DOWNEY − The one and only political debate between former Assemblyman Tony Mendoza and Downey Councilman Mario Guerra dissolved into a shouting match on Monday as the two candidates accused each other of playing dirty politics. During the nearly 45-minute debate at Whittier City Hall, the two candidates, who are vying for an open seat in the 32nd state Senate district, also clashed over several state policy issues, including health care and water conservation.
Both Guerra and Mendoza began the night introducing themselves as the sons of immigrants, running for office to ensure the next generation receives the same opportunities they did.
“I’ve been an educator the last 17 years – I know what it takes,” said Mendoza, a Democrat who started his political career on the Artesia City Council. “I’m a public servant, not a self-servant.”
While the two agreed on bolstering education and preserving Proposition 13 protections for homeowners, the sharper divisions arose when moderator Margo Reeg of the League of Women Voters asked about qualifications.
Guerra, a Republican, touted his experience as a business owner who has created jobs.
“I’m the only candidate in this race that’s signed the front of a check,” quipped Guerra.
Mendoza responded by highlighting his bipartisanship during the six years he served in the California state Assembly.
“I can work across the aisle, I’ve brought everyone to the table to create a cushion for businesses,” he said.
When asked about Proposition 2 – a constitutional amendment on the ballot this year that will establish a rainy day reserves fund in Sacramento – Mendoza and Guerra voiced full support.
“We’re too dependent on sales tax,” Mendoza said. “A reserve is vital during tough times when we need money.”
While both support the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, the two disagreed over whether a single-payer option should be added to the program.
“I don’t have a problem with universal health care, [but] single payer doesn’t work,” Guerra said. “You’re taking away choices. I want to choose my own doctor, not go to a doctor the government gives me.”
Mendoza said, “We shouldn’t turn back now, people are suffering. It doesn’t matter what your socioeconomic status is, health care should be available to everyone.”
The most notable confrontation of the night occurred during a discussion on political ethics and corruption in Sacramento and local water agencies. While mentioning several bills he tried to pass in the Assembly, Mendoza said if he wins the Senate seat he might try to establish ethics for local councilmen who abuse city credit cards.
The statement was a reference to claims made by an anti-Guerra website that sprang up online nearly two weeks ago. Guerra snapped back at Mendoza asking him to publicly condemn the website.
“What a hypocrite,” Guerra said during a fiery exchange of words. “I never thought you’d stoop so low.”
Whittier business owner Gus Arriaza came to the debate an undecided voter, but now says he will support Mendoza.
“I was leaning towards Guerra, but I think he’s a little too headstrong,” Arriaza said. “But Mendoza is relying too much on his past Assembly experience. I’m leaning towards Mendoza now, but there’s still a few weeks left.”
On Nov. 4, Guerra and Mendoza will faceoff for the open seat in the newly-created 32nd state Senate district, which encompasses the communities of Artesia, Bellflower, Buena Park, Cerritos, Commerce, Downey, Hacienda Heights, Hawaiian Gardens, La Habra Heights, La Mirada, Lakewood, Los Nietos, Montebello, Norwalk, Pico Rivera, Rose Hills, Santa Fe Springs and South Whittier.
Published: Oct. 16, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 27