The five candidates for the vacant 16th Senate District seat once held by Michael Rubio conducted a lively debate on a wide range of topics Tuesday night in downtown Bakersfield at a debate hosted by KERN Radio.
Responding to questions from the crowd and KERN moderator Ralph Bailey, the candidates talked about high-speed rail, campaign finance reform, touched on gay and lesbian issues, water and Social Security.
But things got heated, the crowd got raucous and the front-runners started taking shots at each other when Bailey opened the forum up for candidates to ask each other questions.
“We want this to be civil. We want this to be a debate about the ideas,” Bailey said.
But with a crowd full of Democratic supporters, and a lot at stake in a race that has just over one month remaining, that wasn’t likely.
Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez, the top Democratic candidate, and Hanford farmer Andy Vidak, the only Republican, dueled over their fundraising totals.
“I personally would like to see the bulk of the money come from the district,” Vidak said, in a swipe at Perez. “I’m running against one candidate who has gotten $300,000 from the liberal elite in Sacramento. Ninety-five percent of my money comes from the district.”
Perez came after Vidak, reminding him that he took hundreds of thousands of dollars for his Congressional campaign from the national Republican Party.
Vidak’s swing at her, she said, “seems like an interesting hypocrisy.”
“This is a whole ’nother race. Ninety-five percent of your money comes from the liberal elite,” Vidak fired back.
“I’m happy to hear you have so many rich friends in the district,” Perez said, to roars from her supporters in the crowd.
“Rich friends in the district aren’t the same as rich friends from Sacramento,” Vidak said.
Perez and Vidak have raised more than three-quarters of a million dollars so far, according to the California Secretary of State’s website.
Perez has pulled in $429,900, including $320,000 from the California Democratic Central Committee.
Vidak has fallen behind in the money race, although the $323,407 he has raised is substantial.
But the hottest moment of the night was triggered by Democrat Francisco Ramirez, who spent the whole night bashing Perez over her decision to run for office just months after she took her 5th District supervisors’ seat.
His first “Shame on You Leticia Perez” signs popped up from his supporters seated in the audience before the debate began.
But when he spoke the words, “Shame on you Leticia Perez” at the end of the forum, Perez’s father shouted from the front row, “No. Shame on you!”
Perez’s supporters roared their approval and Bailey had to warn the crowd to keep it civil.
The strong party support and financial muscle Perez and Vidak have puts them out front in the five-candidate race.
But both Paulina Miranda of Fresno and Mohammad Arif of Kern delivered a message that, while a little less politically polished than those of Vidak and Perez, still got strong positive reactions from the audience.
Arif was a crowd favorite, talking about his love for his adopted country and people of all faith and creeds.
Asked who his mentor was, Arif quipped, “My mentor is Ralph Bailey.”
The crowd laughed.
He went on to say, more seriously, that his mentors were his mother and the Jewish attorney who helped him — as a Muslim man — get educated and established in the United States in the 1990s.