John Hernandez was frenetic and passionate, Assemblyman David Valadao calm and reasoned, as the two congressional candidates met with The Californian's editorial board Thursday afternoon.

The two are candidates for the open 21st Congressional District seat that represents Fresno, Kings, Tulare and rural areas of central and northwestern Kern County.

Hernandez, a Fresno Democrat, called his first three campaign priorities "Jobs, jobs, jobs" and punctuated many of his points by thumping his fist on the table.

"Send someone to Washington who is going to be a fighter," he said.

Valadao, R-Hanford, said the fight for jobs is more complex than a simple chant.

He pointed to a bill he championed unsuccessfully that would have allowed the state to count large dam-based hydro-electric projects in calculating whether California has met its green-energy goals.

You can't just call for job creation, Valadao said, "If we don't look at our regulatory scheme and energy costs."

Hernandez repeatedly called for the diversification of the district's economy and support for small business development, something he champions as CEO of the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

"I've been in the business of working with small businesses for 20 years," he said.

He said his group has been working to get small businesses connected with the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which he believes will help bring economic diversity to the region.

"No matter what you do, the rail is coming. We've got to get in front of this thing," he said.

Valadao, responding to a question about the role of government in people's lives, said "I support infrastructure that benefits everyone, dams that provides clear water and energy," freeways and freight rail.

"I don't want government telling who I need to be," he said.

Hernandez criticized Valadao for championing a law that stopped driver's license and vehicle registration taxes from being used to subsidize corn production for ethanol, while taking farm subsidies as a dairy rancher in Hanford.

"I support a plan to get them out of dairy," Valadao countered, but subsidies and food prices are delicately intertwined and there must be reforms in the current system before the system can be moved to a more market-based plan.

Valadao said the district needs people to buy homes here, a ding on Hernandez who lives outside the district.

"I follow the Constitution. It doesn't require that," Hernandez said, talking over Valadao.

Both men finished up by calling for cooperation in government to find real solutions.

"We used to work together. That's the kind of congressman I want to be," Hernandez said.

Valadao talked about the bills he has gotten passed by the Democratic legislature and governor -- including the ethanol subsidy law that prevents "your dinner plate from competing with your fuel tank."

"I've worked really hard in a bipartisan way in Sacramento," he said.