Ag-based jobs and farm-related topics dear to Valley growth were driving issues in a forum Monday featuring candidates for Assembly District 21 and a Congressional District 16 candidate.
Manufacturing jobs, water issues, agriculture and special interest influence were all addressed by the runoff candidates for state assembly and a congressional hopeful at City Hall during the Community Candidates Night.
The nearly hour-long segment featured Assembly District 21 candidates Adam Gray, a Democrat, and Jack Mobley, a Republican, and congressional District 16 candidate Brian Whelan, a Republican. The newly drawn District 16 includes Merced County, parts of Madera County and the city of Fresno. Assembly District 21 also is newly drawn. The predominantly Democratic district encompasses all of Merced County and the southwest section of Stanislaus County.
Whelan's opponent, Democrat Jim Costa, had a scheduling conflict and was unable to attend. The forum was moderated by John Spevak, a retired educator and Enterprise columnist, with questions coming from the audience. Leading off the night was a question on bringing manufacturing jobs to Los Banos.
Mobley said he wants to revamp the California Environmental Quality Act.
"We need to institute into CEQA a human concept," he said. "Right now we're taking care of endangered species. We need to solve onerous regulations our state is putting on business. Businesses often are making a choice of being in compliance here and not in compliance there."
Whelan said he agreed with Mobley but tort reform would be necessary as well.
"The Americans With Disabilities Act... there are thousands of lawsuits that are filed in this area and what we should do is have a window of time where, before the lawsuit began, we can have that problem corrected," he said.
Gray said regulatory reform is needed at both the state and federal level because there are shifting standards that hamper business.
Mobley went after Gray on special interest contributions.
"Adam has money from the Bay Area. Three words, 'Follow the money.' Who are you going to be beholden to?" Mobley asked.
Gray indicated that the term special interest is misleading.
"That's exactly what's wrong with politics, what's one man's special interest is another man's supporters," he said. "I'm proud to have the support of the California Chamber of Commerce, California Poultry Federation ... I think those are important endorsements."
Whelan expressed repeated dismay that Costa did not attend the forum or any other debate where the two were face to face. He said Costa's commercials stating that he is lying about being a farmer are false. Whelan said his family has farmed for 65 years near Porterville and he farms with his father.
The candidates were asked about maintaining energy and water supplies.
Whelan said he'd like to concentrate on upgrading water infrastructure and have more domestic drilling.
"Everybody's seeing gas now at $4.50, $4.60 and above. We need now more than ever to look at resources we actually have," he said.
Gray said water and energy should be primary concerns.
"We need folks who understand our needs here ... make sure we're prepared (properly) for the agricultural economy," Gray said.
Mobley said the Central Valley needs the ability to store multiple years of water.
"Being able to save this year's water doesn't do anything for us during a drought," he said.
Mobley said southern California needs its own supply so the amount of water shipped to Los Angeles and San Diego can be decreased.
The entire candidates forum for the Assembly and California's 16th U.S. congressional district race is available on the Internet at www.losbanosenterprise.com or on Comcast channel 96.
The forums were sponsored by the Los Banos Enterprise, which also held a school board forum the same evening. On Monday at 7 p.m., forums will be held at City Hall for City Council and mayoral candidates.