Just days away from Tuesday’s election primary, 19th District Senate candidates Hannah-Beth Jackson, Mike Stoker and Jason Hodge faced off Thursday night, each giving reasons why they deserve to be on November’s ballot.
The forum was hosted by the Milpas Community Association, the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Women Business Owners and the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors.
The invitation-only event at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort focused on jobs and the economy. Jerry Roberts moderated the event, asking a slew of questions, and touching on everything from green jobs and oil production to regulation and the California Environmental Quality Act.
One question, posed by the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, asked the candidates about restoring the California Environmental Quality Act and moving it away from being a tool to obstruct business.
Hodge answered first, saying that at the time CEQA was put in place, California had “some out-of-control development going on.” He added that he supports the principles of the CEQA, “but it has been abused.”
Stoker said he supported CEQA, but not just as a tool to hold up a project. He said people should be free to file CEQA challenges, but have the loser pay the attorney’s fees.
Jackson conjured up a time in California when the air quality was poor, and that businesses must be held accountable to public health without over-regulation.
“We need to find that balance,” she said. “We need to look at various laws of all kinds and see if they are doing the job they were supposed to do.”
The candidates were also asked about offshore oil, and whether the oil industry can drill in an environmentally sensitive manner.
Stoker spent his time touting the benefits of slant drilling: “Onshore you significantly reduce the risk. We don’t need new platforms.”
Hodge said the industry has become cleaner, but that he was a “stalwart opponent” of offshore drilling.
“Every time you came home (from the beach), you were scraping tar off your legs and your back,” he said. “You were bathed in turpentine. Kids aren’t doing that now.”
Jackson replied that her opponents were missing the point.
“We are dependent on fossil fuels,” she said, adding that people must make the transition off of oil.
The Milpas Community Association asked about the prison system and what each candidate would do to fix it.
Jackson agreed that it was a mess, saying, “We’ve just warehoused and warehoused.”
She called on early intervention as a solution.
“Teachers know by the time a child is in first grade which ones are going to get in trouble,” she said. “Let’s start right there and turn off the tap.”
Stoker was dubious.
“I’m not sold on the first-grade intervention being the first line of defense on this,” he said, to laughs.
Stoker stuck with a persistent message of jobs as the answer, as did Hodge.
“You’re not going to have pride in yourself and your family to succeed; you’re going to end up in jail,” Hodge said.
Pensions were another hot-button issue, and the candidates were asked about Gov. Jerry Brown’s pension plan.
Hodge began, saying the plan “does zero to save money in California.”
He said a new port director was hired at the Port of Hueneme and built into her contract was a $500-a-month car allowance, which counted toward her pension amount.
“I took it away,” he said. “We have to get to where we’re honestly funding our pension system.”
Jackson said she doesn’t want to see 401(k)s, but that CalPERS has done a fine job investing for its people. With 401(k)s, she said, “you have the same people that brought down Wall Street being able to use your money in any way they want.”
She also said she couldn’t support a two-tiered system, putting younger workers joining the workforce at a lower contribution rate than existing workers.
“Why should our next generation suffer?” she asked.
Stoker commended Brown for his effort. He said the next generation of workers will have a defined contribution, “just like the rest of us have in the private sector.”
Because none of the Democrats would support the plan, Stoker said, “that’s pretty telling on how dysfunctional California has become.”