With all the mud being slung over Mary Hayashi's 2012 shoplifting conviction and her accusation that Bob Wieckowski "protected rapists" with a 2012 committee vote, it's hard to tell where the five candidates seeking the 10th State Senate District seat stand on the issues.
A blizzard of nasty direct mail, websites and ads between Democrats Hayashi, a former assemblywoman from Hayward, and Wieckowski -- the current assemblyman from Fremont -- and special-interest groups supporting them has drawn all the attention, sucking all the air out of the room for fellow Democrat Roman Reed, Republican Peter Kuo and independent Audie Bock.
"All I'm seeing is the mudslinging. ... I've heard very little get through from the other candidates," said Corey Cook, director of the University of San Francisco's Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good. "And the fun thing about the top-two primary is that they'll probably get to do all the mudslinging again."
That is, if all their advertising -- negative though it is -- gets them the most votes June 3, they'll have all summer and fall to repeat it in the run-up to their one-on-one faceoff in November's general election.
The candidates are vying to succeed Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, who is termed out of office in the district, which stretches from San Leandro and Pleasanton in the north to parts of Santa Clara and San Jose in the south and includes Hayward, Fremont, Union City and Milpitas. The district's registered voters are 50 percent Democratic, 25 percent nonpartisan and 17 percent Republican.
Wieckowski says his top priorities are education, fighting income inequality, creating more manufacturing and properly funding courts so that all Californians have equal, adequate access to the justice system. He said he favors a "balanced approach" that uses the state's current budget surplus to pay off some debt, invest in infrastructure and restore some social services that were cut in recent years.
Hayashi's top priorities are investing in education, ensuring that the new health care law's implementation includes access to quality care for all and implementing a water policy that helps California deal with its drought and jobs -- particularly training and retraining programs. She said the state must put more money into its adoption of Common Core education standards and restoring cuts to Medi-Cal, and she opposes bringing back the local redevelopment agencies that were dissolved to help the state close its budget gap.
Kuo's top priorities are creating more manufacturing jobs, supporting research and development in renewable energy and green industries, improving schools and opposing any effort to restore affirmative action in public university admissions. He said it's hard to consider the state to have a budget surplus when it still has such huge unfunded pension liabilities. "We need to work with the unions to make sure they realize that what they're doing is detrimental to their own future," he said.
Reed said he was first motivated to run by lawmakers' recent failure to fund Roman's Law, legislation he helped write that was sponsored by then-Assemblyman John Dutra to create a research fund for curing paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries. But he also wants to restore funding to local schools, bring new research and technology jobs to the district and create more opportunities for youth. His other priorities include protecting women's health care, marriage equality, helping working people, a clean environment and social safety net services for the needy.
Bock's top priorities are cleaner air, given the high asthma rates in the southern and central East Bay; "parent choice for public schools," by exercising the 2010 law letting parents petition to convert low-performing schools into charter schools; and lowering taxes, including letting Proposition 30's increase expire while cutting corporate taxes. She also wants to pursue pension reform, perhaps by merging the separate systems for teachers and other public sector workers into a single, better-managed entity while increasing workers' contribution rates.
Wieckowski wholeheartedly supports the state's high-speed rail plan, while Reed and Hayashi support it but want more transparency. Reed would like to see it transformed into a public-private partnership; Kuo would support it only if it's mostly privately funded, with the state paying no more than 20 percent of its cost. Bock said "it will never be cost-effective, so it's not a good idea for California."
Wieckowski, Hayashi, Reed and Bock oppose Gov. Jerry Brown's plan for twin tunnels to move water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta south to Central Valley farms and the Los Angeles region. Kuo supports it.
Wieckowski, Hayashi and Reed believe BART workers should be able to go on strike, as they did last year, while Kuo would vote for a bill to ban such strikes; Bock said she doesn't know if it's better to ban such strikes or to impose new negotiating and oversight requirements on BART's management.
Hayashi and Reed support a moratorium on fracking -- hydraulic fracturing, the use of pressurized water to break rock formations and free oil or gas -- while Wieckowski, Kuo and Bock do not.