33rd Senate district candidates debate housing, campaign financing and more during Beer & Politics

It was a lively event at Liberation Brewing Co. in Bixby Knolls Wednesday night.

From boos to cheers and the hecklers in between, the crowd was attentive as some of the candidates for the 33rd state Senate district race answered audience questions during the brewery’s monthly Beer & Politics forum.

Answers from candidates ranged from the vague to the outrageous. Some candidates didn’t show up at all.

Democratic candidates Cudahy Councilman Chris Garcia, South Gate Councilwoman Denise Diaz, Bell Councilwoman Ana Maria Quintana and the race’s presumptive frontrunner Long Beach Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez were absent from the event.

Gonzalez’s campaign manager Kristina Bigdeli told the Post that Gonzalez was in Vancouver, Canada, in her capacity as councilwoman to attract businesses to Long Beach.

Bell Councilman Ali Saleh, who was at his city council meeting, arrived halfway through the forum.

Wednesday’s questions included candidates’ positions on rent control, specific pieces of legislation and whether they supported building a wall between Mexico and the U.S.

Early on, candidates criticized the large amount of money corporate oil companies spent on advertising on behalf of Gonzalez. The finance information was revealed this week and posted on various social media platforms.

State campaign finance documents showed over a million dollars spent in support of Gonzalez’s campaign by an independent coalition funded by companies like Chevron, Tesoro and Valero among others.

The money was spent without coordination with Gonzalez’s own campaign. It’s unclear if she has the option to reject such funding.

“I do not accept a single penny from a vendor in my city,” Republican candidate and Cudahy Councilman Jack Guerrero responded to a question asking if candidates would commit to not taking donations from oil or gas companies.

Guerrero called the funds “dirty money” and a conflict of interest that tampers with the political process.

Lynwood Mayor Jose Luis Solache said not every special interest group is bad, adding that he would take money from organizations like Planned Parenthood and Equality California because of his support for them.

Republican candidate Martha Flores Gibson and Green Party candidate Cesar Flores both said contributions need to come from the voters.

“I’m green, clean and against the machine,” added Flores, bringing laughs from the crowd.

Democratic candidate Thomas Jefferson Cares called for a practice similar to Seattle’s public campaign financing program called Democracy Voucher, which allows voters to donate to campaigns.

In a similar question about campaign finance reform, all the candidates agreed on the need for transparency.

Solache suggested a campaign contribution cap similar to the city of South Gate which limits funding to $30,000.

Guerrero recommended having elected officials list their corporate contributors in front of the dais during council meetings—going so far as to suggest that they wear “bumper stickers with all of their corporate sugar daddies.”

Central Basin Water Municipal Water District board member and Democratic candidate Leticia Vasquez Wilson proposed legislation to eliminate corporations like Chevron and Exxon from creating independent coalitions that can donate to a candidate’s campaign—similar to the case involving Gonzalez.

Vasquez Wilson continuously criticized the coalition’s funding in support of Gonzalez’s campaign throughout the forum. She did not escape criticism herself when candidates were asked about running campaigns “on fear and intimidation”.

As reported by the Post a few weeks ago, Vasquez Wilson sent letters warning legal action to five Long Beach council members if false statements were made about her.

Solache revealed at the forum that he too received a similar letter.

“I wasn’t planning on running a negative campaign,” Solache said, claiming only enough funding to focus on himself and that as an elected official he understands criticism is part of the job.

Vasquez Wilson said those letters were a way for her to defend herself against “fake news.” She claimed that a Cerritos-based community newspaper would coordinate with a fellow board member to “plan out false reports” against her. She also claimed that she was asked to step down from the Senate race during a meeting with some labor unions. If she did not, she claimed they told her “big oil would bury me in fake news.”

The Post has not been able to verify those claims.

“No, it wasn’t a threat but I’m standing up for myself,” Vasquez Wilson said.

One of the more controversial questions, whether candidates supported the Trump administration’s proposal for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, drew criticism from the audience of candidates who avoided answering with a straight “no.”

Solache, Cares, Saleh, Flores and Vasquez Wilson all opposed a wall. Guerrero stated he was a “proponent of legal immigration” while Flores Gibson said “we need to keep Americans safe.”

Similarly controversial was a question about each candidate’s stance on supporting the LGBTQ community.

Cares, Flores, Saleh and Vasquez Wilson said they are allies and support the LGBTQ community while Solache said he was proud of being an openly gay candidate. Flores Gibson said she is a “friend to them” and that “they are human beings.”

While Guerrero said he believes any perpetrator of a crime should be penalized, he admitted he is against gay marriage, “because I am against all marriage.” He said he believes marriage should be left to the church and has no place in the government.

Candidates also shared their positions on the following issues:

Rent control, just cause eviction, repealing Costa Hawkins

  • Flores: “Yes, yes, yes!”
  • Guerrero: Believes rent control is an example of “good intentions with failed consequences.” Wants to work in fostering greater growth in housing and working with the “demand and supply market force.”
  • Vasquez Wilson: Supports more housing in the communities. Supports legislation that provides some level of rent control. Strongly believes in local control.
  • Solache: Believes rent control should not be imposed on communities at the state level. Needs to be considered at the local level.
  • Cares: Supports local rent control, with an additional statewide limit on rent increases. Believes in raising the urban housing supply and removing obstacles to zoning/housing.

Help implement Senate Bill 1421, release of police personnel records related to misconduct and use of force

  • Flores: “Yes, officers need to be held accountable to the people they help protect.”
  • Vasquez Wilson: “I believe law enforcement officers should be held accountable. I would support legislation that would do that.”
  • Guerrero: As a civil libertarian he believes in transparency. He advocated for body cameras at his city.
  • Solache: “I support cameras in the community.” Noted the criminal justice issues in his city.
  • Cares: Said he was beaten by three county sheriff’s deputies. “I know how real it is.” Believes in “weeding out the worst 15 percent of officers.”
  • Flores Gibson: “I support removing a bad cop.”

SB 246, recently introduced oil and gas severance tax

  • Guerrero: “I believe government governs best when it governs less.”
  • Flores Gibson: “We are taxed way too much.”
  • Flores: “Tax oil companies out of existence and shut them down. We don’t have to rely on fossil fuels.”

No. 1 issue the district faces

  • Guerrero: Education. Believes families should be given vouchers so they can decide which school to attend.
  • Solache: Environment, including issues in Maywood and Paramount.
  • Flores Gibson: Educating the youth.
  • Flores: Education. Believes in working with the federal government to pay off student debt.
  • Cares: Democracy. Believes in harnessing technology for a “liquid democracy.”
  • Vasquez Wilson: Education. Believes in more affordable universities and vocational schools.
  • Saleh: Education. Making sure teachers are paid well and have the supplies they need.

The special election is scheduled to take place on March 26.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that Leticia Vasquez Wilson opposed rent control. She supports legislation that provides some level of rent control. 

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Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor for the Long Beach Post. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015.