magazine in three successive years named the Golden State the worst in the nation for its work force, taxes and regulation. “We’re in the beginning of a tepid recovery. We need to look at alternative sources before we hit taxes,” he said.
Similar creative thinking can squeeze out revenue, he suggested. “Cutting education is draconian. I think we can do more,” Rush said.
Mansoor agreed that education funding should be a priority, which he says can be achieved by reform of regulation, welfare and pensions as well as luring business to California.
“It’s a terrible situation we face,” Mansoor said of the state’s $16 billion deficit. “The reforms need to be done today. We’re in for some difficult times.”