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South Bay Gears Up For District 40 State Senate Race Tuesday

California Senate District 40
South Bay Gears Up For State Senate Race Tuesday
GUEST: Phil Saenz, Political science instructor, Southwestern College

CAVANAUGH: Did the earthquake jolt you out of a fog this morning, could you be suffering from the effects of the time change? This is KPBS Midday Edition. A moderate 4.6 earthquake shook San Diego this morning. No damage or injuries are reported but it might've startled some sleepy people who are not adapting well to the time change. We will examine why springing ahead one little hour might have you dragging through the day but first an overview of the special election happening tomorrow at San Diego's 40th state Senate district. We will hear about this candidates forum at Southwestern College and then an encore of the Midday movie segment featuring the still controversial Quentin Tarantino movie Django Unchained. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. KPBS Midday Edition is next, first the news. Voters go to the polls in the South County tomorrow to choose a new State Sen. For the 40th district. And lots of us with messed up sleep patterns got messed up a little more with the return of daylight saving time. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. It is Monday, March 11. Here are some of the stories we're following in the newsroom. A moderate 4.6 earthquake struck at 9:45 this morning and was felt throughout San Diego County. No reports of injuries or damage. Seismologists say it was centered area around Anza San Diego. The downtown homeless shelter opens today; the connections housing building will shelter about 220 people nightly. It was originally set to open in January. And the tentative ruling is expected in the legality of the convention center expansion financing plan. The court will rule if San Diego hoteliers can pay for the expansion by boosting fees for tourists complies with state law. Listen for the news through the day here on KPBS. The top story on KPBS, State Sen. Juan Vargas is now US Congressman Juan Vargas, so the 40th state Senate district in San Diego and Imperial counties needs a new representative. Tomorrow the public will go to the polls for a special election to fill the seat. The candidates are state assemblyman Ben Hueso and Anna Nevenic, both Democrats, Republicans Hector Gastelum and Xanthi Gionis. A candidates forum took place last Friday at Southwestern College and shortly after the forum I spoke with the moderator political science professor Phil Saenz. Here is the interview. First of all, if you would give a sense of the district. Voters in the boundaries will be voting. That includes three counties, doesn't it? SAENZ: That's right. It's kind of interesting dynamic because the (inaudible) we will not be voting next time we have an election but it goes all the way up to Riverside. I have some numbers if you'd like me to share it includes about 220,051 voters in San Diego County and about 71,000 in Riverside County and 55,000 in Imperial County. CAVANAUGH: Let's explain what we mean by the old boundaries and the new boundaries between the time that Juan Vargas was elected in 2010, a change that boundary lines for redistricting of state Senate District 40 when he was elected and includes those numbers that you just gave us. But now the district covers all of Imperial County. SAENZ: Right, and Riverside is no longer a part of it, it is more of a southern district now. CAVANAUGH: Can you give us some details about the demographics of the voting population? SAENZ: Generally it is more Democrat than Republican. There's a higher concentration of minority voters including Latino and black so it's pretty diverse. CAVANAUGH: As I said there are four people running in the race but there were three people at the forum, so let's hear of one of the opening statements. Let's hear from Democrat Anna Nevenic. NEVENIC: You people are my number one priority, (inaudible) way to create jobs for you that is unbelievable that they could do something to the poor and the young. So, that is why I am running for this political office. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Prof. Phil Saenz, tell us little bit about the candidate. SAENZ: I think she does have an appeal. I think she identifies with the poor and oppressed and the minority and women. She has that appeal. I think that she might lack a little experience and maybe how things are run in Sacramento, but I think her heart is in the right place. CAVANAUGH: Does she have any political background at all? PHIL SAENZ: To my knowledge and belief she's never held a public office. CAVANAUGH: Is this forum the only one that you know of that you have to sponsor all or at least invite all of the candidates SAENZ: To my knowledge that is correct CAVANAUGH: So they have not had that much practice during the campaign. SAENZ: I think they've had small appearances of different localities but this is probably the biggest one they will have. CAVANAUGH: Let's move on the forum that took place at Southwestern College, what do the candidates have to say about education? Let's hear actually two of the candidates talking about education. This is Hector Gastelum and Ben Hueso. GASTELUM: My plan is we need to reduce taxes on everybody. That's how we found it, by bringing back prosperity. When you graduate you have 50% unemployment. We fund education and we fund other programs by having prosperity again. : We also need to invest in the poor. A child cannot learn if he goes to school hungry, if he goes to school on closing, if he doesn't have adequate housing. How that affects the performance of a child in school and unfortunately you know we are still struggling with providing for the least fortunate in our state. CAVANAUGH: Again, those were two of the candidates running for the 40th District state Senate seat. Hector Gastelum and Ben Hueso. Tell us about Hector first of all if you would, Phil Saenz. SAENZ: The only Republican mayor you could get a sense where he's coming from. Obviously he's pro-business and does not support taxes he's a businessman in the South Bay area, he's a realtor. Never held a public office. Very bright. I believe he has some ties with Mexico. I believe he was raised in Mexico but he's an American citizen and as I said there were two Republicans invited but he was the only one who was there. CAVANAUGH: Ben Hueso is probably the most well-known of the candidates. Remind us about his background SAENZ: He's a native San Diegan and he got an early start in the City Council in San Diego and move his way up to the assembly and his aspirations are to take over the 40th Senate district. CAVANAUGH: And he's a Democrat. One of the candidates invited did not make an appearance at the form. Her name is Xanthi Gionis. Tell us about her. SAENZ: I have not met her. She was going to show and went back to my office and there was an e-mail that there was a personal reason that she could not make it. I believe it had something to do with transportation so I will take it for her word that that was the reason she was not there. CAVANAUGH: She's a Republican. She has been in the news recently not for good reasons for a candidate for public office. Tell us a little bit about the controversy surrounding her for-profit college in Carlsbad. SAENZ: I probably don't know any more than what other people know in San Diego that they've seen in television or read, but apparently there is somewhat of a scandal associated with that in that she's running a for-profit college stating that she is offering particular certificate that she is not permitted to do under law. And I guess there are also issues as to whether or not she's offering the type of instructions that would warrant the type of a certification. So I did not know exactly how she is running it. She's trying to sell it as well. So I'm not too sure you know it is in the investigative state so I didn't want to comment more than that or condemn her for whatever it is because I don't know enough about it. CAVANAUGH: Not the best news for a candidate SAENZ: Obviously people speculate that is the reason she didn't come. CAVANAUGH: What are the major issues for the candidates? SAENZ: The two major issues for education and after that was economic job development but at the end I had an opportunity to fire a few questions at them asking them to either answer pass, support or against just to get a feel of where they were on social issues or the political issues. CAVANAUGH: Can you give us a flavor of that because that sounds like you're trying to get at the heart of what made up these political candidates. SAENZ: As far as education and obviously we were at Southwestern College so that will be a big concern with the student population there, I asked them what they could do to increase funding for the schools themselves and also try to help students with a high increasing cost of education including books and tuition so they had an opportunity to address that. Then, with respect to job creation I was hoping they would talk more specifically about opening up a college in the South Bay or some other specific relation to the Chula Vista area or the court but there was some reference made to the border and other small business opportunities but the last series of questions I asked were more with gay marriage, how they stood on gay marriage, legalizing marijuana, banning assault weapons, the Dream Act, a woman's right to choose to have an abortion, Roe versus Wade, the death penalty and also adult education being taught at the community college level as opposed to where it is now at the high school level and also for forcing the state legislative branch to take responsibility for whether they will increase tuition if an affiliate currently is with UC, Cal State and community college is having unelected officials making these decisions and it asked if they supported the temporary freeze in tuition. CAVANAUGH: can you give us a flavor for how they answered SAENZ: I would say they pretty much stayed with party line. Not to say they didn't sway a little bit with respect to the Dream Act Republicans are usually against it but (inaudible) appeared to supported a little bit but it's hard for me to recall every answer they gave but I think for the most part it was party line. CAVANAUGH: With the two Democrats being progressive on issues and the Republican being more conservative. Now the district as we pointed out now runs across the California border with Mexico so what is it specifically that was mentioned about border issues if you recall? SAENZ: I think the opportunity to talk about job creation and what either of them would like to do as far as that, Ben was able to point to specifics and in fact he made reference to legislation he had introduced in dealing with the border and working with Mexico and eliminating tariffs on goods going into Mexico so I think he's in a position to be more specific in that he's occupying a legislative position right now, where the others speak in general terms that was one of the issues that it kept hurting from guest on that list taxes, he did mentioned in the discussion that because of the increase in taxes we potentially are you losing business to Texas. As we all know the governor from Texas came over here and was trying to shop Texas which is true and it's something that we can't ignore. This is a possibility but I think I think the real debate with economic supply side, you could see the real division, without the passage of prop 30 we would lose a lot more businesses and we probably lose a lot more services also in education we have a lot more cuts, less funding, less classes so there's got to be a balance and I think then was trying to explain that nobody likes taxes but you need to fund the state and there may be some businesses that leave but in the long term it may be it's hard to say but because of the improved economy we could attract more businesses because the state is definitely on the move. Prop 30 has rated the boat. We are no longer in a freefall. There is funding. CAVANAUGH: And of course Prop 30 being the sales tax initiative supported by the governor the past just this past November. Assemblyman Ben Hueso as you said is considered by many to be the favorite in the race he's certainly the one is probably the most well-known of the candidates was he the one that the challenges the other candidates challenge most in the form? SAENZ: I would say that the Republican Gastelum may have and the other candidate if she had, would have as well but I did not look at it as an adversarial contest. (They talked about) the main points and were not antagonistic toward each other. But I think everyone acknowledges he is the front runner. CAVANAUGH: Juan Vargas ran for the primary the 40th district back in 2010 (inaudible) we mentioned against of Mary Salas special interests poured money into the race in support of Vargas. What is the money trail looking like in this race? SAENZ: With such a short turnaround from the time that Vargas won the won the special election I don't think the other three candidates were able to get enough money going but obviously Ben was able to have his well oiled machinery in place he just won an election so he obviously had an advantage because special-interest is (inaudible) interest necessarily these maybe that he has worked with in the past and he supported in the future and I wouldn't say it's necessarily a bad thing. I would say it is something that is the product of an incumbent running. CAVANAUGH: The turnout for the recent mayoral primary election in Los Angeles was really pitiful. It was about 16%. Are we hoping for a better turnout in the primary election that will happen on Tuesday? SAENZ: We can always be hopefully most want to take this opportunity to thank KPBS because we will reach people although I do believe people that are listening were already going to vote. You have an intellectual listening base. Unfortunately, the major and only paper that we have didn't cover the event which seems to be typical of them there's a bias on part of the Union Tribune not covering something politics unless it deals with some type of scandal or indictment of some sort. I listened to one of your programs earlier. There seems to be a sexist bias on part of the U-T. I think it's also a race bias and a regional bias as well that seems to be controlled more by North County white men than it is by an open objective media outlet. CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, what is the level of interest though, among voters in the state Senate district number as far as you can gauge? SAENZ: Well we were able to have at least two different television stations. We had KUSI, we had Channel 7 NBC and KPBS that is really the only way to reach, no newspaper coverage whatsoever. So it is hard to gauge. The registrar of voters is predicting about 40% voter turnout but with these efforts are putting for a little higher but I'm doubtful. CAVANAUGH: Do you feel that people are talking about this, are they engaged in this or is this sort of a special election that is as you say comes on the heels of a big general election SAENZ: There's no propositions, no other contrast, you don't see other lawn signs, people get out of their political, when it is election time you start to see there is no indication to do that. CAVANAUGH: There is no real galvanizing reason for people to go to the polls? SAENZ: There is not no reason, they are just unaware and people are consumed with their own individual existence. That's why there is so much responsibility on the part of the media that's why I'm so thankful to kind of help give information in the wake of the masses so they understand this is democracy. CAVANAUGH: If no one gets 50% of the vote there will be a runoff in May, do you expect that outcome? SAENZ: I don't expect the outcome. I believe he will win, right out, assemblyman Hueso, transpires that if he wins outright, or in a run off we will have another special election. CAVANAUGH: Another special election. Let me just reiterate, the people who are running for the state Senate in District 40 race, the Democrats state assemblyman Ben Hueso, Democrat, Anna Nevenic, Republican Hector Gastelum and Republican Xanthi Gionis. I had a little trouble with those names, but those are the people who will be on the ballot tomorrow in this primary election. I've been speaking with Prof. Phil Saenz of Southwestern College thank you so much. SAENZ: My pleasure, thank you.

Voters will go to the polls on Tuesday to vote for a new state senator from the 40th district in San Diego and Imperial Counties. The special election is to fill the seat vacated by Juan Vargas, who was elected to Congress last November.

Four candidates, two Democrats and two Republicans, are running for the seat: Democrat Ben Hueso, Democrat Anna Nevenic, Republican Hector Gastelum, and Republican Xanthi Gionis.

Phil Saenz, a political science professor at Southwestern College, moderated a debate between the candidates on Friday. He told KPBS none of the candidates offered specific plans during the debate on how to create jobs.


All four candidates are supportive of increasing education funding, and all four support the California DREAM Act, which allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to apply for financial aid, Saenz said.

Saenz said Hueso has the most name recognition and fundraising of the four, so he is favored to win. If no one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the election will go to a runoff in May. But Saenz said he does not expect that to happen.

Corrected: July 14, 2024 at 1:56 PM PDT
Claire Trageser contributed to this report.