Sixteenth state Senate District candidates Andy Vidak and Leticia Perez aired their differences Thursday on issues ranging from minimum wage to the arrival of high speed rail to fracking, during an hour-long debate at KGET Channel 17 studios in Bakersfield.
Answering questions from Channel 17 and its viewers, delivered by anchors Jim Scott and Kiyoshi Tomono, Perez and Vidak clashed on the details of how exactly to improve the lives of Central Valley residents, starting with raising the state's minimum wage.
"We know that the surrounding states, our neighbors ... have a higher minimum wage than we have here in California, and yet they have a lower unemployment rate. If Andy's accusations are accurate, this is going to drive jobs out of California," said Perez, who is 5th District Kern County supervisor, and supports raising the minimum wage.
If this was true, Perez added, "then we would see businesses flooding into California from other states. But that's not what we see."
Vidak, a Hanford cherry farmer, said taxes and regulations are driving businesses away -- and raising the minimum wage won't help that.
"I doubt they're (moving) because the minimum wage is higher. They're getting out of here because taxes and regulations are so high," said Vidak, a Republican.
"We need affordable, reliable water, we need affordable, reliable energy," Vidak said. "When you have affordable, reliable water, affordable, reliable energy, new industries will come in, but minimum wage has nothing to do with that. We need to put people back to work."
But how? Perez said she is for high-speed rail, because of the jobs it will bring.
"The legislature approved what voters asked for in 2013, which was to bring high speed rail, the biggest infrastructure project in America ... . Families are desperate in the Central Valley. They need the tools, the hope that comes with working," said Perez, a Democrat, adding that she feels more studies need to be done to find the best route through Bakersfield.
Vidak said that the project is not what voters approved, and it won't even reach downtown Bakersfield.
"First of all, they're going to run out of money before they get to Bakersfield, but at the same time, land prices in its path -- they're already going down," said Vidak, 47. "My opponent said something, she had her facts wrong again. This is not what the people of this state voted on. It's going to cost four to five times the amount we originally voted on."
The two butted heads on hydraulic fracturing as well -- agreeing that injecting water to extract oil from the valley's Monterey shale is vital to the economy, but disagreeing over how much recycled water is used in fracking.
"Here, most of the water (injected) is used over and over and over again," Vidak said. "It's not like in Texas, where they're hauling it away in trucks." Perez contradicted him.
"Currently, unlike what Mr. Vidak stated, there is a large amount of fresh water that is used," said Perez, 36. "We are developing technology as we speak, to be able to reuse the water in fracking, and alleviate people's concerns about access to water."
Asked what bill they would write first if elected, candidates gave answers that revealed their origins, as well as potential campaign strategies.
"I think I would probably start with education, because I want more local control for our school boards, our superintendents, and our teachers," said Vidak, whose father is the Tulare County Superintendent of Schools. "I come from a family of teachers. When we all get together, they always talk about the frustrations of how somebody in Sacramento is telling them how and when and what to teach."
Perez leaned heavily on job creation and borrowed from Vidak's own campaign theme of delivering clean, reliable water.
"Two top priorities for the Central Valley: delivery of fresh reliable water to farmers, and putting people to work," she said. "We've got to pass a water bond, and we've got to establish a system that delivers clean, reliable water to our farmers. ... Secondly, the job creation component would be 100,000 jobs immediately."
The debate will be broadcast at 6 p.m. Sunday. The election is July 23.