State Assembly Debate Missing Key Candidate

by Alexa Tondreau on May 31, 2006

Wednesday evening the final debate was held among the candidates for the 12th district state assembly primary election. Because both the Republican and Green party candidates run unopposed, it is the race between Democrats Fiona Ma and Janet Reilly that has generated the most interest from the press and public in recent months. Held at City Chambers in Daly City, the forum was the last public opportunity for the two women to face off and assert their individual goals. It was therefore a surprise and a letdown that Fiona Ma was unable to attend. Earlier in the afternoon the debate had been canceled because of concern over the legality of polling taking place in the same building and near to the same time as the debate. A call placed to the City Attorney cleared up any uncertainty and the debate was back on. In the meantime, Ma had rescheduled and was apparently obligated elsewhere.

Republican candidate Howard Epstein, Green party candidate Barry Hermanson and Janey Reilly all remained graciously tight-lipped on the subject of Ma’s nonappearance and the debate, though notably missing the zeal of heated competition, served to clearly outline the other candidate’s political platforms.

What became most apparent during the question and answer session and the candidate’s closing statements was that there exists between them little discrepancy in opinion or stance.

All three believe that the health care system in California is in dire and belated need of an overhaul. While Hermanson and especially Reilly advocate a single provider healthcare plan, Epstein leans more towards moderate reform that would include regulation on unnecessary paperwork, medical tests and fraudulent lawsuits.

The single provider healthcare plan is in Reilly’s own words, “the centerpiece of my campaign.” As she described it, the plan assigns one government entity to pay health costs for all California citizens and effectively cuts out the middleman in the form of insurance companies. She said, “It is not a matter of if this happens, but when,” and spoke extensively on reforming a health care system that is currently “screening out sick people.”

Additionally, the candidates all resolutely agree that eminent domain has been unfair to property owners in the past and must be exercised infrequently and judiciously. At Reilly’s proclamation that “Private property must never be taken for private gain,” the other candidates nodded their heads in a show of vigorous agreement.

The candidates reiterated one and all the need for campaign finance reform, budget control and the encouragement of small business growth in California. One of the only moments of any discord occurred when Hermanson pointed out the hypocrisy of Reilly calling for campaign finance control when she herself had spent upwards of $50,000 on her bid for state assembly. Reilly’s brief response recalled that her competitor had spent many times more and declared that if she intended to compete, she had to be willing to go the same distance.

So where do the candidates actually diverge? The Ellis Act, for one. Epstein does not support any alteration of it explaining that “The Ellis Act simply allows someone to go out of business” in the same way that a retail or hardware store might do. Both Reilly and Barry called for major reforms including Reilly’s plan for a longer notification period of eviction for families with children and a required waiting period of five years before a property owner can exercise the rights held under the act.

Also drawing varying opinions was Proposition 82, a bill that would tax higher incomes in order to fund universal pre-school education. Reilly had frequently declared herself “not a politician but a mother and activist” during the debate, and supported the bill unequivocally. With total candor Hermanson declared his indecision, saying “I’m in conflict over it and I’m sorry to admit that.” Epstein was against the bill because it might drive wealthy California citizens to declare residency in other, income tax-free states.

All in all, Reilly reiterated the features of her political agenda with the most frequency and clarity. One came away from the debate with an unambiguous understanding of her priorities. How Fiona Ma’s agenda might have held up against Reilly’s confidence remains an unfortunate question mark. The debate between the women would no doubt have been informative for voters struggling to grasp the differences between these democratic candidates.

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