The battle for the new 74th Assembly District heated up Thursday night, with the race’s three candidates facing direct questions on controversial topics before an audience in Costa Mesa.
At the annual Feet to the Fire event, Republican Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, Newport Beach City Councilwoman Leslie Daigle and real estate broker Bob Rush were questioned by local journalists.
They are competing to represent the newly redrawn district, which comprises Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Laguna Woods and parts of Huntington Beach and Irvine.
The role of special interest groups — in particular, business and labor organizations — in funding campaigns and influencing public officials became a hot issue.
“Special interest money is having an effect on politics,” said Mansoor. “I do believe that the only way you’re going to fix this state is to take that special interest money out.”
But when Mansoor and Daigle were asked whether there are any “good” special interests and about the sources of their money, both repeatedly avoided answering the question.
“I receive contributions, you know," said Mansoor. "They’re open to the public. Do I believe that we need reform? Yes. We need to stop special interest money,” he added, at which point the journalists challenged him for not answering the question.
“I think anyone who contributes, you know, I’m grateful for individual contributions as well,” he said.
“Citizens and residents” was Daigle’s answer. “What I’m trying to convey is there’s special interests everywhere.”
Rush, however, got straight to the point.
“I think it’s a great question,” he said. “I will refuse to take special interest money for anybody, any issue, any cause appearing before me during my tenure in the Legislature.”
Rush has pledged to spend $100,000 of his own money on his campaign.
Opinions also differed on how much a legislator should reach across the aisle and seek the support of the opposing party.
Asked what specific accomplishments he’s achieved for his district in his first term, Mansoor pointed to his efforts at pension reform, which have so far been unsuccessful.
Reporters pointed out that reform efforts often require the support of Democrats and asked whether residents would be better served by having a representative “who will play ball” with the majority party.
“I don’t think you’re going to even get anything accomplished with that,” said Mansoor.
Daigle, who is also a Republican, disagreed.
By negotiating with labor organizations and engaging the other party, she said, Newport Beach has been able to cut costs and get the federal government to greenlight a key infrastructure project, dredging Newport Harbor.
“We met with Republicans. We met with Democrats. And we don’t bring this kind of union boss language,” said Daigle. “It’s just not appreciated.”
Rush, who described himself as a moderate Democrat, said his background as an accountant and real estate negotiator, along with his moderate views, would help him confront Sacramento’s fiscal issues and make him effective at enacting legislation that benefits his constituents. He said politics is about finding consensus and common ground.
Mansoor also defended his record as mayor of Costa Mesa, a position he held for six years before elected to the Assembly in 2010.
In their justification for their unprecedented, wide-scale outsourcing effort in Costa Mesa, his current allies on the City Council have repeatedly accused previous councils of mismanaging the city’s finances and irresponsibly running through $30 million of city reserves.
Mansoor, however, said he and other council members managed the city well. Spending the reserves, he added, was a responsible thing to do in conjunction with budget cuts.
“When the economy went down and sales tax revenue went down, we took responsible action,” said Mansoor. “We made cuts. We negotiated with our public employees.”
The candidates were also quizzed about their positions on some of today’s leading issues.
Rush and Mansoor support permitting medical marijuana, while Daigle opposes it. On abortion, Daigle said she supports the “law of the land” while Rush identified himself as "pro-choice." Mansoor said he is "pro-life."
Mansoor and Daigle oppose same-sex marriage, while Rush supports it.
Both Mansoor and Rush oppose construction of the controversial 19th Street bridge. While Daigle said she doesn’t support it, she kept her options open as to whether she’d support a lawsuit challenging the county transportation agency for scrapping the bridge plans.