The Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidate forum Thursday night where political hopefuls spoke on a broad spectrum of local issues.
The Board of Supervisors meeting room was nearly full as Chamber President George Segarini introduced candidates for State Assembly, Sonora City Council and three county Board of Supervisors districts.
First up during the four-hour forum were candidates vying for the newly redrawn 5th State Assembly district, which stretches from Lake Tahoe to Fresno and includes Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.
Republican Kevin Lancaster, of Sonora, is a taxi driver who has worked in a variety of other fields including construction, garbage disposal, pizza delivery and roofing. He said he was laid off from the SPI lumber mill in Sonora when it closed in 2009.
He said he was inspired to run for Assembly by his father who said that you can’t complain about government unless you participate in it. Lancaster said that global warming was “a load of crap,” questioned whether the county can afford to build a new jail and said he thought taxes, in many cases, are unconstitutional.
“We should not be raising our taxes, we should be looking at the state of our budget,” Lancaster said.
Independent candidate Mark Belden said he was once a Republican, but stopped registering with the party after he said his political affiliation cost him a supervisors election in 1992.
He said the state should end wasteful spending, enact pension reform, encourage competitive bidding on public works, end the death penalty and repeal “onerous regulations.” He said his experience as a building contractor will help him work on behalf of small businesses.
“We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem,” Belden said. “Under no circumstances do I think we should raise taxes.”
San Andreas business owner and former Republican Assemblyman Rico Oller said the government has a spending problem and is too restrictive to businesses. He said that the state is an “extremely badly run corporation” that needs new leadership.
Oller criticized AB 32, which targets greenhouse gas emissions, and said portions of the law will push small trucking companies out of business. He said global warming is a farce and the law is an example of “social engineering.”
“The purpose of government is not to pick the winners and losers in the game of life,” Oller said. “The purpose of government fundamentally is to be the referee.”
Democrat Marc Boyd, a substitute teacher who lives in Arnold, hammered issues related to spending cuts on education and advocated holding a district-wide economic summit focusing on tourism.
He said high unemployment, record foreclosures and deep budget cuts have devastated the Mother Lode’s economy. Economic development should be a priority as well as promoting a fully funded education system, he said.
“My first concern is rebuilding the foothill economy, and that will generate more revenue into the California general fund so they will have more money to work with,” he said. “At the same time, I’m concerned with the situation in our education system.”
Democrat Timothy Fitzgerald, an author and former economics and history teacher who lives in Sonora, showed up several minutes late to the meeting and said he was active in the civil rights movement at San Jose State University.
He said he will go to the Legislature with plans to reform the state’s education, prison and mental health programs. He said the state should get rid of tax shelters for the rich and for corporations and the state should rethink the way it finances its programs.
“Refusal to fund any programs whatsoever and drive the state into bankruptcy with a stranglehold on the people is unforgivable,” Fitzgerald said.
Absent from the hour-long State Assembly portion of the forum was Madera County Supervisor Frank Bigelow, who told event organizers he had a previous engagement.