I recently attended a candidates forum hosted by the Dolores Huerta Foundation (DHF) at the David Head Center in Lamont.
I had the opportunity to meet some of the candidates running for various local and state positions, including the boards for the Lamont and Vineland school districts, as well as the Lamont Public Utility District and the Kern High School District. Also in attendance were the candidates vying for Superior Court and Bear Mountain Parks and Recreation.
For the State Assembly, Republican candidate Manuel Ramirez attended, but Assemblymember Rudy Salas, a Democratic, sent a representative. U.S. Rep. David Valadao, a Republican, neither attended nor sent a representative. His Democratic challenger, Emilio Huerta (Dolores Huerta’s son) sent a representative.
Major electoral positions, such as those for the California Legislature, are the main attractions to these sorts of events and especially important to the communities of South Kern.
How is one expected to make an educated decision on who should represent us in Sacramento and Washington D.C., if South Kern residents rarely get an opportunity to meet the candidates and learn about where they stand on the issues the community cares about most.
I’m sure residents of South Kern would have loved to hear straight from the congressional candidates’ mouths whether or not they support the expansion of DACA or DAPA, or whether they support immigration reform with a path to citizenship. These issues are among the main concerns in South Kern because most residents either have family members who would benefit from this legislation or have someone very close to them who would.
With Ramirez and Salas running to represent the 32nd District, I would like to have heard both talk about whether or not they would support Measure J, the Bakersfield College extension in Arvin. Also, would they commit to seeking resources and funding to improve the quality of drinking water? South Kern has always had to fight to get clean drinking water. We want someone in Sacramento who will fight with us and for us to improve this once and for all.
While the candidates did send representatives, that is not the same as having the actual candidate in front of us. When state lawmakers take time out of their day to visit their constituents, it sends a message to the community that they are important and that their issues matter.
Many of the residents who attended were older Hispanic people, and many don’t have access to the internet or social media to search for information on candidates. That’s why it is crucial that candidates show up to these meetings and forums.
Most of the candidates who were sitting on the panel are very active in the community and are easily reached. Residents will run into them everywhere they go. This makes it easier to talk to them about issues they want fixed or looked into. Representatives from Congress and the Assembly are harder to contact because they spend a majority of their time in Sacramento.
Among the big-ticket campaigns at the forum was the race for Kern High School District. Both candidates – Jennifer Bloomquist and Joey O’Connell – were read a series of questions and asked to answer by holding up a sign with Yes, No – or a question mark. Given the recent controversy over transgender bathrooms in schools and the remarks made by Chad Vegas, who said transgender students are mentally ill, this was one of the most long-awaited questions.
Both candidates were asked, “Do you support cultural competency training for staff and teachers regarding sex education, the LGBTQ Community and other racial and ethnic minorities?”
Bloomquist held up the Yes card, while O’Connell held up the question mark. After the forum, I asked each of them to elaborate. Bloomquist stated, “Our own trustee should not be referring to the students they represent as mentally ill. It is not only incredibly important that we support LGBTQ students but all students in the Kern High School District.”
Asked why he raised the question mark, O’Connell replied, “I’m not sure yet. I need to understand both sides. I don’t want to take a side if I don’t fully understand the issue.”
Candidate Forums are very important in the democratic process. They show voters that candidates are willing to hear their concerns and willing to take action on them.
After the forum, I asked Lamont resident Desiree Gomez what she thought about the forum. “It was great. You can really tell that the candidates that showed up to this are really passionate about the position they are running for,” she said. “I love attending these sorts of events because they allow me to get to the know the candidates and what ideas they represent. It helps me make my decision come election day.”