Tuesday, May 27, 2008

GOP hard-pressed to keep Houston's seat

The stakes may be high for the six candidates vying for the District 15 Assembly seat of termed-out incumbent Guy Houston, R-San Ramon, but there may be more on the line for the four Republican candidates.

With three-termer Houston being the only Bay Area Republican serving in Sacramento, the region's Capitol contingent could become GOP-free if the Democrats win District 15 in November.

Four Republicans and two Democrats have been campaigning hard for the June 3 primary, each hoping to earn their party's nomination for the November general election.

Both parties recognize the need for a candidate who can appeal to voters across the political spectrum. Seeking the Republican nod are optometrist and Livermore parks Director Scott Kamena; small business owner Judy Lloyd; Livermore rancher Robert Rao; and San Ramon Mayor H. Abram Wilson. On the Democratic side are San Ramon Valley school board member Joan Buchanan and economist Ted Ford.

The six candidates agree that the toughest issues facing the state are achieving a balanced budget; improving public schools; establishing universal health care; controlling prison system expenses; caring for the environment; improving transportation; and setting immigration policy.

Kamena, who has won endorsements from the California Small Business Association and the California Professional Firefighters, along with a host of other Republicans, said having a Republican win the 15th District seat is Advertisementimportant if voters want serious solutions.

"(Democrats') solutions to the budget problems and health care are not going to work and are going to put California into a deeper crisis," said Kamena, who cites his experience as a health care professional, businessman and father of a young child as positioning him to best tackle the state's issues.

"Keeping this seat in Republican hands is going to be critical to having any shot of bipartisan solutions to these problems," he said.

The state already faces a $17.2 billion budget gap this year, and the Legislative Analyst's Office projects more deficits in subsequent years. In addition, the budget for the state's prison system has surpassed that of the state's university and college system.

"I am sorely disappointed with the elected politicians we have sent to Sacramento. They have failed to do their jobs," said Rao, who ran a car dealership with more than $200 million in annual sales before selling years ago.

"We have $144 billion in services that (the state) provides to 7 million customers," Rao said. "Those services are constantly declining in quality and constantly increasing in their costs."

Lloyd, who owns Altamont Solutions, a Pleasanton-based custom software company, is running as a fiscally responsible Reagan Republican who believes the state needs representatives with common sense, know-how and character.

"I have watched the state overspend and overtax and lose business," Lloyd said. "My belief is that nobody wants higher taxes. "... My appeal will largely be as someone who has been in the arena and has the experience and who in past lives has worked across party lines."

The 15th District, which covers portions of Alameda, Contra Costa, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties, has been a targeted swing seat since redistricting.

This year, the district has slightly more registered Democrats than Republicans — 110,577 Democrats to 107,913 Republicans, a difference of 2,664 voters.

Wilson, who has been elected San Ramon mayor twice, said it's not just about party lines, but who can achieve results.

"Constituents are saying, 'Enough is enough. I want someone to represent me that understands my values and understands my financial needs,'" he said. "I run as the mayor serving everyone, and I have not had to compromise my morals, ideals or my opinions and those are the same attributes I will bring to Sacramento. I've already proven I can represent everyone."

Having served on the San Ramon Valley school board for nearly 20 years, Buchanan said she is the best candidate to represent all voters, should she earn the Democratic nomination in June.

"I think I have skills that are needed in Sacramento," she said, "between my finance and operations experience in the private sector, along with the community work I've done, I bring a unique skill set and those are skills that are needed now. I think I will attract moderate Republican voters, in addition to the Democratic voters."

As an economist, finance specialist and businessman, Ford said he is looking toward a post-partisan era with legislators working together beyond party lines in order to solve the state's fiscal crisis by reforming taxes and public sector pensions, along with the political structure of the government.

And, even though he admits he doesn't have any better name recognition than his Democratic opponent, he thinks voters may appreciate his new ideas to old problems.

"My political philosophy is centrist and nonideological and is, I think, more in line with that of most voters in this area," Ford said.

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