Rowdy crowd greets Gonzalez, Guerrero at state Senate forum in Wrigley

Long Beach Democratic Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez faced off with Cudahy Republican Councilman Jack Guerrero in a packed public forum Monday night at Veterans Park—a month before voters will decide which politician they want representing them in the 33rd state Senate District.

The much anticipated event drew an estimated 100 people who filled the Wrigley community center, with many showing their support or disapproval of the candidates throughout the nearly two-hour event with loud claps and hollers. A member of the Wrigley Neighborhood Association had to remind attendees to be respectful after shouting from the audience interrupted Gonzalez.

In a Facebook post after the event, Gonzalez said she was greeted with MAGA hats, heckling and yelling. “I guess that’s typical when you stand up for the LGTBQ community, women’s rights, African-American & immigrant communities,” she wrote.

Guerrero meanwhile described it as an “enjoyable” debate. “We covered a broad set of topics including healthcare, pensions, education reform, taxes, and the environment. Boy, we could not disagree more across the board.”

Guerrero, a self-described free marketeer and civil libertarian, said he is opposed to any legislation tied to more taxation, while also acknowledging the need for better transportation infrastructure, education reform and health care.

He opposed a gas tax for infrastructure improvements that will go into effect July 1; Gonzalez supports it.

Guerrero opposes single-payer healthcare; amid boos from the crowd, Gonzalez called for health coverage for all, whether citizens or undocumented residents.

Guerrero is in favor of defunding Planned Parenthood; Gonzalez called for an expansion of Medi-Cal disbursements and Planned Parenthood, which provides cancer screening services to thousands of residents in the Senate district.

Both agreed that climate change is a real issue facing the Southeast cities, however, Guerrero said current environmental laws must be re-examined instead of adding new legislation.

Gonzalez agreed that current policies in place need to be looked at to ensure they are enforced. The crowd booed her when she pointed to the federal Green New Deal as an example of something that should be brought to the state level.

Attendees also got to hear their stance on key issues like the SB 50 housing bill and SB 246, the oil and gas severance tax—which both candidates said they oppose.

“I can’t support it as it stands,” Gonzalez said of SB 50, which would allow the state to override local control of housing decisions.

The City Council is expected to discuss the legislation during its meeting today.

Gonzalez acknowledged that a compromise on housing will have to be made at some point, but pointed to the complexities of affordable housing.

“Affordable housing doesn’t have to look like a 10-story building,” she said. “It can look like Habitat for Humanity.”

“We should always have the buy-in of local communities,” Guerrero said.

Both candidates said they oppose SB 246, which proposes a tax on oil and gas, because of its inability to make sure revenue goes to impacted communities.

“I do believe that every dollar that comes back needs to come back to communities like cap and trade,” Gonzalez said.

“Every single dollar of revenue goes to the general fund in Sacramento, not one penny in communities,” said Guerrero, who had already revealed his position on this issue in a previous forum. “I would suggest legislation earmarked for communities.”

Campaign support

Gonzalez has been criticized by former candidates and others for not previously participating in forums held during the primary campaign season, nor agreeing to any debates.

Some suggested Gonzalez was dodging such events to avoid questions about a big oil-backed independent expenditure committee that spent more than $1 million to support her campaign. The Coalition to Restore California’s Middle Class—a coalition funded by the likes of Chevron, Valero and Tesoro—has endorsed her campaign, but by law it cannot coordinate with the candidate.

A member of the Wrigley Neighborhood Association reminds attendees of the 33rd state Senate District forum to be respectful after shouting from the audience interrupts Long Beach Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez. The forum, also featuring Cudahy Councilman Jack Guerrero, took place at Veterans Park Monday, May 6, 2019. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.

On Monday night, she described it as the “the elephant in the room.”

“I disavow this,” Gonzalez said of the support. “I have never taken oil money in my campaign.”

Guerrero—a two-term councilman who ran unsuccessful campaigns for the Assembly in 2012 and California Treasurer in 2018—called himself a skeptic of career politicians, and went on to say a majority of his campaign donations have been from working class families.

“If you think for a minute that big oil is in the business of charitable giving you are mistaken,” Guerrero said. “We need government reform.”

Gonzalez revealed that Guerrero has received a $4,200 contribution from a scrap metal recycling company in Los Angeles. C&M Metals Inc. borders the state Senate district to the north, but is not in the district. She also pointed out his $10,000 loan to himself. Guerrero has stated at public forums that he refuses contributions from vendors in his city.

Long Beach Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez and Cudahy Councilman Jack Guerrero speak at a public forum held in a community center at Veterans Park on Monday, May 6, 2019. Both are running to represent the 33rd state Senate District. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.

This is the only known public event between both candidates before voters go to the polls on June 4 to fill the remaining term of Ricardo Lara, who was elected state insurance commissioner in November.

Long Beach resident Jamila Jabulani said while she found the crowd on Monday night a little too rowdy, she appreciated the questions asked and the passion shown by attendees.

“It’s always good when people are always engaged and active,” she said.

Ray Lawson, a Bell resident and member of a carpenters union political action committee, called the event emotional. He was one of multiple labor union workers supporting Gonzalez for her efforts in supporting local jobs.

“I think she did a great job putting out her strong points for the people,” Lawson said.

Former candidates South Gate Councilwoman Denise Diaz and Lynwood Mayor Jose Luis Solache were also present to hear Gonzalez’s and Guerrero’s positions on issues that affect their cities.

“I think it’s great to have public debates and forums,” Solache said. “It creates community engagement and it’s our civic duty to participate.”

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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.