State Assembly candidates Pedro Rios and Rudy Salas squared off in a fast-paced debate at KGET 17 Thursday night that covered tax increases, job growth and why each man thinks himself best suited to represent the 32nd Assembly District.
The taped debate will air Sunday night on KGET after the football game, around 8:30 p.m.
The two men set themselves apart immediately in answering a question from anchor Tami Mlcoch about why each is the better candidate.
"(When) you talk about partisanship and people not coming together and working together, you can see from my past experience that that's not the case," Salas said. "That's what we need in Sacramento."
Salas said unlike his opponent, he supports President Obama's deferred action plan for young immigrants. That plan gives reprieve from deportation to illegal immigrants who came to the United States before they were 16 years old and who are high school graduates, college students or have served in the military.
"I served eight years in the (Delano) city council. I have a lot of political experience at the local level," Rios said. "I've opened businesses. Mr. Salas has not had that experience in terms of opening a business and losing a business and being at the very bottom and getting up on his feet. ... Even though I'm in the minority party, it's the majority party that has passed a lot of legislation that's hurting California."
The two even looked different, with Salas wearing a black suit and gold tie and Rios tie-less in jeans with a shirt and coat.
Salas has been a Bakersfield city councilman since 2010 and oversees crews for his family's construction business. He also was a staffer for former Democratic state Sen. Dean Florez. Rios, a Republican and former Delano city councilman, is starting two agriculture service businesses in Delano, has a background in teaching and small business and was a former national guardsman.
The biggest fireworks of the debate came when anchor Jim Scott asked Salas about a recent radio ad from his campaign criticizing Rios for selling alcohol (a wine cooler that never left the store, Rios said) to a minor, a misdemeanor Rios pleaded guilty to in 1994 when he was working as a convenience store clerk.
"Mr. Rios was convicted for providing alcohol to a minor," Salas said, adding that voters he's met on the campaign trail have thanked him for "letting (them) know the truth of what happened."
"It was really about accountability. ... Over the last year, we had 5,000 deaths related to minors and alcohol," Salas said.
"That was a sting operation. That happened when I was 21. I was a cashier working my way through college," Rios said. "I made an honest mistake. ... I paid the penalty. But what Mr. Salas does not want to let people know is that I went on. Two years later I went on to get my degree from Cal State Bakersfield, and I became a successful teacher and administrator."
"His ads are deceptive, they're evil and they're lying," Rios said.
"It shows bad judgment," Salas said when Scott pressed him about the ad's fairness. "What you should do is man up, own it and just move on. I would have a lot more respect for him."
Rios said he opposed Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to raise taxes. He said he's already signed a pledge, as many Republican state legislators have done, to not raise taxes.
"Under no circumstances would I vote in favor of raising taxes when our state legislature has been given millions and millions of dollars by the taxpayers and they have squandered that money," Rios said. He would only support an increase if there were an emergency or disaster that necessitated that step, Rios said. "But given the current condition ... where they have not kept a balanced budget, I would not vote for that."
Salas challenged him.
"When you sign pledges, it leads to more partisanship," Salas said. "When he was on the Delano City Council, (Rios) was a strong advocate for raising taxes."
Rios served on the Delano City Council when voters approved and the city passed a 1 percent sales tax increase in 2007.
"That was a tax that was voted (for) by the people," Rios responded, adding that it was necessary to propose the tax increase for a vote because of budget pressure the state legislature puts on cities.
The two also answered questions on water in the Central Valley, the state's high-speed rail plans and immigration.
Both said over-regulation and red tape is driving businesses out of state and preventing new businesses from opening quickly, a familiar theme in both campaigns. Rios said he would vote to repeal Assembly Bill 32, aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and Salas said the permitting process for businesses needs to be streamlined.