A 43 -year-old Bakersfield man has qualified to run for the open 16th Senate District seat as a member of the Peace and Freedom Party.

Mohammad Arif said he's running to "give voice to the voiceless," namely poor, middle- and lower-income and unemployed people.

"A lot of voiceless people, poor people and working-class people, they should have a candidate that understands their issues," he said.

He said he's against war and the trillions that have been spent on recent wars would have been better spent on social programs.

Arif was born in Pakistan and immigrated to the United States in 1991, he said. He said he became a U.S. citizen in 2000.

He has twice run for governor of California, as an unaffiliated candidate in the 2003 special election (where he received 1,709 votes) and as a Peace and Freedom candidate in the 2010 primary (where he got 613 votes).

The two leading contenders for the state Senate seat, vacated by Michael Rubio in February, are Republican Andy Vidak, a Hanford farmer, and Democrat Leticia Perez, 5th District Kern County supervisor.

Arif is an independent contractor who works with attorneys to help their clients fill out paperwork and otherwise navigate the legal system, he said.

A Republican group invited, disinvited, invited again and then disinvited again the media to a forum designed to help the public choose among candidates running to represent Ward 1 on the Bakersfield City Council.

The Bakersfield Congress of Republicans sent out a news release widely alerting media to a candidate forum Thursday at JC's Place in downtown Bakersfield. The event was organized by Western Pacific Research, a political consulting group run by Mark Abernathy.

When a newspaper reporter called Western Pacific to confirm attendance, the woman who answered the phone said the forum was a "closed event" and journalists were not welcome.

A follow-up call to Western Pacific's Matt Braman, who sent out the news release, generated assurances that the media were, indeed, invited. Braman said the person who took the earlier call misspoke.

Shortly afterward, a newspaper reporter and a television news crew went to Thursday's luncheon at a banquet hall and were admitted. The media were setting up ahead of opening remarks when Braman came over and asked them to leave, saying he was sorry for the confusion but the forum was a closed event, after all, and all of the Thursday comments would be off the record.

The journalists left without speaking to any of the candidates, who looked perplexed by the exodus.

Stephanie Campbell, Marvin Dean, Efren Martinez, Tomeka Powell and Don Vereen were all scheduled to speak at the forum, their first public appearance together.

Willie Rivera declined an invitation to appear, according to organizers.

The Fresno County Young Democrats announced Thursday its support for Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez's candidacy for the 16th Senate District seat.

"As Young Democrats, we will do whatever we possibly can to ensure Leticia Perez is the next state Senator from District 16. Leticia is tested and ready to serve our valley well in Sacramento," said spokesman Matt Rogers.