Candidates for the Democratic nomination for the 8th District Assembly seat meet tonight in a debate sponsored by the Woodland League of Women Voters. The forum will be held at 7 p.m. in the Woodland Community and Senior Center.
The race between Democrats Mariko Yamada and Chris Cabaldon for the nomination – which essentially guarantees a seat in the securely Democratic 8th District – culminates with the June 3 election.
“We’re doing this to educate the people on who is running for the Assembly,” said Eileen Racki, co-president of the Woodland League. “We want them to get to know who their Assembly member will be.”
The candidates will be allotted time for opening and closing statements as well as three minutes to answer spontaneous questions from the audience and the two predetermined topics handed out in advance.
A range of issues are likely to be up for discussion tonight, but of special concern to debate organizers is the looming budget cuts resulting from the state’s $16 billion budget crisis.
“All the cities are being hit hard as a result of the budget and housing problems, and we’re wondering how they’re going to help with that,” Racki said.
The lone Republican competing for the seat, Manuel Cosme, declined the invitation to the debate.
“It’s common for Republicans that they don’t want to speak to a group like us,” Racki said.
With all eyes on the Democrats, the conversation throughout the primary has centered more on the candidates’ personal differences, priorities and their respective supporters rather than on specific policy divisions.
“The biggest difference between us is who our supporters are,” Yamada said. “We’re both lifelong Democrats, but [my] campaign represents more of the true values of Democrats like health care, income disparities and poverty and my supporters are largely coming from nurses, teachers, firefighters and laborers.”
One of the most contentious issues throughout the campaign has centered on each candidate’s donors. The Yamada campaign has been very vocal in its criticism of Cabaldon for accepting what they consider to be inappropriate donations from big business, especially real estate developers, and for failing to agree to the voluntary spending limit of $483,000.
Cabaldon has consistently rebuffed these attacks by pointing to Yamada’s list of corporate donors and heavy support from labor unions.
“Voters are smarter than that, and they see through the hypocrisy,” Cabaldon said.
Cabaldon is decidedly ahead in the fundraising race. He has raised $600,000 in comparison to Yamada’s $250,000, but Yamada said she is unaffected by Cabaldon’s fundraising performance.
“At the end of the day, I would hope the voters would have a healthy skepticism about a candidate that has to spend hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get elected,” Yamada said.
The candidates agree in principle on many of the issues traditionally important to progressive voters. They both favor a single payer health care system similar to those of Canada and Britain. Both also identified education and balancing the state’s budget deficit as top priorities.
“The biggest issue in the district right now is the proposed cuts in education and the deterioration of the state’s commitment to quality education,” Cabaldon said. “It will be devastating for California students, but also to the long-term innovation of the Californian economy.”
Yamada and Cabaldon have differing philosophies on the contentious issue of growth in the district. Yamada stresses the importance of preserving agricultural land and growing responsibly in response to what she calls “constant development pressures from Sacramento and the Bay Area.”
“We ought to always consider growth because we do need to provide housing for young families,” she said.
As mayor of the boomtown West Sacramento, Cabaldon has presided over a very high growth rate but stresses the importance of infill development rather than sprawl and has secured the endorsement of the Sierra Club.
“[Yamada] has been more interested in opening up development in rural parts of the county than I think is economically or environmentally sustainable,” he said.
While the candidates have some significant differences, tonight’s debate is not expected to be especially heated. The two have met previously in five different candidate forums.
“They’re not something you would see on Fox news,” Cabaldon said. “We disagree, but we’ve worked together for many years, so it has not been a particularly nasty campaign.”
Yamada and Cabaldon worked together in the Yolo County government prior to Cabaldon’s 1996 election to the West Sacramento City Council and before Yamada began serving on the county board of supervisors in 2003.
Cabaldon, 42, graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in environmental economics. After obtaining a master’s degree in public policy from Sacramento State, he worked in the state legislature, was vice chancellor of California Community Colleges and became CEO of EdVoice, a nonprofit education advocacy group. He was elected to the West Sacramento City Council in 1996 and is serving his fifth term as mayor. Cabaldon made an unsuccessful bid for the 8th District Assembly seat in 2002, losing to Lois Wolk who is currently running for the State Senate.
Mariko Yamada, 57, was born in Denver, Colo. after her parents were released from a Japanese internment camp. She received a degree in psychology from the University of Colorado, Boulder and eventually earned a master’s in social work from the University of Southern California. Yamada credits her 30 years as a social worker with instilling in her the desire to represent the underprivileged, which prompted her to seek a seat on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors in 2003.
ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at email@example.comXXX.