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Casey Christie / The Californian

An artist's rendering of The Outlets of Tejon Ranch, provided by The Outlets at Tejon Ranch.

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State Assemblyman Rudy Salas speaks in this file photo.

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32nd Assembly District Republican hopeful Romeo Agbalog.

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Pedro Rios

In a classic case of peculiar political pairings, Thursday night's 32nd Assembly District forum begins with an hour-long presentation from officials at the Outlets of Tejon, the eagerly-awaited shopping center due in August.

It's perhaps the starkest example of how Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce forums have juxtaposed issues like the importance of doctor visits with questions for candidates in the June 3 primary.

Outlet representatives -- ambassadors for the likes of Michael Kors, Lane Bryant and J. Crew, recent additions to the mall's retail roster -- will go first, possibly revealing new shops and discussing the roughly 1,500 retail jobs their center will create.

Next, Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, and candidates Romeo Agbalog and Pedro Rios will try convincing voters they're each the man for the job.

As the incumbent in a Democrat-heavy district, Salas has the advantage over his two Republican challengers, one of whom will see his hopes dashed by new state primary rules that send only the top two vote-getters to the general election.

With the primary less than six weeks away, the assemblyman said he still sees this as a getting-to-know-you event for audience members at the Richard Prado Senior Center in east Bakersfield.

Salas said he'll spotlight what he's done to improve lives of those in his district -- including bringing $15 million in Proposition 39 funds back to Kern and Kings counties to train veterans and young people for jobs in alternative energy.

Like fellow incumbent, state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, Salas has also co-authored his own water bond.

Still in committee, the $9.25 billion proposal includes $3 billion for water storage and $1 billion for safe drinking water.

"What we need is, we need water reservoirs," Salas said. "Water is one of the things we're focusing on because we know how integral it is to the valley."

Jobs, education and the controversial high-speed rail project likely will be among other topics vetted on Thursday.

Agbalog, a Delano Union School District trustee and staffer for state Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, said he'd spearhead a shift in educational priorities if elected, spending more money in schools to keep kids out of prison later in life.

"It takes about $40,000 a year to house one inmate in the California state prison system," Agbalog said. "The amount (spent on students) varies per district, but it's about $6,800 per child. Can you imagine how far we could go if that were flipped around?"

His fellow Republican, Rios, a teacher who lost to Salas 17 months ago, said if sent to the capital he'd put Central Valley humans ahead of the endangered Delta smelt, and bring more water to the valley -- and he'd oppose the bullet train despite the jobs it would bring.

"There are obviously contracts. If you build something, (job) contracts are obviously going to be given out. But is it wise? Can we use that money for something else?" Rios asked. "That is where I come in. I say, 'Let's not do it. Let's take that money, let's build dams, let's educate the public, let's build water reservoirs.'"