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Two election forums held at San Benito High School

Residents turn out for discussion of local, state and congressional races.
BenitoLink Executive Director Leslie David opens the 10/18 forum. Photo by Blaire Strohn.
Rob Poythress and Anna Caballero running for District 12 State Senate. Photo by Blaire Strohn.
Neil Kitchens and Robert Rivas running for District 30 State Assembly. Photo by Blaire Strohn.
Jimmy Panetta and Ron Kabat running for District 20 US House of Representatives. Photo by Blaire Strohn.

The Nov. 6 election is clearly on the minds of local voters, as large numbers were willing to spend their evening at a local election forum.

BenitoLink held the second of its two election forums on Oct. 18, co-hosted with San Benito County Farm Bureau and Youth Alliance. Because of increased attendance, the two and a half hour event was held in the San Benito High School auditorium.

The Oct. 11 forum—also at San Benito High—focused on Hollister city races, the Hollister School District and Gavilan College Board of Trustee races with approximately 150 people in attendance. Questions addressed topics such as infrastructure, development and the future Gavilan campus in Hollister.

On Oct. 18, nearly 200 people listened to presentations on county, state and congressional races, as well as local ballot measures including Measure G.

There was a heated moment during the first forum as mayoral candidate Gordon Machado made reference to the misuse of Facebook by Mayor Ignacio Velazquez to engage in heated rhetoric with opponents and members of the public alike. Velazquez did not respond to his opponent and the issue was dropped.

State Assembly candidate Neil Kitchens’ colorful language throughout his answers to explain the lack of work from Caltrans workers, the bad condition of our roads, his work experience and many other topics earned him loud cheers and laughter from some audience members as it did during the primary election forum held in May. Moderator Brianna Everett asked audience members several times to hold their applause. Robert Rivas, who is running against Kitchens, appeared unfazed by the proceedings and remained on point.

Ron Kabat, who is running against incumbent Congressman Jimmy Panetta for the 20th Congressional District, was greeted with groans when he said his immigration reform package would include building a border wall.

Gavilan College President Kathleen Rose spoke on Measure X. She told the audience that building a Hollister campus at Fairview Road and Highway 25 was a priority.

San Benito County Water District candidate Doug Williams answered questions about the Pacheco Dam and San Justo Reservoir. On San Justo, Williams said he could not tell whether or not it would reopen as even with the best methods available to control invasive zebra mussels he knew of no body of water in which eradication has been successful.

Two candidates declined to attend the Oct. 18 forum: San Benito County Supervisor Jerry Muenzer (who faces off against Jim Gillio for the District 4 seat on Nov. 6) and incumbent Robert Huenemann with the San Benito County Water District Division 4. Ann Ross for San Benito Health Care District Zone 4 also did not participate.

The forums were well received by those in attendance. One Hollister resident at the Oct. 18 forum who was not willing to share his name said he came to the forum to hear what local and state candidates had to say about roads and infrastructure.

Leila Sadighian, a resident of Hollister District 2, attended both evenings. She said she wanted to hear what all candidates had to say about the issues and wanted to hear input on the measures. She said as a woman in her 20s, it’s important to her to “have strong female candidates running for office.” She said that after listening to candidates, she was impressed by the women’s performances.

One resident named Sergio said he wanted to see how the candidates carried themselves, saying that “demeanor is very important.” He said the forum had “really been worth coming to,” but wished the questions had been more specific.

Several locals at the events said the information they had gained on the candidates and measures would help them make informed choices on their ballot. Others said their choices had not been swayed.

Both forums were recorded and will be available online by district race and measure on BenitoLink. Media partner CMAP is editing the videos and they will also be broadcast on CMAP TV.

Informal public surveys were taken at each event. The results of the Oct. 11 forum survey can be found here. The results of Oct. 18 forum survey is expected to be available on BenitoLink soon.



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Carmeldb's picture
Carmel de Bertaut (Carmeldb)

I have a BA in Natural Science, a minor in environmental studies and an AA in communications studies. I have worked as an ecologist and as a writer.

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