It's apparently been difficult for voters to get excited about the primary election, even though it's barely three weeks away. The only sentiment I've detected is annoyance over the political mailers they've received.

The governor's race isn't really a race, so who cares about Jerry Brown's opponent? The 11th Congressional District seat is a shoo-in for Mark DeSaulnier, who's been endorsed by everyone but the Dalai Lama. Contra Costa Supervisors Karen Mitchoff and John Gioia are running (strolling?) unopposed.

So where's an election fanatic supposed to go for excitement? Strap yourself in for a quick flyover of the state Assembly's 16th District, where term limits are about to end Joan Buchanan's tenure and make for a heated race with four outspoken candidates.

Democrats Tim Sbranti (Dublin), Newell Arnerich (Danville) and Steve Glazer (Orinda) have extensive experience on their respective city councils. Republican Catharine Baker (Dublin) is an attorney who served as legislative assistant to former U.S. Rep. Sonny Bono.

They were in good voice for a recent candidates forum that will be broadcast on Contra Costa TV six times from now until the election -- the next airing is 8:30 p.m. Tuesday -- in which they agreed that education is a priority (surprise!), the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is flawed (amen) and the state's growing pension debt is more terrifying than Godzilla (and has been for some time).

What was of more interest -- and more likely to determine the election's outcome -- were the areas in which they took divergent paths.


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High-speed rail?

Arnerich likens the project to the Bay Bridge fiasco and thinks spending priorities should be elsewhere. Sbranti concedes to some concerns but says the Legislature's job is to work with the governor and solve problems so the project can move on. Glazer won't support high-speed rail until he sees a financial plan that pencils out. Baker went full thumbs-down, saying it's not the same project voters supported and isn't going to deliver what was promised.

BART strike ban?

Sbranti, a friend of labor, supports collective bargaining and opposes strike bans. Arnerich wants to eliminate strikes through negotiation rather than legislation (good luck with that). Glazer and Baker want the Legislature to prohibit strikes, just as they are in New York, Chicago and, yes, San Francisco.

The opposing positions hinge on whether BART is an "essential service" -- the reason that police and firefighter strikes are banned. Sbranti said it's not, and why obsess over something that happens once every 20 years. Glazer and Baker say BART is essential because of its effect on traffic and the economy. Glazer added, surely for Sbranti's benefit, that there have been seven strikes in BART's 42-year history.

Education funding after Proposition 30 sunsets?

Baker wants "greater accountability and transparency" in spending, noting what's important is how money is spent. Glazer wants to "constrain spending and make good choices," to stimulate an economy that will generate taxes. Arnerich said California can find funding if government is "cost-effective" and requires agencies such as the DMV to be self-supporting. Sbranti said one answer might be a "continuation of Prop. 30," after the sales tax hike expires in 2016. Four voices, four different answers.

This is race that will continue to heat up, and that's good. There's not much else to be excited about on June 3.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com