Bonta, Erlich stage predictably polite, partisan debate

Bonta, Erlich stage predictably polite, partisan debate

Dave Boitano
Election 2014

A quiet race for the 18th Assembly District seat translated into a polite - if predictably partisan - debate Tuesday during a League of Women Voters forum.

Challenger David Erlich, who has never held public office, admitted that he decided to run because incumbent Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, had no challengers. Erlich said that to his knowledge, the last Republican to challenge the seat didn’t show up to debates. The district - which includes Alameda, San Leandro and Oakland - is dominated by Democrats, with about eight percent of voters registered as Republicans.

Erlich is an electrical contractor who said that government has been “overreaching” and taking away voters’ personal and private property rights.

“I’m talking to everybody,” he said. “It’s not about Democrats it’s not about Republicans, it’s about Americans. I want to keep it simple and allow people to have their own choice.”

Bonta, an attorney who briefly served on Alameda's City Council, is completing his first two-year term after besting a fellow Democrat, Peralta Community College District trustee Abel Guillen, in a close race. He stressed his liberal Democrat roots, including his parents’ involvement with the United Farm Workers Union.

California now has budget surpluses, was the first state to implement the Affordable Care Act and has the highest minimum wage in the nation, he said. He said he plans to work on changes to the underfunded California State Teachers Retirement System to get teachers the pensions they deserve.

While the state is projected to have a $2 billion surplus, Bonta said officials need to be realistic about how much money the state has. He said he would spend the money on paying off the state's debts, unfunded budget liabilities and restoring programs that were cut during the recession.

Erlich disputed that a $2 billion surplus exits.

“If we are saying that we have a budget surplus of $2 billion, we are lying to ourselves,” he said.

On campaign funding and disclosure, Erlich said he favors disclosure of donors’ names, but political action committees can give as much as they want without disclosure.

Bonta said he favors more financial disclosure and transparency but the United States Supreme Court has made it difficult with recent rulings that classify corporations as people and allow companies to donate more to candidates.

“As long as the United States Supreme Court thinks that corporations are people it’s going to be very difficult to have campaign finance reform that does not have unintended consequences, “ he said.

The state must get rid of "ridiculous" regulations that are driving companies to leave California and settle in less regulated states like Texas, Erlich said. At a recent Republican convention, former presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry jokingly thanked California for diverting so many companies to his state, he said.

“When a politician tells you that he is going to create jobs, let me tell you run the other way,” he said.

“Politicians can’t create jobs,” he added, “What can create jobs is business people and a state that is not over-regulated.”

Bonta said such rhetoric is “overblown.”

The state, he said, is the eighth largest economy in the world, with 320,000 new jobs created last year. California leads in high tech and biotech industries along with agriculture, entertainment and tourism.

“While the visits to California by Mr. Perry are good for sound bites on television I don’t think he captures the complexity of the economy and the jobs that we have,” Bonta said.

Both candidates were asked how they could stop gun violence without infringing on gun rights.

Shortly after taking office, Bonta introduced legislation that would have provided counseling service for children affected by gun violence and a measure that would have taxed gun ammunition to pay for anti-violence programs. Bonta blamed the gun lobby for the defeat of both measures.

“What did I see in every committee that I testified in and who was in the room trying to convince my colleagues to vote against my bill?" he asked. “The gun lobby.”

Erlich insisted that guns don’t cause violence but are the tools of violence. Taking guns away from owners will cause more violence because they can’t defend themselves, he said.

“I want to be able to protect my family and protect my children from someone who comes busting through the door with a gun,” he said

Legal owners of guns with high capacity magazines were classified as criminals in legislation state lawmakers had proposed, he said. But guns will always be available to outlaws, despite gun control efforts, Erlich said.

“The criminals don’t read the legislation,” he said. “The criminals will get the guns no matter what.”