Public forum featuring Senate candidates Gonzalez, Guerrero to be held in May

A public forum featuring 33rd state Senate candidates Lena Gonzalez and Jack Guerrero will be held at Veterans Park next month.

The event will be hosted by the Wrigley Neighborhood Association and is meant to introduce the public to the candidates ahead of the June 4 special election runoff.

It will take place May 6 at 7 p.m. and will give audience members an opportunity to submit questions in writing before the forum begins. Candidates will be given one minute each to respond to questions which may not all be addressed due to limited time, according to the organization.

The Long Beach councilwoman and Cudahy councilman were the top two vote-getters in the crowded March 26 special election race.

Gonzalez received 10,984 votes (31.6%) and Guerrero received 4,860 votes (14%). A total of 34,711 votes were cast—only 8.13% of registered voters—a low turnout that is not uncommon in special elections.

If she appears, this is likely to be Gonzalez’s first appearance at a forum during the Senate race.

Her campaign team canceled a previously confirmed appearance at a forum in late February due to a business trip abroad, though some community members have countered that revelations of a big oil-backed coalition spending in support of her campaign the days before may have been the reason behind the absence.

Gonzalez also missed out on a forum in early March hosted by the Regional Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at Cal State Long Beach with her campaign citing a “longstanding conflict” as the reason for not participating.

Guerrero attended both of those events.

The Long Beach Post has offered to host and webcast a debate, with Publisher David Sommers extending invitations to both campaigns on March 27 and again on April 3, 2019.

Guerrero accepted the invitation in writing on April 4 and a third invitation was sent to Gonzalez and her campaign on April 10, noting Guerrero’s acceptance and willingness to debate.

As of Thursday, the Gonzalez campaign has not responded to those emails or accepted or declined the debate invitation.

Kevin Wallsten, an associate professor in the department of political science at Cal State Long Beach, said that the value of debates range depending on what office is being sought.

For a national election like the campaign for President of the United States, they’re not as valuable because voters have a better idea of how they feel about the candidates and their stances on issues. But for local elections, the stakes are raised.

“Most voters know nothing about state Senate, the state Legislature, the issues that the state’s trying to confront and who these two candidates are,” Wallsten said. “In theory, a debate taking place for a state Senate seat would be incredibly valuable for voters.”

He said that in the abstract, voters should get to hear the people they’re going to potentially vote for talk about the issues that are important to them and the office that is vacant, but political calculations often take precedent.

That holds especially true for smaller local races where voters often vote for a party rather than a candidate, he said. Wallsten said candidates who are behind are more likely to want to participate in debates because it can get them an audience they might not otherwise have with potential voters and it could give them a moral high ground if the front runner declines to join them in a debate.

He noted that Governor Gavin Newsom, who was the front-runner from the outset of his campaign for the state’s top office, participated in a limited amount of debates before his victory.

He also pointed Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent comment that a “glass of water” could have won the district that Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez won last November, a statement that reflected the speaker’s belief that any Democrat could win in certain districts.

“If you happen to be that glass of water, why would you want to draw attention to yourself?” Wallsten said. “There’s nothing in it for you.”

Wallsten said that if this runoff was between two Democrats, there would likely be more debates as the candidates would seek to distinguish themselves from each other.

He added that ultimately it comes down to the voters to punish these kinds of calculations, but until an electorate shows a history of not voting for people who avoid debates, and districts become more competitive, these kinds of calculations could continue to play out.

The special election for the seat was left vacant by Ricardo Lara after he was elected state insurance commissioner in November.

District 33 includes the cities and communities of Cudahy, Bell, Bell Gardens, Lynwood, Maywood, Signal Hill, Paramount, South Gate, Vernon, Walnut Park, Huntington Park, and most of Long Beach with portions of the cities of Lakewood and Los Angeles.

Veterans Park is located at 101 E. 28th St.

Staff writer Jason Ruiz contributed to this report.

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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.