On Thursday, October 9, 2014, the University of California-Berkeley hosted the third California secretary of state debate. The night promised to be an enlightening chapter for the highly contested position.
State Senator Alex Padilla (D-San Fernando Valley) and Pete Peterson (R) are vying for the attention of the state’s unaffiliated voters while attempting to distinguish themselves as candidates. One series of questions specifically from KQED’s John Myers would put tension at a boil.
The debate started with Padilla introducing himself as the clear candidate for a secretary of state that would promote job creation, increase voter engagement, increase transparency of campaign contributions, and defend voter rights, citing his record as a state legislator and his experience of transforming ideas into action. By his own words, this makes him “the only candidate that would be effective the first day in office.”
Peterson countered, touting his credentials from outside the political establishment with the endorsements of almost every major newspaper in California. Based on his experience with increasing civic engagement, Peterson declared himself, “the most uniquely qualified candidate running for a first term.”
The hour and 20 minute debate covered traditional topics such as the candidates’ approach to the office, new voting technologies, plans to affect voter turnout, business development, questions from social media, and a community panel.
This is how Padilla and Peterson lined up on the big issues:
Question to Peterson: “We know the office does other things [than elections]… You’ve said you want to do not only an intake but an exit interview when businesses leave the state… What do you think that will tell you?” (35:02)
Peterson: “I envision a time on January 15 of every year of my administration getting up in front of the Capitol and saying, ‘Folks we had 412 businesses leave the state last year and here are the top 5 reasons why they left…’.”
Question to Padilla: “[P]art of that was a budget problem in the Secretary of State’s office that was money cut by the legislature. I think you voted for those budgets, would you fight it differently as Secretary of State?” (37:14)
Padilla: “Absolutely and our economic reality and the state budget realities can be very different for the next 10 years than its been for the last decade… We were holding on to the education system and our health care social service safety net as best that we could. This is another example where, through technology making it possible to register your business online, we can realize efficiencies and savings in the secretary of state’s office to then reinvest in better serving those businesses here in California.”
On the topic of business development, concerns of businesses leaving California stole the show. Padilla boldly likened Peterson’s business platform as Rick Perry-esque.
“Yes, can California be more business-friendly? Absolutely,” He said. “But the whole Rick Perry notion that California businesses are storming out of the state is absolutely over-blown.”
Peterson quickly responded, “It is not Rick Perry, it is the economic development officer for Raleigh, Scottsdale, Reno, Portland. They are coming here and giving our business owners a pitch to move.”
Questions from the community panel would test the candidates’ acumen with issues involving possibly disenfranchised minority populations, legal immigrants, and former inmates.
Question: “According to a 2013 study put out by the UC Davis Center for Regional Change, Latinos and Asians … are far below the state average in their voter registration rates. What would you do if you were elected to close the registration gaps between whites in our state and our communities of color?” (51:43)
Peterson: “There is a technology barrier in particular around how we enforce and enlist voters at the DMV. There has been a recent evaluation done and there’s a wide amount of variance between how DMV’s practice registration with voters. There needs to be closer collaboration with churches, community organizations, especially those connected to particular ethnic communities in the registration of minority voters.”
Padilla: “In light of what we’ve seen in so many other states across the country — concerted efforts to try to suppress people’s opportunity to register to vote or to actually cast a ballot, California should pride itself in being the counter example for all that.”
Question: “2.6 million eligible voters in California can’t speak English… How else would you structure your administration to reduce language barriers?” (57:35)
Peterson: “Everyone I speak to, particularly in Asian-American communities, the translations of ballot information, ballot materials, and voter information guides has really been dreadful. I think this really needs to be a significant focus, not only in our printed materials in what goes online but also to make sure our poll workers are better informed and trained.”
Padilla: “Right now, this translation for elections information in non-english languages is done by a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction level depending on local demographics. But there’s nothing keeping us from, if you translate materials into Armenian for Glendale, California, or Los Angeles County, to make that available online for the entire state of California for other counties to benefit from even though their Armenian population hasn’t reached the thresholds required by the Voting Rights Act.”
Both candidates displayed a high level of knowledge and civic integrity, remaining outside of typical partisan mud slinging in order to best answer the questions voters would want to hear.
California’s secretary of state is the most influential office dealing with an ever-changing voting population and determining the atmosphere for future businesses. The future of the state depends on the voters’ opinion of which candidate will best create it.
Image: Pete Peterson (left) / Senator Alex Padilla (right)