Local Politics

Monday, Apr 22 2013 05:31 PM

Senate candidates debate wage, water, public-safety issues

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Candidate for the 16th state Senate District seat, Democrat Leticia Perez.

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Candidate for the 16th state Senate District seat, Republican Andy Vidak.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

The two party-backed candidates for the 16th Senate District seat dueled Monday morning on Fresno's KMJ News Talk Radio's Ray Appleton Show.

Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez, the state Democratic Party choice to replace former state Sen. Michael Rubio, promised to bring a moderate, business-friendly voice to the Democratic caucus.

Hanford farmer and Republican Andy Vidak criticized Perez's connection with the "libral elite" in Sacramento and her support for an increase in the minium wage.

Perez answered the most common question about her campaign -- why she is running for Senate just months after starting her supervisor job -- by saying she was amazed by how many people in her 5th Supervisorial District supported her run for higher office.

"This constituent base is asking me to step up," she said.

Vidak said he doesn't need a job, but he got into the race because he can't stand the way the Democratic Party is handling state government.

"All the cuts, everything that's happening, is under that liberal elite in Sacramento," he said. "When I win this election, Sacramento is going to go 'oh my gosh, we've got independent voters.' It's going to sweep the state."

Perez's minimum wage push -- to increase the base pay for workers to $9.25 an hour -- was the primary point of contention in the radio discussion.

"Families in the Central Valley need a raise," she said. "I believe it's the best way to put money into the hands of workers that goes right to small business."

Vidak doesn't like the idea.

"Minimum wage does nothing if somebody doesn't have a job," he said, repeating his most common criticism of Perez. "We need to be creating businesses."

But on the other issues the pair touched on Monday, Perez and Vidak were far from confrontational.

They agreed on steps the state government should take to improve water infrastructure and get more water to San Joaquin Valley farmers.

"We need surface storage. We need conveyance," Vidak said, saying the statewide water bond was the best deal possible despite the fact it had some pork in it.

Perez also supported the bond.

"We need a real infrastructure transformation. I support a conveyance plan. We need both above-ground and below-ground storage," she said. "I have been convinced that there is nothing more important to the Central Valley economy than water."

They agreed that Assembly Bill 109, which shifted non-violent, non-sexual, non-serious criminals from state to county incarceration and supervision, was a terrible thing for the state and its communities.

"It's been incredibly destructive to our communities and difficult for our partners in law enforcement," Perez said.

Vidak decried the funding imbalance between payments San Joaquin Valley counties receive to offset county costs and those that cities in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area receive as a "gross inequity."

In the end, however, both candidates were certain the other was not the right fit for the district.

"In order to get anything done, you have to be at the table," Perez said, arguing that because she is a moderate Democrat, she would have a seat at the table in serious discussions of statewide issues and Vidak never would.

Vidak said he would be part of the discussions because he would maintain a commitment to working with Democrats and wouldn't let partisan stone-throwing stop him from getting things done.

The primary election will be held May 21. In addition to Vidak and Perez, candidates Paulina Miranda, Mohammad Arif and Francisco Ramirez are running for the seat.

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